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.