After three days of rigorous competition which tested the endurance and mental strength of the competitors, Haldia born driver and local Municipality Councillor, Sheikh Ajgar Ali (driver) and Mohammad Musthafa (navigator) were crowned as the champions of the Indian National Regulatory Run Championship (INRRC) 2021 sponsored by JK Tyre.
The duo of Sheikh Aniruddha and Rajkumar Mundra finished second, while the pair of Subir Roy and Nirav Mehta finished third.
"This is a rally that I personally find challenging despite winning it five times. But that is what excites me. More challenging the rally is, the more inspired I get to perform better, " said Ali after winning the title.
The INRRC Ladies Cup was lifted by the Pune team of Sheena Sabharwal (driver) and Trupti Gupta (navigator) while the Gurgaon-Mumbai team of Jasmeet Kaur and Jyothi Iyengar came second. The third position in this category went to the mother-daughter team of Nilasha and Ipsita Das from Kolkata.
Himalayan Drive 8 (HD8), which was the Grand Finale of INRRC 2021 flagged off from City Center in Siliguri on March 24 and ended in Darjeeling on the evening of March 26. A total of 24 teams, including seven all-ladies’ teams, participated in this event.
Many notable names from the Indian motorsports community in this format locked horns in the bid for the coveted crown. The 24 teams had reached the finals after winning qualifying rounds at the six zonal levels in Northeast, East, North, West, Central and South India.
The competitors had to manoeuvre tough terrains, including dirt tracks, river beds and hilly terrain. The river beds on the first two legs of the rally proved to be especially challenging with many vehicles needing the assistance of the recovery team to pull them out after getting stuck in the sand, gravel and rocks.
How did the rally pan out?
JK Tyre Himalayan Drive 8 was ceremonially flagged off from Siliguri’s City Centre on March 23 by North Bengal Inspector General of Police Devendra Prakash Singh and Siliguri Deputy Mayor Ranjan Sarkar in the presence of JK Tyre Head of Training Ajoy Shah.
The teams started from City Centre and sped down a highway before entering a dirt track that took them past sprawling tea gardens followed by the demanding terrain of river beds. The river bed took a toll on the vehicles with six of them requiring assistance from the recovery team.
Car No 10, the team of Jogendra Jaiswal (the runners-up of Himalayan Drive 7) and Suvrajit Dutta had to retire from the first leg due to the gearbox getting clogged on the river bed.
After this river bed run, the competitors reached the Gajoldoba barrage for a break. They then drove through highways to Malbazar and Chalsa before passing narrow village roads to arrive at Murti where the day’s run culminated.
At the end of day 1, the team of Sk. Aniruddha and Raj Kumar Mundra were leading, closely followed by last year’s champions Sk Ajgar Ali and Mohammed Musthafa.
After being flagged off from Murti, the competitors, including Car No 10, were back in action and drove down to the Jaldhaka river bed. The river bed presented a tricky loop that had even the most experienced racers in a fix the navigators tried their best to stay on course to avoid penalties. Many competitors, including some top league ones, were seen making mistakes, thereby picking up penalty points. A few vehicles also required help from the recovery team.
After the river bed run, it was time for the competitors to make their way through the dense forests of popular tourist spots like Lataguri, Damdim, Gorubathan and Chalsa, and many tea gardens as well. The second leg ended at Murti.
The day’s only casualty was, once again, competitor number 10; the team had to retire for the second consecutive day due to fuel line failure.
The final leg of the rally on Saturday (March 26) started from Murti in the morning to drive through the dense forests of Gorumara to cross Chapramari and then take the narrow road through the Matelli tea estate and cross picturesque spots like Samsing and Gorubathan.
After driving past more tea gardens, the competitors crossed the 81-year-old Coronation Bridge over the Teesta river to start climbing the Himalayan mountains through narrow and winding roads with hairpin bends. They drove past Mungpoo, Jorebunglow and Ghoom to ultimately reach Darjeeling in the evening where the rally ended.
The team of Jogendra Jaiswal and Suvrajit Dutta, which faced a gearbox clog and fuel line issue on consecutive days, had the option of conceding the race and ending the rally.
However, Jaiswal, who won the seventh edition of the competition, told Sportstar. "Giving up was never an option. I knew we had lost the chance to win and get a podium finish. However, after the gearbox issue on the first day, I drove 100 km back to Siliguri, got it repaired and drove overnight to Murti to start the race on the second day."
The writer is in Darjeeling by the invitation of JK Tyre.
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