16th Raid de Himalaya: A look back

Shock and awe. That’s one way to describe the 16th edition of Raid de Himalaya.

Dune buggy in action (Image credit: Binoy Parikh)

Let’s be honest, the Motorsport scene in India is not as glorious as it is in the European countries. Our short and dirty love-affair with Formula 1 also lasted for only three years. The only torch bearer for India over the years has been Raid de Himalaya. Raid de Himalaya is one of the toughest rallies in the world. It is run in some of the most beautiful and harshest environments.

The event starts two-days prior to the flag off where the vehicles are tested by the officials to check for the safety and technical specifications. The provisional flag for this year’s rally off took place on 4th October with the reigning and nine-time champion Suresh Rana getting a rockstar reception. Inclusion of the Actor-Director Sohail Khan, who was competing in the Adventure Category, also got additional media attention.

On 5th October, while the rest of the Shimla was still in their woolen blankets, before the day-break, the participants gathered at the flag-off venue – Hotel Peterhoff, Shimla. At 5 AM, at first, the Raid Xtreme bikers and then the cars began their transport (transport is basically travelling from one point to another – often, between or before the start of the stages; here, the time in the transport is not calculated but you need to ensure that you reach the next stage in time for the flag-off) to the first stage’s starting point at Luhri – 100 km. from Shimla. The Adventure Trial, the category of amateur racers, observes a speed-time-distance format and their transport section is also much less.

Team Army’s Lt. Col. Shakti Bajaj in action during stage 1 (Image credit: Binoy Parikh)
Winner Amartej Buwal in action on day 1 (Image credit: Binoy Parikh)

The same format carries on for rest of the rally where the riders and drivers are flagged-off one after the other on competitive stages and in between, they’re transported to the flag-off points. It’s often said that the weaker-lot gets filtered out of the rally on the first day itself. As the rally progresses, the terrain weeds out more and more weak links; and by day three, only the toughest and the most serious racers survive. This was evident when at the start of the first leg on first day, a biker had an accident; resulting in the rest of field to have more than 30 minutes delay.

While the drivers are dealing with unforgiving corners and tyre-shredding tarmac, their support crews rush to the finishing point (through an alternate route or hours in advance, often in the middle of the night before the route gets closed for general traffic), so that they can service their cars/bikes and mend any issues that the vehicle may have developed during the course of the race, and get them ready for the next race. In those brief few minutes, the drivers also gather time to grab a bite or two. In all this madness, they never forget one fact about ‘The Raid’ that the danger is right around the corner. Literally. Even if you’re leading the race, all it takes is a slip of concentration and you’re history. And it is not just philosophy here. The exact same thing happened to the nine-time champion Suresh Rana. Rana who was negotiating the tricky route to Nakee La Pass (a high mountain pass situated at an altitude of 15,547 ft) on the fifth day, when he misjudged the maximum cornering speed at a turn and plunged several feet in the valley. Till that point, Rana was leading the rally for four days. Not just he, his closest competitor Abhishek Mishra, who was trailing him by just 7 minutes, also went down on the very same corner few minutes later, crashing few feet away from Rana. Thankfully, both the drivers and their respective navigators walked away from the crash.

With the top two contenders out, this gave others a chance to push for the win. In the end, it was Team Thunderbolt’s Amartej Buwal who took the top honours in the Xtreme category. Team Winning Wheels’ Capt. AVS Gill took the second spot; while, completing a double podium finish for Team Thunderbolt was Karan Jung in third place.

In the Adventure Category, for the third year in a row, it was Team Maruti’s Jagmeet Gill who took the chequered flag. It was 1-2 finish for Team Maruti as Subir Roy took the second spot, and holding Team Tusker’s flag in third place was Ranchi’s Ashish Budhia.

As far as two wheel challenge is concerned, Team TVS’ R Natraj, riding his massive Apache RTR 450, won the Xtreme Motorcycle and Quads category. Privateer Suresh Babu Janarthanan finished second while Team Tusker’s Sourav Handa took the third place.

It was a huge victory for Team Thunderbolt as they managed to win the Team Trophy in both Xtreme four-wheelers as well as two-wheelers category. In the Adventure T-S-D (Time-Speed-Distance) format, Team Maruti took the top spoils.

A KTM rider riding through Chhatru Bridge (Image credit: Binoy Parikh)

It’s not just the non-existent roads and craters the size of black holes that take a toll on the man and the machine. It’s also the weather. At altitude above 15000 ft. you might go to bed with clear skies and wake up to find your machine covered in snow. That’s exactly what happened on fourth day of the rally in Kaza when due to excess snow, that leg had to be called off. So was the second stage on day one, when the soil on the route turned to slush due to overnight rain. In the Adventure Category, only 39 of the 55 teams managed to finish the race. It was even worse in Raid Xtreme. Of the 41 cars that started the race, more than half of them failed to finish it; only 19 of them managed to bring their machines home.

But despite the bone-crushing rides, unnerving routes and hazardous conditions; there is no bigger adrenaline in the Indian motorsport circuit than crossing that finish line at the end of the sixth day! And the beauty of this race is that absolutely anyone – with or without experience – can participate. All you need is a vehicle, a rally license, some nerves of steel and some octane-diluted-DNA!