Nine Time Raid de Himalaya Champion’s Victory Run

Suresh Rana talks about his chance encounter with racing

Suresh Rana at Desert Storm (Image Credit: Suresh Rana)

Suresh Rana has won the Raid de Himalaya nine times, Desert Storm thrice and INRC title six times. He is arguably one of India’s best off-road racers. But his brush with racing was more coincidental than planned.

On one fine day in 2001, he was hurtling down his Gypsy at Kaza on his way from Kunzum Top when Mandeep Bhalla spotted him. With an eye for recognizing talent, Mandeep immediately noticed that Rana was taking the perfect racing lines while driving his non-race spec Gypsy. He informed Rana about Raid de Himalayan; Rana got interested and decided to participate in the 2001 Raid. He spent next few months prepping his beloved car with roll bars and other safety features. And the rest, as they say is history.

He started racing at age 20. In 2001, he participated in Raid de Himalaya for the first time where he finished 2nd in his group and 6th overall. He bettered his performance next year by topping his group and getting a 2nd place in overall standings.

But it was only in 2004 after gaining enough experience that Rana came into his own – and started the series of wins. And when we say series of wins, we mean, FIVE back-to-back Raid de Himalaya titles. An unfortunate incident didn’t let him finish 2009 race but he came back strongly next year and regained his crown. He backed the 2010 win with no less than three more wins in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

His wins in Raid de Himalaya doesn’t mean he can drive fast only on the mountains; on the sand too, not many can overtake him. A testament of that is the fact that he’s also won three Desert Storm titles – in 2009, 2012 and 2013.
Though Desert Storm and Raid de Himalaya, both are rallies, they’re still very different from racing point of view. “In Raid, physical fitness is of utmost importance. At times, the temperature reaches as low as -30 C. You need to be capable enough to handle that,” says Rana. “In Desert Storm, the navigator is very important. Raid is just one road and hence, you can’t really get lost. But in Desert, one wrong turn and you may end up doing a 20 km detour,” added Rana.

According to Rana, Gypsy is the one of the better for rallying on the mountains as well as in the desert. No wonder, he stuck to it for ten years from 2001 to 2010. Post that, he started racing for Maruti which saw him progress to Grand Vitara – which again reigned supreme at the Raid in 2011, 2012 & 2013.
When asked about the best cars for rallying, Rana’s picks (in no particular order) were: Maruti Gypsy, Skoda Fabia, Mitsubishi Evo 10 & Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara. But irrespective of how talented one is, it’s fairly difficult to find a sponsor who can finance the car and the crew for you – a thought that’s resonated by Rana as well. “It’s very difficult to get sponsors in India. Even I got my first sponsor – Thunderbolt – only after I won my first title in 2004,” says Rana.

Despite the fact that the 33-year-old had a chance encounter in motorsports, for those who wants to take up rallying as a career, Rana suggests that they should start with the basics. “If you get a sponsor, it’s good. Else do it on your own. Start with the basics – like Autocrossing. Here, the participants do rally on a smaller scale, in the grounds and not on the mountains,” he says. “Then look at your talent on skillset and based on that, take a call whether you can make it to the top or not” exclaims the nine-time-champion.

We wish Suresh Rana all the luck and glory in days to come. He’s truly been an inspiration for hundreds of racers in India.