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New Delhi, Feb 23 (IANS) With the start of 12th Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm barely a day away, the excitement was palpable during the busy documentation and scrutiny as the 137 participants in various categories completed the mandatory pre-event formalities and safety checks here Sunday.
For those in the Xtreme and Moto-Quad categories that headline one of country’s foremost cross-country rallies covering 2,200 kms over the next six days, it is an anxious wait while hoping that their highly tuned and modified vehicles will survive the rigours of the desert run.
The top guns like defending champion Suresh Rana, 2013 Asia Pacific Rally Championship winner Gaurav Gill, former World Rally champion (production class) Karamjit Singh, have not had an opportunity to test their respective vehicles and thus would be going in virtually "blind".
Speaking to IANS here Sunday, Malaysian Karamjit Singh, who will be driving a Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara, said: "I am taking the vehicle out for a run later today, but otherwise, I have not had much chance to test the car. I am just hoping that everything will hold together."
Last year, on his debut run, Karamjit Singh finished fourth overall, driving a Mahindra XUV 500 and was keen on faring better this time around.
“I came to Delhi a couple of days back and we have been working hard on the car. I hope I can do better this year,” said the 52-year old Malaysian ace, who will be partnered by Parminder Singh instead of his long-time navigator and compatriot Jagdev Singh.
Likewise, his Maruti Suzuki team-mate Rana, also in a Grand Vitara and partnered by the seasoned Ashwin Naik, raced away from the scrutiny venue for a test run and was guarded while speaking of his chances of winning the Storm for the third straight year.
“I am driving a different Vitara this year. We have prepared the car as well as we could, but as you know, the Storm is a tough event and we can only hope that everything goes well for us,” said Rana who hails from Manali, more famous for its apple orchards.
The Maruti team duo will also be keeping a sharp eye on Gill who will have veteran Musa Sherif, one of country’s top navigators, on the left side seat in a Mahindra XUV 500 and heading the four-car Mahindra Adventure team.
Even though much of the attention was focused on the four-wheel stars, the performance of Bangalorean C.S. Santosh, who will be astride a Yamaha RMX450 bike in the Moto-Quad category, will be followed keenly as he is hoping for a winning debut.
“I have never participated in the Desert Storm, but having heard so much about it, I thought I will give it a try. I couldn’t get this bike for the Raid de Himalaya last year as it was stuck in the customs, but now, I am really looking forward to it.
“The bike is fast and is fitted with Dunlop tyres that have built-in Moose. So, there is no possibility of any punctures and I hope to do well,” said Santosh who scored a sensational victory on debut in the 2012 Raid de Himalaya, considered one of the most difficult cross-country events in the world.
Given the difficult terrain that these hardy men and their machines have to negotiate in the coming week, it is a case of not just survival of the fittest but also the smartest as the navigation is based on GPS where even a small error would mean going off the rally route.
Thus, it will be a journey into the unknown for the Xtreme and Moto-Quad entrants as they will have to virtually live by their wits given the harsh desert terrain confronting them.
Despite the intricate modifications of the vehicles, the vicissitudes of motorsport could still influence the fate of these daredevils.
Photo Credit: wheelsunplugged