India's celebrated rallyists have a tough fight on their hands in the 20th edition of the Raid de Himalaya, with the inclusion of a formidable team from the Border Roads Organisation.
Col Pradeep Sharma of BRO's Project Vijayak at Kargil will lead the team's challenge in a Maruti Gypsy in the Raid Xtreme 4X4 category and will have Lt Col Sanjay Rathee of Project Hirak from Uttarakhand as his navigator.
They will drive for Team DGBR (Director General Border Roads), an organisation within the army that specialises in constructing and maintaining roads in high altitude areas and extreme weather conditions, where few dare to go.
"We are competing in this year's Raid because of the initiative of the Director General Border Roads (DGBR), Lt Gen Harpal Singh. He believed that we can take on the country's best competitors, and challenge them on our own roads, in the toughest category Raid Xtreme," Col Sharma said, in a matter-of-fact manner.
The iconic Raid de Himalaya officially got underway here on Monday, with the scrutiny of the vehicles. The racing will begin on October 10 and finish on October 14, after traversing through some of the highest-altitude routes in Kargil, Zanskar and Ladakh.
Col Pradeep Sharma has been decorated with the Ati Vishisht Sewa Medal (AVSM) and the Vishist Sewa Medal (VSM) by the Army. The awards are given for distinguished service, and for achieving the pinnacle of excellence in the service of the nation.
Col Sharma revealed that a key reason for participating in the Raid was to get feedback from the people who use these roads in extreme conditions.
"We are champions of road construction. We want to face the toughest conditions and get feedback from champion drivers on ways to make our roads even better," Col Sharma added.
Col Sharma pointed out that the BRO opens the Zojila pass every year, which is the lifeline of Ladakh.
"We open this pass under the most difficult conditions, so that civilian traffic movement is possible. Similarly, we open the most difficult passes in all parts of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and the North-East, in the most treacherous terrain.
"BRO has been the major but unknown stake-holder in the Raid de Himalaya since 1999, the year we introduced the rally. Their cooperation has always been well above the call of duty. This year, they decided to field a team, and we are more than happy to welcome them here," said Parmar.
Team Army has an impressive presence at the Raid 2018, with teams competing in Raid Xtreme (4X4), in Raid Adventure (Time-Speed-Distance format), and three teams in Raid Adventure (Time-Speed-Distance format). One of the competitors in Raid Adventure is Major Renuka, a woman officer.
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