Ace motorist hopes to retain 'Raid' title

Shimla, Oct 5 (IANS) Eight-time winner of Raid-de-Himalaya, one of the world's toughest off-road motor rallies, Suresh Rana and navigator Ashwin Naik, are overwhelming favourites in the four-wheeler X-treme category.

The 15th edition of 'Raid', organised by the Shimla-based Himalayan Motorsport Association (HMA), will conclude in Leh Oct 12 after covering Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, organisers said Saturday.

It will begin from the Himachal Pradesh capital Sunday.

"This time too I am aiming to retain the title," Rana told IANS.

Naik and Rana were together during the 2010 and 2011 'Raids' too. The former is from Mangalore and the latter from Manali.

Rana, who has captured the 'Raid' five consecutive times, will be driving a Grand Vitara.

The rally will zoom through the harsh, inhospitable but picturesque terrains of Kaza, Khardung La and Wari La, and the temperamental Nubra Valley.

Khardung La is located at an elevation of 5,359 metres (17,582 feet) while Wari La is at 5,250 metres (17,300 feet) in Ladakh.

The Raid-de-Himalaya is the only Indian motor sport event listed on the off-road rallies calendar of the FIA (Federation Internationale Automobile, which captures the attention of the international rallying circuit as well.

Challenging the Rana-Naik duo in the four-wheeler X-treme category is a team of Amanpreet Ahluwalia of Noida and his navigator Venu Ramesh of Coimbatore. They are competing in a Maruti Gypsy.

In the 'Raid' adventure category, which follows the time-speed-distance format, husband-wife couple Satish Gopalkrishnan and Savera D'Souza who are driving an SX4, are the favourites.

They are closely followed by R. Balaji Reddy from Chennai and R. Sai Prasad from Bangalore.

Chandigarh's Jagmeet Gill and his navigator Chandan Sen are also participating in the adventure category. They are competing in a Gypsy.

In X-treme (Motorcycles and Quads) category, the fight is between Bangalore's C.S. Santosh and Dakar finisher Helmut Frauwallner, an Austrian.

At the World Rally Championship in Abu Dhabi this April, Santosh had sustained injuries in a freak accident on track.

Santosh this time is aiming to defend his 'Raid' title. He is riding a Suzuki 450. Giving him company will be R. Nataraj.

Chandigarh's Mohit Verma, winner of X-treme (Motocycles and Quads) at the Desert Storm and also the 4th Mughal Rally, is another tough contestant in this category.

There are five competitive categories in Raid-de-Himalaya, organisers said.

The X-treme (4X4) category, an all-out speed category, has 39 teams. Each team comprises a driver and a navigator, while X-treme (Motorcycles and Quads) has 31 bikers from India and abroad.

X-treme (Alpine), which is for bikers competing for the first time in the 'Raid', has 21 bikers. They will compete for the first three days only.

The Adventure category follows the time-speed-distance format. There are 62 teams in this category. Each team comprises a driver and a navigator.

The new addition in the 'Raid' is the X-treme (Scooters) category. It has six entries. It will also run for the first three days.