A lot of loose ends

D. RAVI SHANKAR

The winners... Stuart Warren and Darryl Judd.-G.P. SAMPATHKUMAR

BEING a candidate for the Asia Pacific Rally Championship in 2003, the organisers should have worked a lot more to ensure the success of the MRF India Rally 2002. But, sadly, it was pretty much like any other local event.

Much was made about the international flavour to the event. There were nine entries for this section including an Indian competitor, Naren Kumar, driving a Mitsubishi Evo VII. But as the rally was held after the last leg of the Asia Pacific, it had no material bearing on overall standings. This was probably why some of the big names decided to skip the event.

The star-attractions in the international class were Stuart Warren along with his co-driver Darryl Judd.

Warren's main threat was India's Naren Kumar. Both drivers were steering the powerful four-wheel drive Mitsubishi Evo VIIs. The MRF Rally team consistently spelt Stuart's first name as Stewart (probably being the British way of spelling it as against the Australian way) and corrected it only after the prize giving ceremony.

The Rally had a moderate grid of 28 entries. This was mainly due to the fact that the Indian National Rally Championship was to be staged concurrently.

The first two days of the rally were quite disastrous. On the second special stage at Brownhill area, buntings tied to caution the drivers were deliberately switched by mischievous spectators causing immense confusion. Many drivers lost valuable time backtracking and after much deliberation it was decided to scrap the timings of the second stage. Further confusion occurred when Naren Kumar's timings were pushed back by five seconds much after the provisional timings were released to the media. Newsmen from outstation journals had to make urgent calls to effect the changed timings much after their copy was released. Worse was to follow. After making the changes, some journalists said that the timings were to be reverted and the five-second change was not to be incorporated. In addition an accident on the highway (supposedly not involving the rally cars) saw traffic being blocked and the rally cars (except four which had passed the scene) being grounded at the service bay.

Day two also began on a sour note. A snap strike by the ham operators for being provided inadequate facilities threw a spanner in the conduct of the first three stages for the day (special stages 7, 8 and 9). After the operators were mollified the proceedings resumed and the stages were completed. Here again the organisers attributed the delay and cancellation to technical failure of the equipment and being concerned about competitor and spectator safety, the extreme step of cancelling the first three stages was taken.

The final day went off without a hitch, thankfully.

With regard to the competition itself, Naren Kumar briefly held centrestage grabbing the lead from Stuart Warren. The Kiwi settled in Australia, however, timed his challenge to a nicety and with Naren encountering problems with his car, Warren began to consolidate his lead. Leading by 8.7 seconds on the first day, Warren extended his lead to 2:29:2 seconds on the second day.

That the rally was tough on the cars was reflected in the fact that totally 11 cars dropped out in the first two days. The INRC cars having to run in the wake of the four-wheel drives found the roads in bad shape and they had to exercise extreme caution to keep their cars going. The top four drivers in the INRC category did well to match some of the timings of the international section.

The final day of the rally was a mere formality with none of the drivers pushing their cars as nothing was at stake. Warren had his first international title in his hands and Naren was content to focus on finishing for the first time in his Mitsubishi Evo VII and take the second spot.

The results: International Section: 1. Stuart Warren (Darryl Judd), Mitsubishi Evo VII 2:50;30.9; 2. Naren Kumar (D. Ramkumar) Mitsubishi Evo VII 2:53:04.4; 3. Lang Xu (Guangyuan Men) Subaru GC 8, 3:02:24.7.

Indian National Rally Championship: 1. Arjun Balu (Kumar Ramaswamy) Honda City V tec, 2:17:03.1; 2. Leelakrishnan (Farooqe Ahmed) Honda City V tec 2:17:28.9; 3. Karandip Singh (Jaidas Menon) Honda City V tec 2:20:10.9.

INRC 1400: 1. Shresta Patil (Lohit Anand) Maruti Esteem, 2:30:08.5; 2. Rahul Kantharaj (Vivek Bhatt) Esteem 2:33:53.6; 3. S. Venkatesh (V. Srinivas) Esteem 2:42:19.3.

Rally Star Cup: 1. Lohit Urs (M. K. Bopanna) Esteem 2:30:23.6; 2. S. Ramprashanth (Ravi Venkatesh) Esteem 2:30:59.4; 3. Amith Kumar (Amith Anand) 2:40:49.0.