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Mahindra Adventure Off-Roading Trophy 2019: ‘Thar’ and Back Again

July 21, 2019, 11:03 PM IST by Bilal Ahmed Firfiray
7606 Views

Introduction

Off-roading has always been an uncharted experience for me. Mahindra Adventure, on the other hand, has mastered the art of going off the beaten track. So when the final round of Mahindra Off-Roading Trophy was announced, I couldn’t help signing up for it just to see what the deal about off-roading is anyway. 

Upon arrival, I learned that Mahindra Adventure's Off-Road Training Academy in Igatpuri is a purpose-built facility spread over 28 acres and conducts off-roading events throughout the year. This was the deciding venue for the ultimate trophy amongst the winners of zone-wise competitions held across various locations in India. What’s more, Mahindra generously arranged a media challenge for us to trudge through a few of the courses that the participants were competing in. The idea was to give us a taste of how the skills, co-ordination, ability and off-road prowess behind the wheel of a 4x4 come together to help wade through a challenging terrain against the clock.

Off-Roading Trophy

The winner of the trophy would also drive home in a spanking new Thar 700. That’s enough motivation even for a novice like me (even though the media guys were only promised a scale model). Nonetheless, when we saw the course, I realised that this isn’t exactly a walk in a park. I have witnessed the gruesome Rain Forest Challenge, and this was not an overly easy task in comparison, which an almost stock Thar would undertake. The briefing was simple – collect the flag, avoid the cone. But as it turned out, it was easier said than done.

For starters, there would be one driver and one spotter, grouped together in random. Now, these two people, hailing from different walks of life, must communicate in order to tackle the challenging terrain laid out in front of them. The flags are either placed on the right – which the driver must collect without unbuckling the seat belt – or on the left, where the driver must take the spotter’s help and collect the flag without setting foot on the ground. Meanwhile, the co-driver is not even allowed to touch the flag. Each flag earns 10 points while moving a cone from its place gets negative 10. And a strategically placed ‘super flag’ merits 20 points. Participants are also judged on vehicle preservation by the judges and there’s also maximum permissible time (MPT) under which each task needs to be completed. Oh, and there’s additional 5 points for course completion as well. All Thars participating in the event were provided by Mahindra Adventure and were identical in terms of specifications and tyres to ensure that everyone was on the same line for the entire competition.

Day 1: Gopher Dam, Canopy, D.I. 2.0, SUV 2.0

The challenges for the first day of the competition were – The Gopher Dam, The Canopy, SUV 2.0 and DI 2.0. We started with Gopher Dam, which was an intricately designed layout with strategically placed cones, steep inclines and sharp turns. With rain playing havoc, competitors hurtled over the course and most of them managed to grab the super flag as well which was placed beyond the finish line. Eventually, the course became easier and the participants were able to finish it with time to spare. 

When I got in the car – incidentally my turn was the last for all the courses – the track had already become easier. The media class was assigned marshals as the spotters which made our grind furthermore easier. As I went in for my run, I realised once again, this is not as easy as it looks. There is a constant fear about being able to complete the course and while at it you also have to collect the tactically placed flags. Some flags were easier to collect and could also be done on the flybys. Others were far more difficult since the procedure was to stop the car at the appropriate angle close to the flag, shut the engine, engage it in gear and pull the handbrake to secure it in place. Then carefully unfasten the seatbelts and hand it over to the co-driver who’ll hold it in place so that it doesn’t lock up on its own due to pre-tensioners. Then stretch oneself right up to the other side and grab the flag and then return to the seat. The super flag, on the other hand, requires the driver to get out of the vehicle entirely, climb onto the roof, then drop on to the bonnet and then stretch over to the grab hold of the super flag. Although I finished The Gopher Dam course collecting all the flags, I barely crossed the finish line before the MPT ran out and hence couldn’t collect the super flag. 

The second course – The Canopy – then turned out to be a tough nut to crack. The first half of the obstacle was very easy, driving over some rutted patch with a little wheel articulation opportunity and then a small slope and climb. But the last section was an incredibly steep incline which no one could manage to complete. Firstly, there was no run-up area and the slush and gravel made the climb even more difficult. Mostly, everyone ended with a DNF having failed to climb in the provided three attempts. With me being last on the course once again, the Thar’s clutch already had suffered a lot of beating. And in my second attempt, the low-range gearbox managed to disengage itself bringing my run to an early end. 

The next course of action was DI 2.0 and SUV 2.0. The DI name is derived from the old Mahindra models which were powered by DI (direct injection) engines. This was one of the difficult courses as it had an incline from the start, a right-hander with a ditch in the end along with a right-hand flag, a high placed left-hand flag through the slushy and potholed track and then a left-hand turn with a super flag placed around the cleverly placed cones. The SUV 2.0 was comparatively simpler but constant rain had made the ground sludgy and many suffered from loss of traction. The simple trick to conquer this course was to modulate the throttle and let the Thar flow across the course. When I got behind the wheel – the last person to do the course – the participants became spectators and cheered and helped me get through the SUV 2.0 course with rather ease. Here is where I learned about dumping the clutch, smashing the throttle to get going, punching up the course in second gear rather than first, and finally how to steer the vehicle which got less to no traction. 

Day 2: Sarpanch and Blind Zone

On day 2, there were two stages lined up – Sarpanch and Blind Zone. The latter had river wading, steep climb through axle-breakers, then a tight right-hand dip and climb avoiding the cone and a left-hander with high-placed super flag. Over the due course of time, the stage became easier for the participants. However, all the participants managed to finish the course in the provided MPT. 

On the other hand, Sarpanch proved to be the biggest and the most arduous course of them all. There were two ways to conquer it – drive carefully with intricate throttle and steering inputs making use of the Thar’s off-road prowess or go flat out as all hell breaks loose, sending the Thar flying over the course with all its might. Some participants tried the first technique while the others went air-borne with the latter. As rains continued to lash over the course making it even muckier, many of them had a DNF. 

Winners take all

At the end of two gruesome days of competition, K.M Bopaiah from Kodagu, Karnataka, won the overall trophy, driving home the limited edition Thar 700. Vipin Varghese from Wayanad and Alan K Abraham from Ernakulam, Kerala, finished second and third respectively. Speaking about his limited edition prize, Bopaiah said, “It’s about time I upgraded from my Mahindra MM540 to a Thar”. On the other hand, even though I didn’t win any trophy in the media class but I surely learned a great deal about off-roading.

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