Back to winning ways

Arjun Balu of Team MRF made his way through the 2-km Super Special Stage with some controlled driving to win the title.

Topping the chart was Arjun Balu, who stood atop his Mitsubishi Cedia with co-driver Sujit Kumar and chief guest Mahendra Singh Dhoni to a rapturous ovation from the 5000-strong crowd after the Super Special stage on the final day of the rally (August 23).

Arjun Balu’s long wait for a title — he last won a rally in 2005 — finally ended on a balmy Sunday at the Manyata Tech Park in Bangalore as he made his way through the 2-km Super Special Stage with some controlled driving. The title had been very much in his bag at the end of the second stage.

Arjun Balu’s team-mates, Gaurav Gill (co-driver Moosa Sheriff ) and Aroor Arjun Rao (co-driver Satish Rajagopal) finished second and third overall, making the event a very memorable one for Team MRF.

“This victory means a lot to me. Despite my best efforts, luck eluded me for quite some time and I was determined to take the title once I had the lead in the first stage. I just held on to my position and made sure that I stayed ahead all the way, though I had a few glitches with my car, especially in the second stage,” said the 34-year-old champion from Coimbatore.

The significance that many drivers attached to K-1000 was inescapable, for it was the longest running rally in the country with a history of over 35 years.

This year’s rally, running a little over a distance of 350 kilometres, was done at Sidhalghatta. About 70 kms from Bangalore, Sidhalghatta has a lot of mulberry farms. The track, a good mix of dirt and gravel, was in a much better shape this time according to the drivers, and it was indeed built for speed. Of the 64 cars that took the starter’s flag, Arjun Balu was the best at 42.04m. He grabbed the lead in the first leg, followed by Gaurav Gill, who suffered a puncture, and Aroor Arjun Rao.

The biggest casualties of the first stage were defending champion Virkam Mathias and the Coimbatore leg champion, Amitrajit Ghosh. The Red Rooster drivers were forced to pack up with mechanical trouble after they had flat tyres.

With Red Rooster’s challenge effectively ending in an unexpected manner, it was Team MRF all the way in the second stage.

But overnight rain made driving almost treacherous and Gaurav Gill’s bid to overtake Arjun Balu was stymied by electrical problems in his car. In fact Balu too had problems with his gear box, but he held on to his lead to finish the second stage.

The Super Special Stage on the third and final day was a two-kilometre stretch with hairpin bends and water spots. It was indeed a spectator’s delight with the drivers going flat out.

The stylish Delhiite, Gaurav Gill, drove with unbridled aggression and stole the show by being the quickest of the 36 starters. He drove two blistering laps to clock 2:07s which was the best of the day.

In other categories, the leaders Joseph Jos/Royce K (1600cc), Vikram Devadasen/ Nikhil Pai (1400cc), Phalguna Urs/Anoop Kumar (Rally Star Cup) and Sandeep Sharma/Anmol Ramphal (Gypsy) hung on to their leads established in the first two legs to emerge champions.

THE RESULTS

Overall — 2000cc: 1. Arjun Balu/Sujith Kumar (Team MRF, Cedia N+) 1:31:49s, 2. Gaurav Gill/Moosa Sheriff (Team MRF, Cedia N+) 1:34:44, 3. Aroor Arjun Rao/Satish Rajagopal (Team MRF, Cedia N+) 1:36:57.

1600cc (Baleno): 1. Joseph Jos/Royce K 1:39:25, 2. S Sujay/Varun 1:41:16, 3. Rahul Kanthraj/Vivek Bhatt 1:41:49.

1400cc (MPFI Esteem): 1. Vikram Devadasen/Nikhil Pai 1:40:36, 2. Jos Francis/Manoj M 1:45:21, 3. Samarth Gowda/S. M. Bharath 1:46:51.

Rally Star Cup (Carburetted Esteem): 1. Phalguna Urs/Anoop Kumar 1:46:33, 2. C. G. Balaram / C. G. Raghuram 1:46:48, 3. Harikeshav Nambiar/Ashwin Nadig 1:47:19.

Gypsy: 1. Sandeep Sharma/Anmol Ramphal (Team Thunderbolt) 1:47:14, 2. Khushwant Randhawa/Harminder 1:48:12, 3. Sanjay Agarwal/Chetan Shivram 1:49:22.

* * * Rashmi Sharma’S unique feat

S. PATRONOBISH

Success breeds success. Rashmi Sharma (in pic), a lithe 20-year-old from Kolkata, has proved this time and again. Ever since she crossed the English Channel at the age of 17 on July 19, 2006, this Kolkata girl has crossed one of the toughest channels in sea swimming twice more, her recent effort coming on August 13 this year.

Rashmi’s second successful attempt at crossing the English Channel was on August 24, 2007, and she made a brave attempt the following year in a bid to set a unique record of swimming the Channel for the third successive year. She ran out of luck, literally, as worsening weather conditions thwarted her attempt.

Undaunted and determined, Rashmi did it this year and took 13 hours and 53 minutes to reach the French coast. “I needed 11 hours and 47 minutes during my first crossing in 2006 and 13 hours and six minutes on my second attempt. This time the sea turned rough and the going got tougher by the minute. My courage and determination kept me going, and as I approached the other end, the current kept pulling me back as I strove hard to touch the shore. I realised the enormity of the task only after I had reached the shore,” she said of her experience.

“Crossing the English Channel is all about will power, not just skill, stamina and strength. Swimming the Channel tests one’s physical and mental strengths. The cold water coupled with sudden weather changes can dent one’s confidence. Having successfully crossed the Channel thrice, my mind is now set on crossing it both ways, may be in a couple of years,” Rashmi said.

When Rashmi gave up her fairly successful competitive swimming career and decided to plunge into adventure swimming, her first successful crossing of the Channel egged her on to further glory. “My idol is Alison Streeter, well known as the Queen of the Channel. She swam the Channel solo for a world record 43 times. I was inspired by her feat,” Rashmi said.

With this unparalleled feat, Rashmi has etched her name alongside very famous swimmers from Bengal such as Mihir Sen, Arathi Saha, Bula Chowdhury and the handicapped Mohammad Masudur Rahman Baidya, who successfully negotiated the Channel.

Crossing the seven seas has been her goal. Rashmi achieved another feat by crossing the Strait of Gibraltar in tandem with her younger sister Richa Sharma on August 7 this year. She now has five seas to conquer.

Born to Vipan Sharma and Kiran, Rashmi’s major problem is sponsorship. “My parents spent nearly Rs. 18 lakh on my last two attempts at crossing the Channel. How long can they support me?” she wondered.

Rashmi is lucky in a way since her relatives too are pooling in money to support her in her ventures. Her uncle, A. K. Singh, rued the fact that adventure swimming in India was largely self-financed. “I hope the corporate world realises the need to support adventure swimmers in future,” he said.

* * * Third time lucky

K. MURALIKUMAR

Prathima Hegde (in pic) was lucky the third time. The bowling ace from Bangalore, after placing second in two successive finals, walked away with the crown in her third title round in the India Cements National Tenpin bowling championship in Gurgaon recently.

Prathima had lost in the finals in 2007 and 2008 by narrow margins. However, the 2009 final was different as she walloped her rival Sabeena from Tamil Nadu by 319 points. “I am extremely happy with the result which came after a lot of hard work. The victory was all the more satisfying because in my earlier finals, I lost by 16 and ten pins. So the margin of win in the final was a big bonus for me,” said Prathima.

The top six men and women played a round-robin in their respective sections and the play-offs did not actually start well for Prathima. She lost her first match to Maharashtra’s Jharna Badlani 180-192, but kept her cool and played steadily to win the next four games of the play-offs (227-164 against Anuradha, 206-180 against Namratha, 234-152 against Swapna and 178-166 against Sabeena). She finished with 155 in the final roll-off to take the first position in a convincing manner.

Prathima attributed her success to the intensive training she had in Malaysia from January through March this year. This, according to her, helped fine-tune her technique. Now that she has broken a jinx, Prathima said she looked forward to improving her averages and making a mark in international events.

It was indeed a memorable outing for Karnataka in Gurgaon as Namratha and Swapna finished third and fourth respectively in the women’s section.

Girish Gaba of Bangalore narrowly went down to the more experienced H. V. Sarda of Delhi in the men’s final by 39 pins.

Gaba took the second spot while another Bangalore lad, Abhishek Maheshwari, who was voted the ‘most promising player of the year’ finished third.

R. Kannan, general secretary of the Karnataka State Tenpin Bowling Association, who is also the secretary general of Tenpin Bowling Federation (India), said it was heartening to note the rapid strides made by our men and women players in tenpin bowling. “Prathima’s triumph was the icing on the cake. We want to consolidate our gains and improve our game with a structured training programme,” he said.

By Kalyan Ashok & S. Sabanayakan