Stage set for South India Rally

By Anand Philar,IANS,

Chennai : With dark clouds hovering and a threat of heavy rains, the South India Rally, returning to the city after a 11-year break, will pose a strong challenge to the 27 vehicles that will start the two-day event here Saturday.

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The organisers have laid out three physical Special Stages of about 35 km around Sriperumdur on the outskirts of Chennai that last held a round of the Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) in 2000. However, the twisty and bumpy terrain that came in for criticism.

Each of the three Special Stages will be run thrice while the Super Special Stage on the existing race track twice, but in the anti-clockwise direction.

“We are praying it will stay dry this weekend,” said Clerk-of-the-Course Manoj Dalal while conceding that speed will be at a premium. “I agree that the powerful Cedia cars might find the going heavy, but the terrain might suit the slower cars more.”

Weather apart, the attention, for obvious reasons, would be on Team MRF’s lead driver Gaurav Gill (co-driver Musa Sherif) who will be in a modified (N+ class) Mitsubishi Lancer Cedia, but the 29-year old from Delhi was far from pleased with the terrain.

Currently leading the championship following his win in Nashik earlier this month and placed second in the 2011 Asia Pacific Rally Championship, Gill said: “We will not be able to drive the Cedia to its full potential. The Special Stages are tight and twisty rather than fast and flowing.”

Incidentally, Gill has fond memories of the event as he made his four-wheeler INRC debut here in 2000 and won in his class (Group N) while finishing third Overall.

“It was different then as I was in a slower car (Esteem), doing my first rally in a four-wheeler after graduating from bikes,” recalled Gill whose amazing car control and raw speed have won him a legion of fans.

A majority of the drivers agreed with Gill’s views on the terrain although it was felt that those in the slower vehicles, like the Baleno (1600cc), the Esteem (Star Cup, 1400cc) and the Gypsy would be able to perform better.

“It will be fun to drive these Stages in a Gypsy. Yes, the terrain is a bit bumpy, but I feel that the Gypsy can handle it,” said Sanjay Agarwal from Bangalore who won in Nashik driving a modified Gypsy, but will be in a stock vehicle here.

As usual, the MRF have fielded a four-car team in the Cedia (N+) class that also has one private entries in Arjun Rao Aroor (co-driver Satish Rajagopal), a former Reds driver.

The 1600cc category has five entries as against four in Gypsy and five in the Star Cup (1400cc).

Reflecting the changing trend in Indian rallying, there are as many as eight entries in the stock Cedia class (Group N) in which Sirish Chandran (co-driver Nikhil Pai) is the championship leader after winning in Nashik.

The Cedia’s proven reliability and sturdiness have been major influencing factors leading to increased entries in the 2000cc class.

“The cost factor convinced me to move to Cedia as it is not only a quick car, but very reliable and can withstand punishment,” said private entry Rahul Kanthraj who hopes to get back on track after a disappointing run in Nashik.

Meanwhile, in another notable development, Yokohama tyres have marked their presence in the INRC with nine cars running on the Japanese rubber.

“The Yoko tyres have made a huge difference to my driving. I am able to carry more speed through the corners because of the high grip levels,” said Vikram Devadasen who too has moved up from 1600cc to the Cedia class.

The total length of the Rally is 290.80 km of which 108.40 comprise Special Stages with 182.40 km of transport section.