There have been some truly remarkable achievements in the world of motor sport. Sebastien Loeb’s nine consecutive WRC titles, Valentino Rossi’s seven MotoGP titles and Michael Schumacher’s seven F1 titles.
Less high-profile, but just as remarkable was Suresh Rana’s eighth victory at the Raid de Himalaya, announced early this morning. After the Dakar Rally, the Raid can probably lay claim to being the most extreme rally raid event on the planet. With competitors going flat out over 2,000 km of mountain roads of varying conditions at altitudes that exceed 6,000 meters above sea level.
Having participated as a navigator in the amateur category in 2008 – with manageable average speeds designed to give a first timer some experience – I can testify to the skill and daring of the competitors in the Xtreme category – flat out rallying.
The bikers get even more respect due to braving the elements as well as the dangerous terrain on which they can suffer serious bodily harm.
Back in 2008 – when I was employed by Autocar India – me and the driver of the Maruti-Suzuki SX4 managed to get all the way to the finish of the event that started in Shimla, and went up to Ladakh. The car, with little modification other than a sump and fuel tank guard, stood up to the beating fairly well and was in working condition with the exception of a leaky shock absorber and dodgy gearbox.
Yet we both knew that the car would never stand up to the punishment endured in the Xtreme event by Maruti-Suzuki’s long-running Gypsy off-roader. At the time auto-manufacturers in the country weren’t particularly keen on testing the mettle of their swany new vehicles in professional competition.
The hosting of the inaugural Indian GP seemed to bring about a shift and Mahindra threw its popular XUV 500 into the ring at this year’s Desert Storm. A Gypsy still triumphed with Lohitt Urs bringing an XUV 500 home in third, but Gaurav Chiripal brought his privately entered Grand Vitara home in second.
It definitely caught Rana’s attention and he admitted as much to me when he said that the Grand Vitara looked capable enough to take on the brutal stages of the Raid.
Even though this year’s event was cut short due to heavy snowfall, Rana had been pulling out a comfortable lead over the gaggle of Gypsies that followed him.
The XUV 500, much hyped by Mahindra and the motoring press for its looks, price and features list did not fare so well and was outside of the top five.
Hopefully the events at the country’s two premier cross-country rally events (Desert Storm and Raid de Himalaya) will encourage more manufacturers to put their products to the ultimate test and improve the street going version.
It’s a good start and with the continued participation of the likes of Rana, it should be a catalyst for qualitative growth in the Indian car industry.
Which will make Rana’s achievement all the more remarkable than it already is.