The Indian edition of the internationally coveted ‘Road to Dakar’ challenge, India Baja 2018, held around the majestic sand dunes of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, on August 18 and 19. All the participants rallied close to 650kms in the scorching heat of the Thar Desert with only one aim, to grab the ultimate winning position.
This championship being a ‘Road to Dakar’ challenge, the top winners of respective categories had direct entry to the upcoming 42nd Dakar Rally. Also, the winner got an automatic 2019 Afriquia Merzouga Rally qualification, which is scheduled to be held in Morocco. The rally race was organized in two basic categories including Moto category (motorbikes and quad bikes) and Xtreme category (four-wheelers). The overall race was separated into five Special Stages across two competition days.
Leg 1 –
The first Leg of the race comprised of three Special Stages where participants were racing in close gaps, within the minutes' distances from each other. In Moto Category, Lorenzo Santolino, Sherco TVS Rally Factory Team rider, maintained an electric pace throughout the day and managed to record an overall timing of 2 hours 6 minutes 9 seconds. While Hero’s CS Santosh wasn’t much far behind at 2 hours 11 minutes 3 seconds. The third best timing in the First Leg was set by TVS’s Abdul Wahid Tanveer at 2 hours 36 minutes 39 seconds.
In the Xtreme Category, Arindam Saikia and Jeevarathinam J, driving a Polaris XP1000 recorded a smashing timing of 2 hours 57 minutes 24 seconds. Closely followed by Team Harjee Motorsport’s Himanshu Arora (Co-driver Kunal Kashyap) who were second for the day setting an overall timing of 3 hours 6 minutes 42 seconds. Third in the list were Narayan Balan and Chirag Thakur, driving for the Team Desert Raider at 3 hours 7 minutes 33 seconds.
Leg 2 –
The rally had two more Special Stages left for the Leg 2, 19th August. The day two saw a lot of action happening in both the categories. CS Santosh tried to cut all the time he lost during the Leg 1 and was almost 5 min ahead of his closest competitor but due to a missed pass, Santosh had to face a direct 30-minute penalty which cost him the title. TVS’ Lorenzo Santolino finished first, clocking an overall 3 hours 38 minutes 46 seconds in the Moto Category. Followed by CS Santosh, who had to satisfy with the 2nd position after the penalty in the Special Stage 5, and recording 4 hours 3 minutes 18 seconds on the clock. Abdul Wahid Tanveer snatched third position, and finished almost 15 minutes after Santosh.
In Xtreme category, Arindam Saikia (Co-driver Jeevarathinam J) fought their way up to the title clocking a cumulative timing of 5 hours 8 minutes 48 seconds. Team Harjee Motorsport’s Himanshu Arora (Co-driver Kunal Kashyap) driving Maruti Gypsy finished on the 2nd position at 5 hours and 38 minutes. Team Desert Raiders’ Narayan Balan (Co-driver Chirag Thakur) managed to score the third position at 5 hours 39 minutes and 8 seconds.
Like every season, the 2018 India Baja pushed the competitors to the limits, proving unpredictable and highly demanding at every turn. With every season, the limits are pushed higher than before, and the level only keeps on getting tougher with time.
But this season also brought a sad news of the untimely demise of Team Angata Racing team principal and rider Asbak Mon, who lost his way in the sand dunes of Jaisalmer, and was later found dead on Friday evening. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends, ride in heaven!