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Speed comes to town

It’s fun chasing a rally. On to Durgapur Expressway from Calcutta in search of the Speed Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) 2009 on the first day, one stops to ask for Darjeeling More. The organisers’ instruction — “Come to the service park that is off Darjeeling More, take right, travel 7km, reach Tilakchandrapur, take right, travel 12km till Bhatkunda, take right yet again and 100m is the service park” — had sounded more like a tulip card, the rallyists’ guide.

The championship, in Calcutta almost after a decade, is one of the few speed rallies in the country.

At Darjeeling More, one naively asks for the service park, little knowing that in rally parlance that’s a place for cars and drivers to regroup. As the local lad shakes his head, bewildered, a bright aquamarine Esteem blasts past. Fingers on ears, we are assured we are in rally zone. “Chase that car,” I instruct my driver in a Tata Indica. In a split second, the Esteem’s tail lights disappear. But no sweat, for you cannot miss the championship any more.

Eager villagers strained themselves against the red tape that cordoned off the roads to catch a glimpse of these funky vehicles in logos letting off the most deafening but adrenalin-pumping roars that had the police, the volunteers, the officials, all on edge.

In the interior, the red dust has barely settled on the winding country roads. Nor are the cattle allowed to graze peacefully. The local lasses trudging past with firewood bundles keep off the red path. For 37 four-wheelers are wreaking havoc trying to find out who is the fastest of them all.

“These are brilliant gravel roads, perfect for rallying,” says Arjun Balu from Team MRF who crashes out in the first stage. “It was the power section at the end of the first stage that ended in a sudden corner. My delayed reaction caused me to crash into the tree ahead,” says the driver from Coimbatore.

That leads to a pile-up. Defending champion Vikram Mathias of Red Rooster Racing crashes into the rear of the damaged vehicle. Mathias is bitter. “I was told the car was on the left when it was parked on the right and took me completely by surprise,” says the ace driver from the Nilgiris.

Mishaps like these could have been averted had the stewards been more prompt. As a blame game erupts, the inexperience of the organisers shows as Calcutta is hosting the championship after a long gap.

“This is the first Speed Indian National Rally Championship here,” counters Arindam Ghosh, the man behind bringing the national rally here. “Till last year, the championship was more of a south India event with all the legs held in cities like Coimbatore, Bangalore, Mysore and Chennai,” he said.

The rally plans to travel to north India for the first time this year.

But to keep the rally here we need a level of professionalism. “Very, very disappointing,” laments N. Leelakrishnan, five-time national champ, now director of Red Rooster Racing, of which Vikram Mathias is a driver and so is local talent Amittrajit Ghosh on whom pressure mounts to see Red Rooster gets to the podium. “A very stupid error caused Vikram’s crash. We need much more professionalism to run a rally,” said Leelakrishnan.

To keep the INRC here and encourage more motor sport in Calcutta, we need not just professionalism but also cooperation from the administration, the sports associations, sport lovers and the local people too, feel rally lovers. We cannot have mischief like putting boulders on tracks cleared for racing or people pelting vehicles with stones just for the “fun of it”, as happened quite often during the rally.

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