Karandip and Naren have a ball

IT was a long wait for Karandip Singh (co-driver Jaidas Menon) of Team MRF, who finally ended his winless drought after nearly two years.

KHALYAN N. ASHOK

Karandip Singh (left) and co-driver Jaidas Menon of Team MRF, who won the overall title, celebrate their victory.-

IT was a long wait for Karandip Singh (co-driver Jaidas Menon) of Team MRF, who finally ended his winless drought after nearly two years. He finished as overall champion in the Movva Rally de Bangalore, the sixth and penultimate round of the MAI Indian National Rally Championship, held at Eagleton Golf Course in Bidadi, about 40 km from Bangalore.

A 1.8 km spectator stage, at Palace grounds in Bangalore, preceded the 297.45 km main rally. Driving a Honda City V-Tec, Karandip, whose last National triumph was in the 2001 Karnataka-1000, was at his best. He beat back a determined but late challenge from reigning National champion and team-mate V. R. Naren Kumar (co-driver D. Ramkumar) to emerge a worthy winner.

"It certainly is a nice feeling and I am happy that I finally broke my jinx by winning here. It has been a frustrating season," said Karandip, who stumbled at the last hurdle at the Chikmagalur, Nasik and Chandigarh rallies. Bangalore certainly saw a change in his fortunes and though he was pushed by his rivals pretty hard in the first leg, he stepped up the pace in the second leg to claim the honours. Arjun Balu (co-driver Kumar Ramaswamy) also of Team MRF finished second while Naren Kumar took the third spot. The placing was enough for Naren to be assured of the National Rally championship title. He had previously won the National championship in 2000 and 2001. Naren's tally of 68 points before the final round at Pune put him ahead of Arjun with 47 and Karandip on 44. The maximum number of points on offer in an INRC event is 16 (10 for a win and three each for the two legs).

Team MRF's Vikram Mathias (co-driver Sujith Kumar) negotiates a tight right-hander during the rally.-

Naren was happy and relieved that he had won the National Rally championship with a round to spare. "But I would have been happier had I won here instead of taking the title with a third place finish," he said.

Naren, who was trailing by 53 seconds in the first leg, stepped up the pace and made up 58 seconds before he had a punctured tyre on the penultimate Special Stage. That cost him about 20 seconds as he slid from second to third position.

Though Naren had finished fifth at the end of the first leg, he was elevated to second spot after team-mates N. Leelakrishnan (Farooq Ahmed), Balu and Vikram Mathias (Sujith Kumar) conceded road penalties of 20 seconds apiece.

Earlier in the first leg, Karandip led the field with a 36-seconds advantage and the opening day saw three of the 17 cars dropping out due to mechanical failures. Arjun Balu and co-driver Kumar Ramaswamy, winners of the previous round in Goa, finished second, ahead of seven-times National champion N. Leelakrishnan and co-driver Farooq Ahmed, also of Team MRF, by five seconds.

Vikram Mathias and co-driver Sujith Kumar of Team MRF, who made up considerable ground after a disappointing run in the Spectator Stage, when they suffered a broken strut in the day's second Special Stage, finished fourth overall. Naren Kumar (co-driver D. Ramkumar) came fifth, eight seconds behind Mathias.

The run was rather slow given the rough terrain and the tight and twisty routes, especially in the Power Special Stage (8.50 km) that forced the cars to run in just second gear. Under the circumstances, the competitors pushed their vehicles in the longer, Eagleton Special Stage (9.05 km).

Karandip set the pace from the start and was the fastest in four of the six Special Stages, but, like the rest of the competitors, eased up considerably as the day progressed. He held on for a good finish on the second day, which saw him claim his first title of the season.

The 1400 cc class presented a strange final picture with none of the three contenders finishing the event, but picking up leg points. Under the circumstances, Lohit V. Urs (co-driver M. K. Bopanna) and Rahul Kantharaj (co-driver Vivek Bhat) found themselves on level terms with 44 points apiece while the third contender, R. Karthikeyan (co-driver G. Sathish), could not complete the event due to mechanical failure and remained on 38 points.

Ranjit Ballal and co-driver S. N. Shanmugham, who had won the Rally Star Cup, were disqualified following a post-event scrutiny and the final placings, which were revised, put Ram Prashanth and Thirumurthy, in first place. The all-woman team of Anitha Kholay and Rashmi Bopanna of Bangalore did well to finish fifth.

The final classifications

INRC Overall: 1. Team MRF (Karandip Singh/Jaidas Menon) (1 hr, 29 mins, 13 secs); 2. Team MRF (Arjun Balu/Kumar Ramaswamy) (1:29:50); 3. Team MRF (V. R. Naren Kumar/D. Ramkumar) (1:30:10); 4. Team MRF (N. Leelakrishnan/Farooq Ahmed) (1:30:25); 5. Team MRF (Vikram Mathias/Sujith Kumar) (1:30:34); 6. Jiby Maliakkal/Nikhil Pai (1:32:24).

INRC 1400 cc: No finishers.

Rally Star Cup: 1. Ram Prashanth/Thirumurthy (1:30.51); 2. Rajan/P. V. S. Murthy (1:32.30); 3. Arjun Kumar/Lohit Anand (1:33.0); 4. Arjun Rao Aroor/Ashwin Naik (1:35.08); 4. Anitha Kholay/Rashmi Bopanna (1:50.52).