What does it take to win a rally?

We get a low down about rallying from the experienced personnel of Indian rallying fraternity

One of the world’s most grueling Motorsport events – Dakar Rally – is underway where an Indian rider CS Santosh is participating for the very first time. While the Bangalore-lad is busy tackling the dirty, gravel and desert on his rally-spec KTM 450; we try to answer the age-old question, what does it take to win a rally.

While it’s relatively shorter than the Dakar Rally, Raid de Himalaya is undoubtedly one of the toughest rallies in the world. We catch up with Team Thunderbolt – the very team that won the grueling Raid de Himalaya 2014, as well as other talented blokes from the world of rallying to know what goes in to participating and winning a rally.

What is the secret to Team Thunderbolt’s success in rallies over the years?
Titu Singh (Team Thunderbolt – Team Manager): The secret is unity and trust. There are 3 pillars to our team – Thunderolt, Yokohama and Speedsport.

How do you choose your drivers?
Titu Singh (Team Thunderbolt – Team Manager): We choose them strictly based on their performance. We look at how they’ve performed in the past two years and then take a call if we’d like them to associate with us or not.

As a team, what do you aim to perceive?
Titu Singh (Team Thunderbolt – Team Manager): We just wish to promote motorsports. Suresh Rana and Sandeep Sharma, both were with Team Thunderbolt. Now they’re driving for Team Maruti Suzuki where they have the sponsorship, team’s car and also get paid. We’re glad to have nurtured them and they have progressed to a stage where they’re getting paid for racing.

Does the route stay the same each year?

Jagmeet Gill (Team Maruti Suzuki – First place in Adventure Trail): Nope, just like Dakar, in Raid de Himalaya too, the route varies each year.

How do you build the car for the rally?
Amartej Buwal (Team Thunderbolt – Overall winner of Raid de Himalaya 2014): Reliability factor is very important. First you need to strip down the car to the chassis. Rebuild from there on. New suspension. Clutch plate, gearbox and engine mounting – all new.

You also need to redo the compression of engine.

Install roll cage, seat and seat belts. These all are as per the FIA specification. You should never compromise on the safety.

How did you decide to shift your focus from being a bike builder to being a team owner at Raid de Himalaya?
Arjun Raina (Team Moto Exotica – Their solo entry Chinmay Bisht finished second in Alpine): I have my roots in rallying. I won a dirt track sometime in 2006. I also attempted Raid de Himalaya in 2008 and I was doing okay till a mechanical failure put me out. I always wanted to get back to it. I have Chinmay with me as my rider; we are from the same town. I bumped in to him and we both were interested in this. So I decided to build a bike for him.

On the morning of the first stage on the first day, minutes before you’re going to be flagged off, how do you feel?

Nakul Mehendiratta (Team Thunderbolt – Navigator – First Overall):Fantastic! Overall, everyone is anxious. There are a lot of surprises at this event because it runs at crazy altitudes, and one needs to be prepared for them. So, yeah, there is a lot of nervousness, there is a lot of excitement and everyone is just looking to finish at the end of the day; that’s the first agenda. As they say, ‘to finish first, you have to first finish.’

During the transport, what is going through your head when you’re heading towards the starting line of the stage?

Suresh Rana (Nine-time Raid de Himalaya winner): During the transport, we run normally. If we reach the start line of the next stage late then we get penalized. So we just make sure that we make it there on time. Psychologically, we just stay positive, confident and focused during that period.

Sandeep Sharma (Team Maruti Suzuki: Winner of Dakshin Rally 2014): We always concentrate on the upcoming stage and just make sure that we get through the transport well in time; so that we reach there early, relax and check up on our seat belts, paperwork, GPS, trip meter and other things.

When did you realize that you have a real chance of winning?
Jagmeet Gill (Team Maruti Suzuki – First place in Adventure Trail): I wasn’t leading on first day. But I did well on third, fourth, fifth and sixth day. I received a 3 min 20 second penalty which is a record penalty. Despite that, I kept going and made sure I don’t make any mistake. Thankfully, my past experiences helped and I was able to hold on and win the event.

Amartej Buwal (Team Thunderbolt – Overall winner of Raid de Himalaya 2014): Earlier I just wanted to finish. On day 5, we were in top 5 in the classification. That’s when I started to feel positive about a podium finish. On day 5, between me, Suresh Rana and Abhishek Mishra, there was a difference of 8-9 minutes. Rana and Mishra made a big mistake and crashed. About Rana’s crash, I came to know before I stared my run. But as far as Mishra’s crash is concerned, I got to know about it much later – after I finished the stage. I just kept driving consistently and believe in myself.

Raid de Himalaya runs for six days while Dakar Rally runs for two weeks. Nonetheless, a chat with our Indian rally specialist does goes an insight in to the mindset of the teams and the participants, as well as the mental and technical preparations that goes into it. Also, as was the case with Suresh Rana at 2014 edition of Raid de Himalaya, you could be a nine-time champion and leading the race till the penultimate day, but one small mistake and you pay the price. It’s the same at Dakar. There is simply no room for error.