The 14th edition of the Desert Strom rally was flagged off from Noida with over 200 participants fighting in different categories. After the seven gruelling days of racing in the desert heat for over 2000kms, team Maruti Suzuki’s Suresh Rana and co-driver Ashwin Naik emerged as overall winners in the Xtreme category. Indian motorcycle rally ace CS Santosh added another win to his kitty after dominating the competition on two wheels.
The 2016 Desert Storm had a slightly modified format to make the Ndure and Xplore categories more approachable to rallying aficionados with an aim of encouraging participation. Along with the Xplore Dawn and Xplore Dusk stages for the amateurs, there was a special competitive night stage to spice up the Desert Storm.
The first two days of the competition saw Abhishek Mishra with his navigator PV Srinivas Murthy hold the lead in their heavily modified Suzuki Grand Vitara keeping rally veteran Rana and Naik at bay in the second position. Manpreet Ahluwalia and Virender Kashyap, in their souped-up Gypsy, were holding the fort against the Vitara brigade in the third position. Owing to a mistake in the Leg 5 of the rally, Abhishek Mishra had to retire from the lead after his car rolled over. Suresh Rana went ahead to win the 2016 Desert Storm followed by Manpreet Ahluwalia and Niju Padia (co-driver Nirav Mehta).
In the two-wheeled fight, CS Santosh led from the outset on his Suzuki to complete the race course in 11:19:28s followed by Aravind KP (11:28:06s) and R Nataraj (12:25:30s). Rajasthan boy Jes David put up quite a show fighting with Santosh and Aravind in the initial stages. Interestingly, CS Santosh incurred a 60-minute penalty for missing a passage control section that ate into his 44-minute overall lead until that stage. However, on the last stage, the seven-minute gap between Santosh and Aravind was still too much for the latter to pose a real challenge.
In the Ndure category, participants ran the same course as the Xtreme category but in the TSD format. While it may sound easy, the desert heat can get the better of you over the 2000km course in the rally cars. SK Ajgar Ali with co-driver MK Mohammed Mustafa won the Ndure category while the Xplore class winner was Pratap with his co-driver Nagarajan.