India's longest cross-country rally, Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm, will see a record participation in the upcoming edition with 250 competitors vying for top honours across categories from March 17-23 in the sprawling and arid expanse of the Thar Desert around Bikaner and Jaisalmer.
The biggest attraction of the 2018 edition is the participation of several international riders in the Moto-Quad category. Coming off a welcome break after the gruelling Dakar Rally in January, Desert Strom will mark the beginning of a new season for the international riders.
The top draws include three-time winner of the Desert Storm, C S Santosh, who achieved his career-best finish in 34th place in this year's Dakar, piloting a Hero-Speedbrain 450 Rally in the 14-day race across South America. He will be riding the updated Dakar-spec bike in the sands of Rajasthan.
But it won't be easy for India's top rally-raid pilot with TVS Racing entering strong team of five riders, spearheaded by the formidable Juan Pedrero Garcia.
The highly-experienced Portuguese rider finished in commendable 11th place in this year's Dakar Rally. He will be supported by the defending champion, R. Nataraj and highly-talented Tanveer Abdul Wahid, who was the highest ranked rookie finisher in third place in the last year's India Baja Dakar Challenge.
The event will also see the participation of Dubai-based Angata Racing. The four-man motocross and supercrosss specialist team will be led by Aaron Mare. The team includes Indian rider Sanjay Kumar, who was in the front-running pack in the previous edition of the rally before being hit by mechanical issues in the dunes of Sam, Jaisalmer.
In the Xtreme cars category, the spotlight will be firmly fixed on defending champion and four-time winner of Desert Storm, Suresh Rana. The driver from the Manali, who races for Team Maruti Suzuki Motorsports, is the undisputed king of cross-country rallying in India.
With close to two-decades of cross-country rallying experience behind him, Rana knows all too well that nothing can be taken for granted in the this race of high attrition rate.
The presence of local favourite, Raj Singh Rathore with his intimate knowledge of desert driving and winner of last year's India Baja in the four-wheeler category, Gaurav Chiripal, will surely heat up the action in the scorching sand. Another past winner, Abhishek Misra, is capable of posing a serious challenge to the defending champion.
This year, the Desert Storm will be a lot more compact rally with the competitive stages looping around Bikaner and Jaisalmer, where the rally will be parked for four days.
The competitors will be covering an approximate total distance of 2,500 km after the ceremonial flag off from Noida. Out of this the competitive timed section will comprise 900 km over 10 stages, which is almost three times the racing distance of the entire National Rally Championship.
The 200 km stage in leg three and the 160 km special that will be run in the night as part of leg four in the dunes of Sam will be high points of the 2018 edition.
The rally will run four different categories concurrently. The Xtreme cars and Moto-Quad categories will be an outright speed test in the competitive sections, while the Ndure category for four-wheel drive vehicles and the Explore categories will be run on the Time-Speed-Distance format.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)