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Old 20th May 2005, 16:37   #1
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Default Airtel One India Challenge 2005 - Post event report.

A sea of people, some shouting slogans, others waving their fists in the air and still others simply shouting! This was the scene at the National Stadium, Delhi at the finish of, as the sponsors put it, India’s largest car rally. This was not the grand finale we all had hoped for after completing the 5-6 day event across India.

The concept was a good one. Airtel, a major player in India’s cellular market, wanted to do something huge to commemorate Airtel’s presence in all the 23-telecom circles. So they came up with the idea of sponsoring a TSD (Time/speed/distance) rally that encompasses the length and breadth of India. The rally would start from 4 metro’s, one each in the North (Delhi), South (Chennai), East (Kolkata) and West (Mumbai). Entries would be limited to 50 per metro, making it a total of 200 cars for the entire event. Couple that with tremendous prize money, the largest ever offered in Indian motorsport, and this should have been quite an event.

However, for an event of this size, publicity was severely lacking. Ideally promo’s should have begun 1-2 months before the event, but people were hard pressed to find information on how to enter even a couple of weeks before! Regulations for the event were made public after certain qualifying rounds had already been conducted!

Qualifications took place in cities all across India to screen out the entries reach the allotted number of 200. 50 cars from each metro would then be flagged of and make the journey to Nagpur, the central point of India and the meeting place for all zones of the rally. This was also leg 1 of the event with the winner getting a neat Rs.2 lakhs. Leg 2 would be with all 200 cars leaving in 30 second intervals to Bhopal, followed by Jaipur and finishing in Delhi on May 14th.

Well, the Mumbai qualifying round was held on 1st May. Basically a small TSD rally of about 30km in the city where everyone who scored below 30 penalty points would be eligible. If the number of people exceeded 35 (the allotted number for Mumbai) names would be drawn out of a hat. The total number of people who passed the rally ended up being 38. That meant 3 people were out! Needless to say I wasn’t one of them, or else I would not be writing this story!

Now that we had qualified, we had 3 days to get all our paperwork ready. MAI licences, personal accident insurance, a lot of photographs (wonder what they do with all of them!) and rally cover Insurance for the car. Everything went smooth except for the last item. The original plan was to take my Octavia TDi, as the terrific fuel efficiency meant huge savings over the 3000+ km drive. Add to that the average speed display, something vital on this type of rally, and it really was a no-brainer of a choice! However ICICI Lombard had other ideas for me. They refused to issue rally cover insurance. When I asked them to give this to me in writing, they refused that as well. I then asked to speak to the person in charge, and they refused to event tell me his name! I have never experienced such terrible service from a company and I urge you to stay away from them! Our old Government insurance companies may not have the slick display, but atleast you get service and the insurance cover you need! I have formally taken up this matter with ICICI and will keep you informed of the progress on this.

So, as the Octi was out of commission, our backup was my friend and navigators Corolla. This proved to be good and bad, as you will find out later.

Day 1: 10th May 0700hrs.
Mumbai - Aurangabad.
Total distance: 390 km.
The start.

A last minute change in the location of the start from NCPA to Cooperage grounds in South Mumbai. Our competition number is 242 (Mumbai numbers were 200-250), almost at the end, so we reached the venue at a leisurely 0600 hrs. We proceeded to collect our GPS transponders fitted and collect the other usual free sponsor provided goodies like T-shirts, bags etc.

The GPS transponders were being used for the first time ever, and these were the sole means of collection of data from each vehicle, marking of the virtual checkposts and computation of results. Goes without saying then that we made sure it was fitted well! A lot of doubts surrounded the use of only the GPS for results and not having a manual backup, but the organisers seemed confident that the system would work.

The variety of cars spanned the entire spectrum of automobiles available in India. From the Alto Vxi to the Hyundai Terracan, Octavia’s (Tdi’s and the RS) to a huge Tatamobile crew cab driven by fellow T-bhpian Sanket. Hats off to them for driving the entire distance in 40 degree plus temperatures and no AC!

Number 242 takes the start at exactly 0742 hrs. Not many people left to flag us off, but we are finally on our way. The first day’s driving would take us to our destination in about 9 hours. We get onto the expressway, exit on an incomplete exit right after the final toll booth at Talegaon. This was a place that caught a few people out as it appeared that the road simply didn’t exist! It didn’t actually and was still under construction! This exit lead us to the industrial town of Chakan, where we got stuck in our first traffic jam for the day, delaying us by a good 20-25 minutes! That’s a whole lotta penalties!

Once out of Chakan, we get on to SH60 which leads us straight to Ahmednagar. Average speeds on this leg were ridiculous! We were averaging 35kmph on some stretches. It got to a point where tractors, rickshaws and scooters with entire families were drafting past us giving us looks as if we were crazy! They couldn’t understand why, a car liveried with rally stickers was going so slowly.

At first this worries us. We see no other competitor around us. Are we doing this right we keep asking ourselves. But the maths was clear, this was how it had to be done! Sure enough, we soon come across some others who probably understood this a bit late and slowed down.

Just when all seems to be going well, we hit the midway point of the day, Ahmednagar, where we get delayed again. We reach our finish point in Aurangabad at about 1730hrs. A few minutes late but not too bad considering the traffic, but we had to improve.

The provisional results for Day 1 were not ready. The organisers said that they will be published at 5am before flag off. Wake up in the morning and still no results. Instead we were told they would be given to us at Nagpur.

We work till late in the night preparing for the day ahead. Will it pay off?

Day 2: 11th May 0600 hrs.
Distance: 490kms
End of Leg 1.

Wake up ready to go. We had a system this time. A much improved system I should say, something we nicknamed RallyPro! (Hey, it gets boring driving at 40kmph!!).

We take the start. Continue down SH60, through narrow roads, villages and unmanned checkposts along the way. We are bang on target today! Nothing can go wrong! But wait, did we pass the police station which is marked in our road book? Blank looks exchanged, awkward silence broken shortly after by laughter! What else can you do when you mess up.

We join up to NH6 and have an uneventful trip till Nagpur. It’s strange how the scenery changes from barren land to green trees once you near Nagpur.

The temperature has been in the mid forties all day, and the Toyota’s AC is struggling to fight the heat. The last thing we want is AC trouble!! Shouldn’t have worried though, as we reach Nagpur without any problems. We pull into the KP grounds in the centre of Nagpur, where we are greeted by the sight of all the cars from the other zones as well. This was the meeting point for the Rally.

The problem with the sudden influx of so many drivers, officials and organisers was that there was not enough place for everyone to stay! We get to our Hotel, which is arranged by the organisers as part of the entry fee, only to be told that there is no room available! I call up the organisers only to be told that everything is booked and they will do their best to get us a room. After no reply, I called up some people I know and managed to get a room ourselves which we had to pay for. Not a great way to end the day.

To make it worse, the results which were promised to us were not delivered. Again, the organisers told us that they would be ready the next morning!

So, we are 2 days into a rally and there are no results to show for it.

Day 3: 12th May 0800 hrs.
Nagpur - Bhopal
Distance: 360kms

We reach the ground early eager to find out how we did in Leg 1. But ofcourse, the results were still not ready! We received word that they would be given to us in Bhopal now! This lead one of my friends to joke that the results would finally be emailed to us after the rally! If only he knew how true that statement would be…

There are now 200 cars being flagged off from Nagpur with 30 second intervals. We had a looong and hot 2 hour wait to our flag off time. 2 cars before we were to be flagged off and we see rally cars returning to the field. Start has been postponed because a rally gypsy had knocked down a pedestrian. A huge mob gathered and surrounded the 2 following rally cars. Some say the cars were stoned. So we were now stuck on the grounds indefinitely till the organisers and police could calm the crowd down. We would then be taken in convoy to the outskirts of Nagpur, from where we would start our timed sections.

About 5 hours of waiting on the treeless grounds and we were finally ready to leave. It was now about 1430 hrs, and we still had a 9 hour drive ahead of us. The convoy winds itself through the streets. Seeing about 150 rally cars moving together is surely a sight to be seen!

The roads leading to Bhopal were beautiful. Winding through hills on smooth 2 lane tarmac with not much truck traffic. The evening sun dipping behind the hills and a lake in the background. This scene refreshed everyone. In order to get us into Bhopal at a reasonable hour, the final 100 kms or so were declared a free zone. After 2 1/2 days of driving within strict limits, we are all happy to be let loose for this stretch. However this also showed to all of us the glaring difference in driving styles from drivers of different areas in the country. The North Indian drivers (Delhi, Jammu, Haryana etc) were downright dangerous, not only to themselves but to those around them as well. Cars from the East (WB, Bihar etc) were as bad. The South and west clearly had the most sensible drivers of the lot!

We reach Hotel Lake View in Bhopal at about 2330hrs. This was a long day! Oh yea, still no results….

Day 4: 13th May 0700 hrs.
Distance: 580kms
Friday the 13th!

This was the long stretch that was going to be the toughest as it was the longest and there were not too many landmarks by which to check the odometer error. So, we all had to factor in approximate errors and try and correct as and when we see some landmarks.

The roads on this stretch were a mixed bag. Ranging from smooth national highways to narrow village tracks that resembled a road in Baghdad after the US military has bombed it. The section had a lot of casualties in the form of flat tyres and one Skoda overheating due to a fan belt failure. The few RS’s that were present had a tough time with the ground clearance, and they all had their bumpers bent and scraped by the end of it.

This is where the Corolla with its raised suspension came into its own. Not once did we have to worry about bottoming out, even though we had 3 people and a tonne of stuff as well as 2 spare tyres. The Scorpio’s too made this stretch look easy!

We reach the Clark Hotel in Jaipur, the finishing point for this section of the rally, at about 2130hrs. Another long day with nothing to show, as there were yet no results! Competitors were having their patience tested now. Results were promised for the next morning, but by now we all knew not to expect them.

Day 5: 14th May 0700 hrs.
Distance: 310kms
The final leg.

This was always going to be the easy stretch. National Highway all the way to Delhi, with average speeds hovering between 50-70kmph. Unfortunately our team took it a bit too easy and almost missed our start time!

Everyone is in high spirits today as we can all see the finish now, which means we would FINALLY get our results! The organisers decided to have a couple of manual checkposts today, a sign that the GPS equipment was not doing what it should maybe?

We are right on the ball today, hitting the checkposts within a couple of seconds of our target time. It would have been better too if the car ahead of us had not stopped at the post, blocking our entry!

Not a wrong turn in 5 days, but the Delhi streets would not let us off easy. Just one road before the finish we take the wrong turn. Luckily we realise it soon enough and do a quick backtrack without losing any time. We reach National Stadium, the finish, at 1400hrs. The end of the rally.

We are informed that the results would be announced at 1600hrs, followed by a big prize distribution. So we head off to “Blues” to have a few celebratory beers. Maybe we drank a bit too much, because by the time we reach the stadium we see a crowd yelling and screaming. No results yet. The organisers had worn out the patience of the competitors and they were not going to take it anymore.

Being a National rally, we had teams from all over India. West Bengal, know for their flash strikes and unions took the lead here too. Within minutes they had an organised union with a leader standing under a tree giving a speech! The only thing missing were their union flags! Not to be left out, the Biharies started doing what they do best too. Yelling, tearing their shirts and basically causing chaos.

At one point I really thought Mr. Chandhok, Chairman of the Rally, would get a punch in the face when he said that although there are no results, they will hold a ceremonial prize distribution now, with the final results being published on their website and emailed to all 1 week later!! That is sure to be a first for motorsports anywhere in the world!

After hours of this, along with some formal protests filed, we all gave up and left. The event had come to an end and there was no result. People gave up 1 week and a lot of money for this, but the organisers could not produce a result! Everything else can be overlooked, the hotel problems, the delays etc. but the reason for conducting a competitive event should not be forgotten.

The organisers had known from day 1 that the results software was causing problems, so they should have organised manual checkposts along the route. That’s what was stated in the regulations. If only they had done that, the event would have been a great success. It appears though that they skimped on that one area, and the resulting effect is that the entire event ended in a disaster with sponsors Airtel being left with a sense of being cheated as they spent crores on this event, and they could not milk it for publicity the way it should have been done.

Total distance of rally: 2,140km
Total distance completed till the faithfull moment: Approx 2,600km.
Average Fuel consumption during rally: 15kmpl.

The trip home.
Well, the story does not end here. There was still a 2 day trip back to Mumbai. We left at noon the next day with the plan to make it to Udaipur for the night, and back in Mumbai the following evening.

Alas, we never made it that far. Just out of Jaipur, on the Jaipur bypass a mini bus suddenly cuts across 3 lanes to take a U-turn. I was sitting in the back seat for the first time this trip and I hear the words “WATCH OUT”, I look ahead and see us sliding into the rear of the bus. Everything went into slow motion as we got closer…then “WHAM”. Silence in the car for a few seconds followed by a tidal wave of every insult known to man! We get out look at the damage. Not drivable. The bus driver is calmly sitting there not saying a word. A few other rally cars that were heading back to Mumbai stop to help us after seeing the accident. Great bunch of guys who really helped us a lot (if any of you are reading this, thanks again!!). Although the car was wrecked, we were all fine with not a scratch on any of us. We must have slowed down enough that the airbags did not inflate, saving a lot on the repair bill.

So the FIR was filed, and we towed the car to the Toyota dealer in Jaipur. We hit the town that night and laugh over what happened! The next day we get the estimate done (Rs.1.5lakhs) and hop on a train to get back home (not as easy as that, but its too much to explain!).

The Car
After 5 long days of non stop driving in 45 degree heat, the Toyota behaved flawlessly, living upto its name of being one of the most reliable cars in the world. The 6 CD indash changer was a blessing for a trip like this, and the stock speakers were pretty good as well. Seats were very comfortable and none of us had any aches or pains after all these days of driving. The ride quality, while really bad at slow speeds, transforms at higher speeds and instils confidence in the car.

However, small but important things Toyota skimped on show up when you spend so much time in the car. The AC was inadequate. It was kept on maximum for the entire trip, but it just could not handle the heat. The gearshift was terrible, with long throws and clunky to get into gear. The electro-luminescent gauges have no brightness adjustment, which is a big pain on dark Indian highways. I actually had to drive with the window down on the twisty ghat sections from Bhopal to Jaipur as the reflection was too much.

Finally, the aspect of the Corolla I hate the most and the one thing I will never forgive Toyota for is the crappy tube type tyres fitted as OE. My friend is not a big car buff and rarely drivers the car himself in the city, so he did not bother to change them. But Toyota should be more responsible. They are selling a 11 lakh car with 125hp, but equipping it with tyres not fit to do duty on a Fiat IMO. The stock Bridgestone’s were totally inadequate to deal with the sudden braking. Being a 2003 car, ABS was not present on this H2 version that meant all four wheels locked up and the driver had nowhere to go.

Well, at the end of it the three of us have had quite an adventure, which will be talked about over a few drinks for some time to come! Now waiting for the next event, and who knows, maybe this time we will actually get some results!!

Pics will be uploaded soon.
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Old 20th May 2005, 16:38   #2
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I apologise for the long post! Didn't realise how long it is till I posted it!!
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Old 20th May 2005, 17:09   #3
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That was one hell of an adventure you had there rt. Made for some really good reading.
Sad to hear abt the wrecked corolla.
But good to know...nobody was hurt.

Its absolutely pathetic on part of the organisers that they could not provide the results even after the whole damn thing was over.
Hope its better organised next time.


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Old 20th May 2005, 17:10   #4
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sad to hear about the corolla.good that you guys were safe.
about the rally,what cars did u see.were all modded cars or was it stock.

which section had the best roads,leave alone the jaipur-delhi expressway. and which ahd the worst.
what was the max avg speed that you had to maintain and what was the slowest.????

anyways,nice report.

looking forward to pics.



PS:what about sanket.how did he perform
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Old 20th May 2005, 17:17   #5
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Average speeds for the first day were really low - 35kmph in some sections! It got better later with 45-55 avg. speeds depending on the roads. THe highest average we had to do was on the Bhopal-Jaipur leg towards the end where we had 73kmph or so. In the night!

The roads were great overall. As mentioned some bad patches, but the NH's were all excellent.

About Sanket, as I mentioned, noone has any idea how they've done as no results have been put out!
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Old 20th May 2005, 17:55   #6
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Hey Rtech, absolutely the right post to read on a Friday evening.. must have been an awesome drive. You have mentioned average speeds. What were the max speeds you were hitting?
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Old 20th May 2005, 18:16   #7
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Firstly, glad to hear that all three of you made it out okay after crashing into the bus. Too bad about the car though.

Thats a hugely entertaining first hand report - Thanks for sharing it with all of us. Sometimes, planning is one thing and implementation is entirely another. Airtel probably lost out on what the original purpose of this rally was i.e. good publicity. But hats off to all of you participants for having the spirit and adventure to endure 5 days of rough roads matched with uncertainty.

Am sure you missed that ride quality of your Octavia more than the fuel efficiency. I really am no fan of the Corolla. It may sound like a paradox, but to the enthusiast in me - The Corolla is fast AND boring.



huge Tatamobile crew cab driven by fellow T-bhpian Sanket.
He got it? Congrats Sanket! Put in nice alloys, roll bar, tints and fogs - You have yourself a macho pickup truck.
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Old 20th May 2005, 18:27   #8
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Old 20th May 2005, 18:30   #9
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Old 20th May 2005, 18:31   #10
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Old 20th May 2005, 18:44   #11
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Default The crash!

The End!

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Old 20th May 2005, 19:07   #12
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Nice pics RT

Seems like you went thru a wave of emotions in one week there. Lol. Great to know though that you came out unscathed out of that accident.

The GPS issue is something i felt too. Infact the SuperRally across Europe in 2006 also plans to solely derive timing out of GPS. But since the planning has been on since 2003, i think they should be better prepared.

Looks like the Corolla's ride height really helped you guys. Though the underpinnings of the Octi are quite strong, the ride height gets the better of it, sooner or later.

Overall your report has been an eye-opener. India really has to go a long way till it conducts even one rally decently. Prize distribution ceremonies going kaput, delay in results... seen them for years now, but things haven't improved by much.

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Old 20th May 2005, 19:23   #13
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Very comprhensive & entertainig report Really sad about the corolla though..what did you guys do to the truck wala ? Any chance of compensation.....oh heck..who am I kidding !
The funniest part has to be the no result thing man.....really really hilarious
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Old 20th May 2005, 22:32   #14
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Great report and awesome pics. Sad about the car and good to hear that all of u 3 guys are safe !!

and what about the result ? its been a week now- has it arrived ??

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Old 21st May 2005, 00:29   #15
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Great write there RT,

Though i agree about the brake part and the tyre it was the aspect which changed my opinion about the Toyota..

And yeah if you coming from Plam beach towards vashi and you infront of seawoods you will see the same tyre marks which i have engraved on the road with the help of Corolla by breaking the hell out of her at 160..

Glad to know you safe.. why didnot the airbags diploy?? YOu post makes me think twice about GPS.. was planing to put it in the Optra but seems its not worth..(yesterdays Times drive carries a report on it)
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