Vinod Singh has seen everything: a man placing one rupee coins inside both his eyes, stuffing his mouth with 710 drinking straws and carrying 25kg with his teeth, all at the same time; a car dealership wrapping a family sedan with 350kg of chocolate; a dentist with a collection of 10,333 human teeth. Yes, as a judge for the India Book of Records, Vinod Singh has seen everything ranging from the bizarre to the amazing.
A quick engine check-up before the run.
But he hasn’t seen this yet – an off-road land speed record. That’s because none exist. At Autocar India we’ve set quite a few records. Not so long ago, we had set a production car lap record at the Buddh Circuit with Narain Karthikeyan behind the wheel of his Porsche 911 GT3. In 2016, Autocar was behind the Top Speed Record on Indian soil, when an Audi R8 V10 Plus driven by Aditya Patel recorded a top speed of 332.2kph on a closed-off road in Hyderabad.
Last-minute check under the bonnet.
Both of these were tarmac runs; and what intrigued us was that unlike abroad, India didn’t have an off-road land speed record.
So we zeroed in on the Little Rann of Kutch – it’s a 5,000 sq km salt desert in Gujarat. There are no roads here – only a featureless salt flat extending to infinity in all directions. The ground is cracked, the air is dry, mirages abound, and the parched earth unfolds endlessly.
The Garmin and GoPros in the cabin record this historical run.
Next, we picked the car. With visions of the rally Gypsy in his head, our road tester Rahul insisted on something quick and, equally important, light on its feet. To succeed in the Rann, a massive top speed wasn’t going to be the only criteria; being able to put power down and not bog down would be crucial. Enter the XUV300. Having only just reviewed it, our test team came away convinced this would be Mahindra’s next rally car. The SUV was a mix of a strong engine with a good linear power delivery and a suspension that could take quite a beating while keeping things planted – which meant that it would be perfect in the Rann.
Ruts and tracks can seriously compromise a car’s stability at high speeds.
The record run would take the car from a small village called Zinzuwada to another village called Palasava. If you check Google Maps, it will show a 168km road connecting the two places. For the record attempt, instead of taking the circular road, we would cut across the desert, as the crow flies.
Standing at the featureless salt flat at the Little Rann of Kutch, Vinod Singh is here today to preside over the land speed record attempt. He is a little perplexed since he cannot see any specialised equipment or activity that precedes a record like this. The XUV300 is all stock, no engine tuning, no special off-road tyres, no light-weighting measures like removing the spare tyre – in fact, the XUV’s got a few half-used bottles of water handy, too. There’s no swarm of engineers, either – just one man checking the tyre pressure with a handheld air-pressure gauge and a person at the horizon walking with his head cast down, looking at the ground, checking out its condition.
At some points the XUV300 looked as if it was flying across the Rann at 170kph!
Rahul’s got a lot on his mind; the record may sound simple – just run as fast as you can in a straight line – but the surface here is loose soil and gravel that hides soft sand which can bog down a car. There are multiple tracks going in various directions with deep ruts that can unsettle the XUV300; and nearly invisible humps that can launch the Mahindra SUV into the air. There is no GPS to help Rahul navigate and there are neither markings nor landmarks in this featureless landscape for him to use as reference. To navigate through this, Rahul has to depend entirely on his memory of the reconnaissance drive he had done the day before. Adding to the challenge is the wind that picks up the dust and mirages that affect visibility.
The Garmin GPS that recorded the run.
Time to drive
Its 11:45 in the morning when Rahul Kakkar gets behind the wheel of the XUV300, secures the helmet and straps on the seat belt. The car is completely stock, running on the factory-recommended tyre pressure of 34psi. Only the driver aid module that controls things like ABS and EBD has been disconnected. It’s a sunny 21deg C and windy. There is no more time to think, “Sir, we are ready” says Rahul. “Go on Rahul, start the engine”, Vinod Singh replies, flagging off the run.
Rahul stabs the ignition button, sets the steering mode to Sport, slots first gear and releases the clutch. It is 11:46am.
34min and 10sec after leaving Zinzuwada, the XUV300 crosses the finishing line at Palasava.
Rahul has his right foot mashed to the floor as the car rips through the barren landscape. The car feels very energetic, and turbo lag is well-managed, with performance being available from very low down in the rev range. The speedo needle winds up as if pulled by a magnet on the other end. It needs quick steering adjustments to keep the car straight on course as the ruts and surface undulations threaten to destabilise the car. The long travel in the suspension just soaks up bumps and irregularities nicely and mechanical grip is very good from both the tyres and the suspension alike, giving Rahul the confidence to keep his foot planted on the accelerator. At one point, the XUV300 is flying across the Rann with the speedo needle nestled at 170kph – on an off-road track! Rahul has no idea how fast he is going since there is no time to look down at the speedometer. The Garmin on the car is measuring every millisecond and parameters of the XUV300. He will have to wait till the end to find out what the figures are.
Yes, it’s official. Rahul Kakar is awarded the certificate by Vinod Singh of the India Book of Records.
And once the drive ends, the final figures by Garmin are attested by Vinod Singh of the India Book of Records. They are mighty impressive. Distance covered: 73.0km. Time taken: 34min 10sec. Average speed: 128kph.
And that gentlemen, is the speed you now have to beat if you want to hold the off-road
land speed record in India.