Suresh Rana, co-driver Parminder Thakur win Dakshin Dare

After five days of criss-crossing the country side, most of it not on tarmac but on the dirt tracks of coffee estates in Coorg and across fields and hills dotting the landscape near Shivamogga, Rana finally stepped up to receive the winner’s trophy.

Maruti Suzuki Dakshin Dare winners Suresh Rana (left) and his co-driver Parminder Thakur pose with their car and trophies.   -  Special Arrangement

Suresh Rana has nine Raid de Himalaya and three Desert Storm titles to his name. What was missing was the Maruti Suzuki Dakshin Dare title, in spite of five previous visits to the southern part of the country.

His biggest impediment was the defending champion Sandeep Sharma. With just the final day’s action left and Rana enjoying a slight lead over his rival, he cheekily asked Sharma during a media interaction, “ Agar Sandeepji thoda choot de de toh main kal jeet jaoonga (if Sandeep concedes a bit then I can win tomorrow).”

While the defending champ did not exactly concede, Rana and his Grand Vitara — with Parminder Thakur riding shotgun — still had enough in their wherewithal to dethrone Sharma (Gypsy, co-driver Karan Arya) by a margin of 6min and 6sec at Berur near Shivamogga in the Ultimate car category last week.

After five days of criss-crossing the country side, most of it not on tarmac but on the dirt tracks of coffee estates in Coorg and across fields and hills dotting the landscape near Shivamogga, Rana finally stepped up to receive the winner’s trophy from Vinay Pant, assistant vice -president, marketing, Maruti Suzuki India Limited, at the Radisson Blu here on Sunday afternoon.

And he was the first to admit that the win was anything but easy. “We have won with a lead of just 00:06:06, which shows the high-level of competition witnessed this year,” said Rana. “It’s not just about the vehicle anymore, but about presence of mind and driving styles. Sustaining the lead throughout the stages is taxing.

“It’s our first win at Dakshin Dare and we hope the winning streak remains in the forthcoming editions as well,” he added.

It was heartbreak, however, for Sharma, who had won it with a measure of comfort in the previous two editions. But he had not given up without a fight. After conceding the lead to Rana during the first stage in Coorg – he had in fact dropped down to third overall – Sharma roared back in style when he took the second place in the next stage at Hosadurga.

Sharma might have just fancied his chances when in the first round the next day – in the reverse direction along the same route as the previous day – Rana picked up a flat tyre and momentarily ceded the lead back to Sharma.

But it was only a mirage as far as Sharma was concerned; Rana’s Vitara with more horses under the hood making the difference in the final analysis.

Sharma conceded as much later. Asked whether the Gypsy v Vitara fight was taking a toll on his title defence, Sharma said, “Yes, the Vitara is a powerful vehicle. But you have to race with what you have. I have been rallying since the early 90s. For me it is my life, and though I would like to win this one, the fact that I am rallying with such passion is a reward in itself.”

The Ultimate Bikes category witnessed a massive winning margin for T. Natraj riding his TVS Apache; his 05:26:33 on the final day easily shading Febin Jose’s (on another TVS Apache) 06:12:18. The third place was taken by Akash Aithal riding his Royal Enfield 500.

Patience and perseverance were the hallmarks of Ganesh Moorthy & T. Nagarajan as the duo won the Endurance Cars (TSD) rally. Starting off with a night stage in Bengaluru, where the entire event got off to a ceremonial start, Ganesh and Nagarajan got their calculations, navigation and speeds as close as possible to ideal to win this rally not known for its speed and action.

The pairings of Raghu Nandan & M. Prakash and Karthick Maruthi & Sankar S. Anand completed the top three in this category.

Final results:

Ultimate Cars: 1. Suresh Rana & Parminder Thakur, 06:51:15; 2. Sandeep Sharma & Karan Arya, 06:57:21; 3. Jasmohan Saini & Vikram Thakur, 07:07:21.

Ultimate Bikes: 1. T. Nataraj, 05:26:33; 2. Febin Jose, 06:12:18; 3. Akash Aithal, 06:16:07.

Endurance Cars (TSD) (final penalty): 1. Ganesh Moorthy & T. Nagarajan, 00:16:49; 2. Raghu Nandan & M. Prakash, 00:18:08; 3. Karthick Maruthi & Sankar S. Anand, 00:19:55.