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Here comes the Raid again

Shuchi Thakur  |  New Delhi 

She started preparing for the Raid last year! So how does she fare?
I hate numbers. They never seem to add up. I find most efforts to quantify things a tad too disturbing, which is why till date, TSD rallies still remain a mystery to me. So at last year's Raid De Himalaya Reliability Trial, I announced out of the window of my eight-year old Maruti 800 to both man and mountain that I would be back in 2006 driving a Maruti in theX-treme category.
The year went by faster than I had expected, and with less than a month to go for the 2006 Raid, there was still no sign of what was to be the most integral part of my enterprise "" a
But somewhere in the middle of all hell breaking loose and meeting a psychic who told me that I was a mermaid in my past life, I decided that not going for the Raid was just not an option. This was no time to go que sera sera. Whatever would be would only be if I put my head to it.
Which wasn't difficult because in my head I had been going sideways, negotiating the fast-medium-right-onto Batal bridge for a while now. So after 727 fights, 392 tantrums and endless fits of rage, I found myself looking at what was in all actuality my rally-ready Next stop, Shimla. Note to self: seemingly violent behaviour and sheer pigheadedness actually yield results.
When in doubt, weld
Before and after Scrutiny, my Gypsy elicited different reactions from different people.
To some it was a shoddily done job, to others it was a freak in a Frankenstein sort of a way, to me it was my Gypsy and come what may, I was going to drive it. Scrutiny lasted all of five minutes after which we quietly descended into the bowels of Motoworld to fix all that was not right at the time of Scrutiny. Rest assured, the list was long and the welder's torch shone bright.
Four hours hence, many, many things welded into place and scrutiny cleared, we barged in late into the drivers' briefing. Seeing some of the best rally drivers in the country sitting quietly at a round table sipping from glasses of water is surreal.
Thankfully, at the flag-off next morning, one was in the midst of sights and sounds less alien! Stage 1 saw most drivers raring to go and Stage 2 saw Nos. 22 and 23 going at each other full throttle. So much so that even when temporarily blinded by a ginormous cloud of dust, I refused to relent in my pursuit of what appeared to be 23's bumper. Or not. Bumper? Not quite. Mountainside? Ah, so that's what it was!
Great minds ask great questions
Small wonder when on the first day itself, one finds oneself lying sideways, OMPs holding body firmly into seat, looking down at navigator. Surely, this must be what Gypsys toppled over by virtue of one's own stupid pursuits through dust in Stage 2 feel like, eh? The most adverse of situations also spawn the greatest words.
"Zuzer, we need to straighten the Gypsy, so how do get out?" "Er, unlock the door. Now open it!" Right. Of course. Opened door, scrambled out, then proceeded to try and push the Gypsy back on to four wheels. About 11 inches from the ground is what driver and navigator managed. So we did the next best thing. Ran down the road in opposite directions hollering for villager/official/divine help.
The X-treme Gypsys behind us had started to show up by this time and asked if we were all right and needed help. We're okay, just carry on! Just not in the mood for having people pretending to help and then filing protests at the end of the day demanding minute by minute compensation for helping No. 22. No siree! Lodge yer protests on someone else's topple!
Somewhere between hollering for help and acting all high and mighty, two men in an ambulance and a nice man in an Alto showed up. Five people and a single heave had the Gypsy back on four wheels. We sped off sans the navigator's window glass, a side view mirror and some 22 minutes of time.
After a fairly eventful first day's outing, the second day from Manali to Kaza didn't throw up very much in the way of incidents. I actually got to go sideways through the fast-medium-right-onto Batal Bridge for real this time around.
The day had much to offer in terms of back-breaking and tyre-deflating terrain. It was time to put the Apollo Storms to test. They came through with flying colours to say the least. Hell, I drove the entire length of the rally without having to stop to change a single flat tyre.
Amazing grace
Day 3 had my favourite stages "" Komik, Sichiling and Demul! With the MPLs being fairly tight on this day, nothing could go wrong. So in true disaster magnet form, I proceeded to go sideways in third and nearly spun us off a cliff barely 40 metres from the TC.
Zuzer did not want to be left behind on this day of near misses and on seeing a truck parked on the side of the road in the day's last stage, declared that we had come the wrong way. Yes, we nearly turned around and went the other way. Nearly. But it had been a great day so far and it wasn't going to end on a bad note. We screeched into the last TC sideways with a good four minutes to spare.
Jump, it's not as wide as you think
I breezed through the rest of the rally trying to figure out my Gypsy. Having driven her for all of 15 km during the recce prior to the Raid, I'd say we really needed to get to know each other better. Endless conversations never prepare you for the real thing. Be it driving, left-foot braking (not quite there yet!), handling and er... toppling.
Having said that, I know that driving my Gypsy for the first time at a competitive event like the Raid, worked out just fine for me. No statutory warnings or notes of caution on this one. I know that listening to only a few people pays off and turning a deaf ear, blind eye and growling at most people also pays off. And that being relentless and "even more stubborn than a dog's tail" is actually the only way to be.
Not fade away
So Gypsy, navigator and driver completed the Raid in one piece aided by siblings, friends, colleagues, sponsors, thin wiry men, their wives, magical spare part fairies and serial clutch-plate changing service crews.
We finished 15th out of the 29 X-treme vehicles that had been flagged off on Day 1. But this is no occasion to bask, for there's still a lot of work to be done. The next rally is less than a month away. And once again it's time to que sera sera. What I want, will be.
A big Thank You to my sponsors: Methods Automotive (Sparco, K&N) for the driving gear and parts, Apollo Tyres for the Apollo Storm tyres, Jaypee Industries and Jyoti Constructions
S Rana - S K Nandal S Sidhu - C Shivram Sqn Ldr Kumar - Sgt Singh

First Published: Sat, October 21 2006. 00:00 IST