There are a few key things you need to keep in mind about the Thar Desert – it is hot, dry and extremely dusty. To brave that sort of arid terrain, you need to develop a strong constitution, an unshakable patience and the will to overcome the challenge that it poses.
It is here that the Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm has been taking place for the past 16 years. It’s not as if the route goes through the same rut year after year, the 2018 edition of the rally was 70 percent new. As a fixture of the Indian rally calendar, this event through the Thar Desert is where Team Maruti Suzuki began its motorsport calendar for the year.
Maruti Suzuki is a familiar name for motorsport enthusiasts. It has been at the forefront of motorsport in the country for over 19 years now. To popularise this sport, the Maruti Suzuki’s motorsport calendar is packed with exciting motoring events. The annual calendar includes Maruti Suzuki Autoprix, cross country rallies including Maruti Suzuki Raid De Himalaya, Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm and Maruti Suzuki Dakshin Dare.
The 16th Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm was flagged-off from Noida. Over 240 entrants participated across four categories – Xtreme, Ndure, Xplore and Moto. A hot favourite in the 2018 edition was five-time winner Suresh Rana, as was Dakar veteran CS Santosh. In this iconic 2,300km rally through rough, rugged and sandy terrain, the competitors battled for the top honours in temperatures crossing 40degC over the course of six days. The number of participants this year was the highest in the history of Desert Storm and included a large contingent of women drivers and navigators.
Over the years, team Maruti Suzuki’s home teams have triumphed with countless podium finishes. This year, Maruti Suzuki Motorsport went all-out, and fielded four teams. Their cars showed off the team’s brand-new livery and graphics. While the company had its veteran rally specialists in the form of the Grand Vitara and the Gypsy, it also fielded two entrants based on its newer cars: the S-Cross and the ever-popular Vitara Brezza. While these cars looked similar to their production siblings, they were completely different beasts with all the requisite modifications needed for the rally.
The first three stages took place around the ‘Camel Country’, Bikaner. Quite a few of the participants found the tricky terrain and the searing heat hard to handle. With this year’s roadbook navigation and track changes, the difficulty levels had really gone up. That did not stop the free-flowing Suresh Rana and his co-driver P.V.S. Murthy, of Team Maruti Suzuki Motorsport, from scorching the track. The five-time champion proved to the rest that he was still the best, by emerging a clear leader in the Xtreme category, after the second leg of the 2018 Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm. However, events were about to take a turn. The third leg of the rally, which included a marathon 200km special stage, witnessed the shock exclusion of the defending champion, Suresh Rana, after he suffered engine failure in the special section.
In stage three, Santosh was in a good rhythm and built-up a healthy lead of ten minutes over his closest rival. Unfortunately, he met with a crash during this stage, 44km from the finish line. Despite sustaining a neck injury, the country’s top rider completed the stage, but had to retire on precautionary grounds.
Abhishek Mishra in the Xtreme class and Aaron Mare of Aga’nta Racing in the Moto class maintained their overall leads after the conclusion of the fourth leg of the 2018 Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm Rally. Leg four also saw the longest night leg ever, stretching from Bhuwana to Majid di Basti covering over 200km without GPS tracks.
After six days of gruelling and challenging competition, the 2018 Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm ended in Sam, Jaisalmer with the team of Aabhishek Mishra and V Venu Rameshkumar winning the Xtreme category. Their time of 11:15:54 beat Raj Singh Rathore’s (along with navigator, Sagar Mallappatime) 11:50:36. The third runner up in the Xtreme category was the team of Niju Padia and Nirav Mehta, with a time of 12:35:40. The Moto category saw Aga’nta Racing have two contenders on the podium – Aaron Mare and Sanjay Kumar. Mare placed first with a time of 8:01:20, while Santolino Lorenzo from TVS Racing finished just behind him, clocking 8:06:39. Kumar meanwhile completed the rally with a time of 8:39:09. In the 4WD Ndure category, Ashish Budhia and co-driver Arindam Ghosh placed first, while Nipul Agrawal and Kabir Mansharamani won the 2WD Xplore category.
IN CONVERSARION WITH R S KALSI, SENIOR EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MARKETING AND SALES, MARUTI SUZUKI INDIA
How has the response been to Desert Storm this year?
This year, the participation in Desert Storm was at an all-time high. We are humbled and encouraged to see the increasing number of participants with each edition. I congratulate the invincible spirit of all the rallyists who participated and completed the 16th edition of Desert Storm.
Tell us about Maruti’s involvement in Indian motorsport.
Maruti Suzuki has stayed committed to India’s motorsport story for nearly two decades. Every year, Maruti Suzuki focuses to introduce these events with new terrains and routes to make it challenging and exciting for the enthusiasts. What we began with ‘Raid De Himalaya’ in late 1990s has since grown big with events such as ‘Desert Storm’, ‘Dakshin Dare’ and ‘Autoprix’. As a leader, we feel motorsport completes our offerings to customers and have brought it within the reach of enthusiasts.