The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Peace pilots on cross-border mission

It’s all about the adrenaline rush of speed and the thrill of adventure. But it’s also about peace and co-operation between neighbours. That’s the path forward for Sanjay Arya and Yogesh Gupta, the champion car rally team in the eastern region. After “personal satisfaction”, it’s time to do their bit to build relationships between India and the border countries. So, they’re off on a mission to spread “brotherly love” in Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

The 37-year-old duo has been there and done that in all the major rallies in this part of the world, collecting many a laurel on their individual journeys. But, four years ago, when Arya, a car rally driver who entered his first major competition in 1988, joined hands with Gupta, a navigator since 1982, the winning partnership began. Now, apart from racing for their own benefit, last year’s regional champs want to do something “worthwhile”.

The preparations for the SAARC sojourn is on in full force, with the paperwork for permission in the works and corporate sponsorship deals in the making. First on the peace map is Lahore, via Delhi and across the Wagah border. The road to Pakistan they hope to travel in about five days, in January or February next year. Next is Kathmandu, then Thimpu and later Dhaka, each of which they hope to complete in about four days. Although they drive a Maruti Esteem in the rallies, their vehicle of choice in this case will be a Toyota Qualis. A third person in the car will be their only backup. Their friendship tool will be the national flags of the countries they visit.

“Pakistan is the longest distance, at about 2,000 km, from Calcutta to Lahore and back. That’s why we chose it first. Each of the trips will be separate. In total, we will cover between 7,000 and 8,000 km,” explain Arya, who has a business in trucking and logistics, and Gupta, a chartered accountant.

Peace apart, the next project is the Monsoon Rally, organised by the Bengal Motor Sports Club, next month. “We didn’t fare too well in the March rally, but this time we are prepared,” smiles Arya. Young blood to boost the sport in Calcutta is another thing they’re working towards.

“We appeal to all young people interested in car rallying to come forward. We will help them prepare, mentally and mechanically.”

Kunal Banerjee, secretary of the Bengal Motor Sports Club, explains: “Motor sports came to the country through Bengal, in 1911. But since, things have deteriorated. We are trying to revive the sport in the state, to bring back its past glory. We are trying to dispel the myth that it’s a rich man’s sport. If interested youngsters come forward, then we will try and help with subsidies. In fact, to promote the sport, we are sponsoring the two champions in the first rally in Chhattisgarh in September.”

Towards this end, the club has tied up with Clown Town, to train potential rallyists on the go-karting track. Plans for this year include inter-school karting competitions, to popularise the sport. “You have to start young, at about 17, so that by the time you’re 22, you are at your peak,” says Arya.

“When we started, it was expensive to modify the cars with various parts. Now, however, the cars are pretty good themselves, so it’s not as difficult or expensive a sport as it used to be.”

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