The Indian National Rally Championship is something I follow closely – not least because I’m participating in it. Here is a look back over the year gone by, with the highs and lows of each race.
Rally of Maharashtra: June 02 – 05
The first and the only tarmac round of the season was held around Nashik, Maharashtra in the twisty sections of Western Ghats of Sahayadris that demand respect. Gaurav Gill (Musa Sherif) picked up from where he had left off last season, winning the consecutive tarmac rallies, and this time with a mammoth lead of 8 minutes on the second car of Lohit Urs (PVS Murthy).
Gaurav Gill continued to dominate the season for MRF, winning the overall championship with a round to spare. The Delhi lad won five rallies (Nashik, Coimbatore, Bangalore, Bhubaneshwar and Durgapur) and was also a second runner-up at the Chikmagalur rally. He suffered only one retirement in Chennai, against three retirements and two wins last season.
Though Gaurav Gill put up a splendid show showing us why he was the Asia Pacific runner-up for the 2010 season, his victory was dwarfed by another incident in the rally. Ashwin Gowda (Anoop Kumar) went off the twisty stage on a drop of over 200 feet, did rolled more than ten times and left the car a mangled wreck. Not the best way of showcasing the sport’s high safety standards, but the crew did manage to come out completely unharmed.
South Indian Rally: June 23 – 26
The South Indian Rally was back on the calendar after 11 years and turned out to be one of the most difficult rallies this season. Chennai’s hot and humid weather and narrow, twisty stages took a toll on both cars and the crew – only 12 of the 28 cars managed to finish the entire rally.
Hrishikesh Thackersey (Kaushik Shinde) won the 1400 Star Cup with ease, as five out of seven cars failed to finish the rally, and the only other driver who went on to win the 1400 championship Karan (Shanmukha) also limped to the finish with severe damage to the car.
Karna Kadur (Somonita Ghosh) in a Red Rooster-prepared 2000 N Cedia finished second overall behind Amitrajit Ghosh (Ashwin Naik) making it a one-two finish for the Ghosh family. Karna Kadur fought with Rahul Kantraj all the way till last the rally, taking the championship for the category.
Rally of Coimbatore: July 22 – 24
The most awaited and technical rally of the season is also known to be the most brutal on the cars due to rough and barren terrain. The Coimbatore Auto Sports Club organised another brilliant event and the highlight of the rally was the surprising overcast climate. This rally has seven stages on Day 1 (more than any other rally in the calendar) and without the usual heat was much easier to negotiate compared to preceding years.
Sanjay Agarwal (Shivprakash E) mocked the competition in the Gypsy class taking the third consecutive win of the season and eventually winning both Gypsy T2 and Overall championship. Shafeeq-ur-Rahman (Ajith KP) did show resistance in the latter rallies and finished two points behind in the Gypsy T2 class.
K-1000 Bangalore: August 19 – 21
This was the 37th consecutive year of the Bangalore Rally (commonly known as the K1000) and was once again on the weekend after Independence Day. Rain toyed with competitors all through the weekend, it rained on the recce day and Day 1 was dry forcing teams to change strategies and once again wet on Day 2 resulting in cancellation of two stages.
Dean Mascarenhas (Shrupta Padival,) an eighteen year old debutant from Mangalore, grabbed everyone’s attention with a brilliant pace in an Esteem that matched the performance of 2000 N Cedias. Dean continued his strong performance through the season winning in 1400 Star Cup category in Bhubaneshwar and Durgapur.
Coffee Day Rally: November 18 – 20
The season restarted in Chikmagalur, Karnataka after the mid-season break with the Coffee day sponsored rally. The rally is known for its glamour and parties once again hosted a brilliant prize distribution ceremony at the Coffee Day factory. The two stages -University and Birur – have a completely different flow and surface type. It is very challenging for the drivers to adapt to the fast Birur corners after they have negotiated over 30 hairpins in the University. Chikmagalur also has the most spectacular Super Special Stage, as the cars compete on an artificially created track which is at a lower level to the spectator zone.
Chikmagalur was the last rally for MRF driver Arjun Balu (Sujith Kumar). The veteran driver retired after a lustrous career spanning 18 years. Lohit Urs (PVS Murthy) won his only rally of the calendar and immediately quit MRF to run as privateer from Bhubaneshwar.
Rally of Odisha: December 9 -11
The INRC visited the city of temples for the first time for the rally organised by Kalinga Motorsports Club. Bhubaneshwar was a very fast rally through the iron ore mines on hard-packed dirt roads. One of the stages got occupied by a herd of elephants from a nearby forest and, rather obviously, got cancelled.
Anirudha Ranganekar (Anoop Kumar) sealed the 1600 N category with a round to spare by finishing third in this rally. Lohit competed in the 2000 N+ with Red Rooster, but blew his engine in the first stage. Gaurav Gill won again, and Amitrajit Ghosh sealed the second position in the overall standings.
Rally De Bengal: December 16 – 18
The second of the back-to-back rallies of the east, the Bengal Rally had its headquarters in Durgapur, some 200km from Kolkata. The only rally to have a night Super Special Stage with floodlights, it was held in the parking lot of a mall. The Gypsy class and 2000 N Cedias were the only categories still fighting for the championship and many competitors opted out of this rally.
Competition was fierce nevertheless, Sanjay Agarwal (Venu) won the Gypsy class and championship by a margin of a mere second. Dean Mascarenhas and Vikram Aroor (Somaiya) kept exchanging the lead all the way to the last stage, where Dean held his nerve to win by four seconds. Vikram is another exciting youngster who grabbed three runner-up positions this season. Rahul Kantraj (Vivek Bhat) won the rally but couldn’t close the gap on Karna Kadur as he won the championship with the only female navigator this year, Somonita Ghosh.