Rally drivers raring to go at the Dakshin Dare

A motley gathering of rallyists will gun their vehicles over the twists and turns that the eighth edition of the Maruti Suzuki Dakshin Dare will take them when it winds its way from Bengaluru to Goa over a week starting this Sunday.

With the 1600cc cap removed for cars in the tournament, it remains to be seen if Maruti Gypsy's dominance in the event will continue or not.   -  Ashwin Achal

It’s the monsoon season again and rally enthusiasts from all over the country have arrived at the rain-soaked mountains of the Western Ghats for yet another exhilarating season of motorsports action.

A motley gathering of rallyists — including but not limited to a scion of a construction group, an apple orchard owner and a lady who walks the higher echelons of a telecom major — will gun their vehicles over the twists and turns that the eighth edition of the Maruti Suzuki Dakshin Dare will take them when it winds its way from Bengaluru to Goa over a week starting this Sunday.

All of the participants come loaded with experience of rallying not only in previous editions of this event but also in some of the most trying conditions in motor rallies around the country.

Aiming for a three-peat of victories will be Sandeep Sharma. Giving him a run for his money and hoping to land his first title in this event will be Suresh Rana.

The flag-bearer for the ladies will be Bani Yadav, who has more than held her own in a predominantly male-dominated sport and has clocked the fastest times among both sexes in various rallies.

Speaking of fast times, Sharma — in his Gypsy — had a blistering run to the title the last time around when the event culminated in Hyderabad. “We were the fastest in all the stages and in fact had a lead of eight minutes overall,” said Sharma in a chat with Sportstar.

Sharma was confident with a touch of caution over his chances. “I will be driving the same vehicle, with some modifications, for this edition too,” he added. “But the 1600cc ceiling is off this year, so more powerful vehicles are in the fray. There are a couple of Vitaras that I saw in the entry list. I expect them to give me a tough fight.

Rana will be hoping that the extra horses under the hood — he will be steering a Vitara — will stand him in good stead in his quest to topple Sharma from his perch.

“I have never won the Dakshin Dare. So this time I am keen to set the record right,” said Rana. “I have my Vitara this time around and my preparations have been excellent. In fact this is my fourth rally this year.”

Sharma though had the final word. “It is not just about the vehicle, but also about driving styles — and I have faith in it — and how you endure during the whole rally.”

Elaborating further on his current hold over this event, Sharma, who got into rallying after he saw a few of his friends doing well in the same, said, “The Dakshin Dare is a cross-country event spread over five days and every day presents a different terrain.

“That makes it much more challenging. You have to set up your car, driving style and choice of tyres based on the type of terrain for the day. And every evening after the day’s race is over we have to spend sufficient time on our vehicles and get it ready for the next day,” he said.

Sharma is not content to just spend his time racing though and was part of the organising team for the two F1 events that were held in the country. He is also a steward with the federation, though this does mean that he doesn’t get enough time for his family’s construction business.

Rana, the apple-grower from Manali, meanwhile has been preparing in right earnest to finally crack the Dakshin Dare — this will be his fifth tilt at the title.

While he has had phenomenal success in the Raid de Himalaya — he is a nine-time consecutive winner — and the Desert Storm, the southern rally has proven to be a difficult one.

Talking about the three different rallies, Rana said, “Each of them is unique and offer different challenges. The Raid gives you no scope for mistakes while, the Desert Storm with its high speeds and fast stages gives you a lot of chances. But the rain in the Dakshin Dare is what sets it apart and makes it so tough, specially the section in Coorg. I feel that in the circumstances the Vitara will be the best bet and I hope to finally win this time.”

Cycling and walking in the hilly tracts of his hometown in Himachal Pradesh are what keep him fighting fit for the rigours of rallying.

Breaking into the male bastion is Bani, who has had to battle the usual obstacles that come with a woman competing with men. Though the lady herself says, “For me it is not about male or female. It is about my love for driving and racing. It gives me an adrenaline rush like no other.”

And Bani, who credits her immediate family’s support as a major source of inspiration and reason for her successes, has made others notice and acknowledge her.

That of course translates into increased pressure on her to perform and the gutsy lady is ready to have a go.

So what will it be then, a hat-trick for Sharma, a maiden title for Rana or will we have a surprise winner at the end in Goa?

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