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Maruti Raid De Himalaya rally begins today

Baldev S Chauhan  |  New Delhi/ Shimla 

A record 132 drivers are taking part in the tenth which gets underway at dawn Thursday from Shimla.

"The Raid has now become the oldest cross country motor rally in India," said Manjeev Bhalla, vice-president of the Himalayan Motorsport Association, the organisers of the rally.

"Having the reputation of being one of the world's toughest rallies, the drivers participating in Raid will cover around 300 to 350 km of harsh mountain terrain, often in temperatures far below freezing.The rally ends on Oct 9 at Leh," said Bhalla.

"The entire route will cover a distance of 2,050 km through scenic mountain terrain of Shimla, Kullu, Lahaul & Spiti. This year, the rally makes a foray into Jammu & Kashmir's Zanskar region. The route has been slightly altered due to damage to roads late last month," he said.

As in the past, the Raid will have both four-wheelers and two-wheelers. It will run two independent race formats concurrently.

The sheer speed version is called 'X_TREME', while the 'time, speed and distance' version is called 'ADVENTURE TRIAL'.

"Most of the country's top rallying teams have entered the event. There are ten Indian Army teams also taking part," Bhalla said.

The time tested gypsy is still the most popular vehicle used by rallyists.Out of 37 four-wheelers taking part in the extreme category, a whopping 35 are gypsies, organisers said.

Even in the adventure category it is the gypsy which has over 80 per cent of the share.

A prize money of Rs 6 lakh and trophies will be distributed among the winners, while each participant will get a finisher's badge and certificate.

Maruti Suzuki is the main sponsor, while State Bank of India, Himachal Pradesh tourism department and Jammu & Kashmir tourism department are the co-sponsors.

Asked why the rally is not terminating at Srinagar this year, organisers said the recent mass protests in both Jammu and Kashmir regions were a big risk.

"Rally drivers can turn out to be soft targets so we decided to end the rally at Leh," said Bhalla.

First Published: Thu, October 02 2008. 00:00 IST