A pair of tough opening stages, challenging weather conditions and ever-changing landscapes couldn’t prevent Manali maestro Suresh Rana (co-driver Ashwin Naik) from clinching the 2017 Maruti Suzuki Dakshin Dare title. Driving in Team Maruti Suzuki colours, the duo stamped their authority in the ninth edition of the ever-popular rally raid that started in Bengaluru and concluded in Pune this year.
Bringing in many new challenges and a new route saw participants traversing through the undulating terrains in Chitradurga and Belgaum in Karnataka before entering Maharashtra via Kolhapur and gunning for the finish line in Pune. The six-day marathon was flagged off from Bengaluru with a total of 180 participants in the fray, covering about 2,000km in total.
Dakshin Dare has grown tremendously in the last nine years and has been able to gain a strong foothold in the motorsport community across the country, and not just in South India. The participation has been growing over the years, and so has the route. Back in 2009, the inaugural edition of the Dakshin Dare was run purely in TSD format, with the travel restricted to Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu only. The event hSSas grown leaps and bounds since then, in terms of popularity, difficultly, participation and, of course, the distance and reach as it’s made its foray into Maharashtra for the first time this year.
Following Team Maruti Suzuki’s Rana and Naik in their Grand Vitara were Samrat Yadav (co-driver S N Nizami) and Team Maruti Suzuki’s Sandeep Sharma (co-driver Karan Arya) in second and third spots, respectively.
In the Ultimate Bikes category, TVS Racing’s T Nataraj kept the lead with Abdul Wahid and Sanjay Kumar coming second and third, respectively.
In the Endurance category, a Maruti Suzuki Swift driven by Subir Roy (co-driver Nirav Mehta) took the top spot, followed by Maruti S-cross driven by Karthick Maruthi (co-driver Sankar S Anand). Both teams completed a neat 1-2 for Team Maruti Suzuki as well, with Raghu Nandan (co-driver Prakash M) taking the final podium spot in a Maruti Swift Dzire.
After being flagged off from Bengaluru, there was no acclimatisation opportunities for the participants as they had to transverse through the undulating terrain of Chitradurga. The rallyists ended up covering a total of 463km, with Samrat Yadav (co-driver S N Nizami) drawing first blood. Team Maruti Suzuki’s Sandeep Sharma (co-driver Karan Arya) was a close second, while crowd-favourite Suresh Rana (co-driver Ashwin Naik) was languishing in third. Thanks to some big boulders in the opening stages, Rana ended up being one among many drivers who experienced punctures and had to change tyres mid-stage.
“We are extremely thrilled to be a part of the Maruti Suzuki Dakshin Dare and our early lead has only motivated and encouraged us to give it our all. We hope to convert this lead into a win,” said Yadav at the end of day one.
The second day saw participants regroup at Chitradurga, with the challenge lying amidst the majestic windmill-dotted landscape of Doddakittadahalli. Low temperatures and occasional rain meant the stages were unpredictable. And to top it off, there was a spectator super special stage held within Chitradurga city limits, taking the competition close to the enthusiasts.
All the drivers put on a fantastic showing in the Super Special Stage (SSS) as the crowd cheered. Overnight leaders Samrat Yadav (co-driver S N Nizami) blitzed through the competition maintaining their dominance, while Suresh Rana (co-driver Ashwin Naik) was clearly on a comeback drive – clawing back on the deficit to his direct competitors by the end of day two – posting the second fastest time of the day.
The concept of SSS was introduced at Maruti Suzuki Dakshin Dare last year which encouraged the organisers to include two such stages (one in Chitradurga, one in Kolhapur) this year. It not only tests the competitors against the clock on a tight twisty track, but also ends up bringing motorsport to the fans. Packed with spectators watching closely, it was indeed an adrenaline-filled environment to be in.
Yadav, who continued to lead at the end of an action-packed day two, said, “The competition is undeniably getting tougher and the SSS is something that adds yet another challenge. So far, we have managed to maintain a small gap from our competitors, but things will only get tougher from now.”
And boy did they get tough or what! Day three of the 2017 Maruti Suzuki Dakshin Dare saw the participants start their day covering narrow and rocky terrains of Aimangala with a finish scheduled in Belgavi. A total distance of over 500km, with timed sections of over 106km fraught with heavy rains and slush, was sure to test the endurance of the man and the machine. Suresh Rana (co-driver Ashwin Naik) in his Maruti Grand Vitara was starting to come into his own over these long-distance drives and sure enough, he emerged into the lead at the end of the day as the rally drove into Belgavi – pushing Samrat Yadav (co-driver S N Nizami) into second.
Sandeep Sharma (co-driver Karan Arya) in their Maruti Gypsy continued to run a consistent third in the top category.
At the end of day three, Rana remarked, “We have got the lead after three days and I am extremely happy. The heavy downpour made the terrain very challenging, but it didn’t go against us. We took the tough conditions as a challenge and snatched the lead but the competition is still very close”.
Day four saw the Maruti Suzuki Dakshin Dare foraying into the west of India for the first time, with contestants slated to drive 330km to Kolhapur, where the Spectator SSS was also scheduled. It wasn’t an easy going though. Competitors had tobattle heavy downpour and fog in Kuduremani, Belgaum, with a heavy cloud cover turning into a torrential downpour at a moment’s notice. It was a massive challenge for all competitors. But, nevertheless, the top drivers held their nerves and continued to compete ferociously before reaching Kolhapur for the Super Special Stage.
At the end of day four, Suresh Rana (co-driver Ashwin Naik) managed to extend their lead over Samrat Yadav (co-driver S N Nizami) who didn’t seem to have given up his challenge for the lead. Team Maruti Suzuki’s Sandeep Sharma (co-driver Karan Arya) continued to keep pace with the lead duo – waiting for them to make a mistake and capitalise while fending off from the competition behind.
Speaking about maintaining the lead in the unpredictable weather, TVS Racing’s T Nataraj, who was leading the two-wheeler classification, said “The cloudy weather turned into a heavy downpour in no time and it is more challenging for the bikes as a hidden puddle or stones can easily catch you out. The Super Special Stage was equally challenging as it was completely slushy but what kept us going was the enthusiasm of the local spectators who were thrilled to experience motorsport in their city”
FINISHING IN STYLE
The final day of the Maruti Suzuki Dakshin Dare saw participants eagerly waiting to cross the finish line about 250km away in Pune. The competition for the lead was still quite fierce as the battle between Suresh Rana (co-driver Ashwin Naik) and Samrat Yadav (co-driver S N Nizami) continued to rage. It was a clear fight between experience vs youth, with Rana hell-bent on proving why he is possibly the best rally raid driver in India versus a young Samrat trying to prove a point by beating the legendary maestro. In the end, however, experience trumped youth and Rana crossed the finish line with a comfortable lead – adding yet another feather to his cap of illustrious motorsport achievements.
Q&A with Tarun Garg, Executive Vice President – Marketing, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd
What is Maruti’s motivation to continue investing in motorsport in India for so long?
We started motorsport in India in 1999, and we are happy to have satisfied so many motorsport enthusiasts here. Motorsport has multiple aspects, apart from the event standpoint there are requirements like ensuring safety, etc. We want to do all of this while making it accessible to everyone who wants to participate. Therefore we are excited, and we’ve found that the base is increasing. In 2015-16, only 700 had participated across all our rallies, while last year, over 2,000 people participated. Thus we feel that as we go along, more and more people who want to be associated with motorsport, and test their skills in a safe environment will become a part of this. So that’s our motivation, and we’ll continue to invest in this.
As far as the ecosystem is concerned, you support the Supra SAE, Autocross, which is at grass-roots level and then you have Raid de Himalaya, Desert Storm and Dakshin Dare. As far as rallies go, do you think it is pretty robust?
We believe things are still at a nascent stage. For instance, Autocross has generated a lot of young participants; around 1,000 last year. And the average age of the driver is 32, so we feel these will be the people who graduate into tougher events and rallies, not just TSD, but also cross-country rallies. We don’t want to just grow in terms of reach, but also make our events more challenging where drivers can really push themselves. That is our vision for motorsport in India, and obviously, there is still a long way to go.
You spoke about age. What do you think needs to be done to bring in younger drivers into motorsport, especially since we don’t have a formal structure in place?
The key is to make it affordable. The fee is so high, it deters a lot of people. For Autocross, we’ve kept the fee as low as Rs. 500. Second is to ensure that participants know their safety is taken care of. At Maruti Suzuki, we are very particular about it and we stick to all international regulations. The third is to create that kind of excitement, where the media helps out, because there are so many who have this latent desire to participate, but there’s a hesitation. This way I am sure we’ll get a lot more young drivers into motorsport, to pursue their passion.
Up north, you have Raid and Desert Storm, while the Dakshin Dare covers south and west. So, the only uncharted territory that remains is the east. Do you have any plans?
We tested waters in the east as well as we had a TSD rally in Arunachal last year, and we got a very good response. We are also doing an Autocross round in Guwahati this year. The aim is to expand our reach. Frankly speaking, when we started Dakshin Dare in 2009, we never thought we would route this rally through the western ghats of Maharashtra. We want to expand our reach, involving more people and encouraging them to become a part of motorsport events.
Q&A with Suresh Ranaa, Ashwin Naik - Overall Winners, Team Maruti Suzuki
Suresh, you look pretty exhausted, but satisfied nevertheless, after the end result?
Yes, this time Dakshin Dare was pretty tough, and the punctures we had in the first two days also bogged us down a bit. Although leg two wasn’t very difficult, we had been struggling from leg one, and this has been the toughest run for a final stage that I’ve come across in my career. Usually, we get enough breathing space after the first few stages that we then get into a comfort zone – so this pushing until the finish line was pretty new. We obviously were on the back foot a little bit but we put everything into it, and we had decided that we are going to win. Ashwin has a major role in this victory, as he helped me push very hard, because there were many times when I thought whether we’ll finish the leg or not. There were times when we went all out, and that was all possible due to his effort.
Ashwin – with someone like Rana behind the wheel pushing continuously – what was it like?
The issues that we faced in the first two days had us chasing the lead as Samrat and Sandy were both driving well. We were trying to keep pace with them, because we had lost time. Of course, Rana drove well, he was very calm and composed, and that’s very important when you don’t have the lead, because you can make mistakes as well. But then, our team worked well together, our chemistry worked properly, and that’s what kept us together. By day three, we were in the lead, and from thereon, we kept the lead.
This time, the challenges were quite a mix of tarmac, rain and there was even the Autocross, so things were a bit outside your comfort zone. Could you share your experience?
I have faced rain even in the earlier editions of the Dakshin Dare, but this year, the rain made some of the stages really challenging. Plus the fog-rain combo in certain sections made it difficult to push through, particularly so if you were leading the rally. But somehow, we managed to pull through.
The big Vitara isn’t best suited to the tight Autocross layout like the ones in the Super Special. How was it?
It may not be ideal but I think we drove through the SSS quite well without making mistakes, because many cars got stuck there. I feel my 17-year experience came handy, because of which we were able to place the car properly through the stage, even though our 4WD system wasn’t working then. Even Ashwin contributed a lot there, because had it not been for his timely calls, it would have been very difficult.
Ashwin, rally raids are more of a seat of the pants deal, because there’s no recce. Did the fast, flowing sections remind you of INRC special stages?
Leg two was basically a repeat of INRC K1000 routes, and that was pretty fast. I had my notes, but Rana didn’t want to follow them, so we used our regular calls and that way, we could go faster and come closer to the leader. On tarmac, it was particularly difficult, because without recce, we were relying on the tulips provided by organiser, and the GPS. The issue with the GPS is that when there’s a dark cloud, it gets slower. So, at times, we were coming into a corner, but the GPS was about two seconds late, so that was actually a big challenge in understanding the terrain, especially where everything is over crests in Maharashtra. But all in all, I think we managed it pretty well as a team.
Q&A Subir Roy and Nirav Mehta - TSD Category Winners, Team Maruti Suzuki
What were the main navigation challenges in this edition of the Dakshin Dare?
Nirav: The main challenge was the rain. It was incessant, and did not stop during any of the stages. It was excessive, so much so that you couldn’t even stop to attend nature’s call!
Subir: At times, you couldn’t see anything, it’s just 50-100m visibility, and the navigator is telling to go faster because we are 10sec late. So, it was quite fun overall.
How important is the trust and rapport between driver and navigators in an event like this?
Subir: Its critical. Getting full cooperation and understanding from the navigator is important else this wouldn’t have been possible. The combination of good navigation and driving skill is crucial for success. Last year, we couldn’t get a position, but this year, even before the start of the rally, we were really going for the top spot.
Nirav: In TSD, as pace is not an issue, it’s all about the road book. I’m not concerned about visibility when I’m in rally mode. When I’m late, you have to push, and “if you can’t drive, give it to me” is what I say. That’s how we fight, we laugh, we eat, it keeps us going. When we are outside the car, we’re good friends, and whatever happens inside the car, stays inside the car!
Subir: On day three, he lost his chip, and in the process, we lost 30sec. Suddenly, he goes: “Subir, where is my chip?” Because without the chip, we would face exclusion, not a penalty. So, I was like take the lifeline! We lost 40sec, and after that, he was shouting “What are you doing? Go faster!!”
EXPANDING MOTORSPORT HORIZONS
Synonymous with marquee events like Raid De Himalaya and Desert Storm, Maruti Suzuki has been addressing the grass roots as well with a variety of events.
For over two decades, Maruti Suzuki has been synonymous with Indian motorsport, engaging enthusiasts with events that allow people with different levels of skill to enjoy the sport. Events like Maruti Suzuki Raid De Himalaya, Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm, and of course, the recently concluded Maruti Suzuki Dakshin Dare, while immensely challenging for the enthusiast, are quite daunting for those who want to test the waters.
The amount of effort and commitment required even to start one of these three marquee rally raids is immense, while being on the podium or even making it to the finish is a massive achievement in itself. Understanding this fact and in a bid to evolve the motorsport ecosystem in the country, Maruti Suzuki launched Autocross in a championship format last year, with events in two zones across seven cities with the finale at Buddh International Circuit.
Features like a side-by-side dual start, crossover bridges made it challenging and interesting for participants and spectators alike. It allowed motorsport enthusiasts a platform to test the waters with very low entry barriers in terms of time and money involved. For instance, the entry fee was set at just Rs 500; it would probably cost you as much to catch that matinee show on a Sunday.
Keeping these aspects in mind and with an aim to take things a notch further – Maruti Suzuki will be launching the Maruti Suzuki Autoprix League 2017 in September. An exciting form of motorsport held in urban locales, the season will kick off this September and run through to January next year. The geographic spread will be wider as well, with eight rounds scheduled (see box) to be held across eight cities in four different zones. This lighting-fast format of motorsport is sure to gain immense popularity among drivers and fans alike. With prize money totalling up to Rs 20 lakh, including a brand-new Swift ZXi up for grabs for the championship winner will just add to the intensity of the competition.
Apart from the exciting Autoprix League 2017, the big daddy of Indian motorsport is on the horizon as well – the 19th edition of the legendary Maruti Suzuki Raid De Himalaya. With another successful conclusion of the ninth edition of the Maruti Suzuki Dakshin Dare, Team Maruti Suzuki is now gearing up for the highest rally raid in the world. This year’s edition is scheduled to kick off from Manali on October 6, and will traverse through Kaza, Pang and Rangdum before culminating in Leh on October 14.
|Maruti Suzuki Autoprix 2017 schedule|
|Round 1||South||Bengaluru||September 8-10|
|Round 2||West||Pune||September 22-24|
|Round 3||South||Coimbatore||October 27-28|
|Round 4||North||Chandigarh||November 17-19|
|Round 5||East||Indore||December 1-3|
|Round 6||North||Gurgaon||December 15-17|
|Round 7||East||Guwahati||January 5-7|