Overall, a fine show

THE coffee town of Chikmagalur has had a long association with motor sports and rallying. Its coffee estates have the ideal terrain for staging rallies and most of the planters support the sport unreservedly.

D. RAVI SHANKAR

Naren Kumar (left) and D. Ramkumar of Team MRF celebrate after emerging overall champions in the MAI's Coffee Day Championship Rally in Chikmagalur.-

THE coffee town of Chikmagalur has had a long association with motor sports and rallying. Its coffee estates have the ideal terrain for staging rallies and most of the planters support the sport unreservedly. When there was a boom in coffee prices, funds were deployed for sponsorship of these races, but with the prices taking a nosedive in recent times, money for organising these events was hard to come by.

The Associated Bean Coffee Trading Company however had staged a marketing success of its brand `Coffee Day' and thus had no hesitation in reviving its ties with the sport. Having previously staged the rally in 1995, ABC was once again inclined to inject funds into the Motor Sports Club of Chikmagalur, an association with a rich past. The owners of ABC Trading Company were even inclined to sign a 10-year contract to keep the event going, thus firmly putting rallying in Chikmagalur on the Motorsports Association of India's (MAI) — the governing body's — calendar of events on the National Championship circuit for the next decade.

Event-wise the rally was a great success. Despite a starting grid of just 18 cars and only one challenger to the MRF team in the 1600 INRC section, the terrain on the special stages was tough enough to test the skills of all the competitors. The dirt roads in the Blue Mountain Estate at Sargod and Gunsland were narrow, steep and ridden with obstacles. Both the cars and the drivers were subjected to gruelling trails.

In order to generate viewer interest, the Motor Sports Club of Chikmagalur had organised a special spectator stage at the Mountain View College on the fringe of the city. The sports field located in a valley on the premises of the institution had a natural gallery and many of the townsfolk of Chikmagalur and the residents of the nearby estates thronged to witness the spectator stage. In fact, a number of enthusiasts from Bangalore also travelled to the coffee town just for the rally.

It was a bad start for defending champion Naren Kumar during the first special stage. His Honda City V Tec stuttered and spluttered and virtually limped off the dirt track causing Naren considerable worry. A choked fuel pump coupled with a gearbox hitch seemed to be the problem and Naren was fortunate enough to find a samaritan in the city who offered him help. Naren was gracious to acknowledge the favour during the prize distribution ceremony.

On the special stages, Naren Kumar was in top form. The deficit accrued from the spectator stage was quickly obliterated and Naren was soon in the lead. MRF's only challenger, Jiby Mallaikal, suffered a setback crashing into a boulder and thus choking up the track for a while. Vikram Mathias, who offered some challenge to Naren with a better timing on the first special stage, also had problems with his vehicle and by the end of the day was among the dropouts. Naren had only to ensure a safe finish on the final day to come out trumps in the first round of this year's INRC championship.

Karandeep Singh was the only contender to make a bid on the final day. However Naren had enough of a lead to keep his title bid safe.

The Coffee Day Rally at Chikmagalur proved to be a memorable one for Sanjay Aggarwal. A serious injury had put him out of action for some years but the love of the sport lured him back into competitive rallying.

Allowing Arjun Rao to lead till the final day in the Rally Star Cup category, Sanjay Aggarwal made a sustained effort in the final stages of the rally and finally managed to break into the lead. A great effort by the gritty Sanjay Aggarwal paid off and he was back on the winner's podium.

The all-women team of Anitha Kholay and Rashmi Bopanna acquitted itself creditably finishing the gruelling course without any mishap. Novice driver Abhijeet Pai, the only driver from Chikmagalur, also did well to pick up valuable points in the Rally Star Cup section.

During one of the press briefings a spokesperson from ABC Trading Company said that Chikmagalur would like to host an Asia Pacific Rally. With the limited hotel facilities in the coffee town and its lack of a railway station and easy accessibility to tourists it would be a pipe dream to stage such an event. Though the accommodation problem could be partially solved with estate owners generously opening up their lovely cottages, hosting such major events would remain a far cry unless Chikmagalur takes tourism seriously and develops the hotel industry.

The results:

1600 cc: 1. Naren Kumar (D. Ramkumar) Honda City V Tec 02.38.24, 2. Karandeep Singh (Jaidas Menon) Honda City V Tec 02.39.13, 3. N. Leelakrishnan (Farooq Ahmed) Honda City V Tec 02.39.32, 4. Arjun Balu (R. Kumar) Honda City V Tec 02.41.20. 1400 cc: 1. Lohith Urs (M. K. Bopanna) Esteem 02.45.36, 2. Rahul Kantharaj (Vivek Bhatt) Esteem 02.48.15, 3. Karthikeyan (S.Veerashanmugham) Esteem 02.51.26.

Rally Star Cup: 1. Sanjay Aggarwal (Manoj Menon) 02.51.00, 2. Amith Kumar (A. Shanmugham) 02.53.25, 3. Arjun Rao (C. K. Chinappa) 02.54.46, 4. Roopesh (Chetan) 03.03.31, 5. Abhijeet Pai (J. E. Divin) 03.19.47, 6. Anitha Kholay (Rashmi Bopanna) 03.56.06.