A Thunderbolt through the Himalayas

November 12th, 2008 - 11:18 am ICT by IANS  

Chandigarh, Nov 12 (IANS) Winning has never been a problem for Team Thunderbolt in one of the toughest motor rallies in the world - the Raid de Himalaya. This time the team dared to add another first - riding an all terrain vehicle (ATV) on some sections of the rally.Having claimed four out of the five top slots as overall champions of the rally held last month in the most inhospitable parts of Himachal Pradesh and the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, the team is all set to hoist its flag in other motor rallies in the country.

“The unique thing for us this time, besides winning the overall championship, was to drive the ATV in some of the competitive sections of the rally. I must say, it was an amazing experience and we might even think of entering an ATV team next time,” Rajiv Bali, Team Thunderbolt owner and managing director of Mount Shivalik Breweries, told IANS here.

Bali has tied up with US-based ATV manufacturer Polarisa to import the mean machines in India.

The joy of winning was evident on the face of each and every member of the star-studded Team Thunderbolt while sharing their experiences and passion that drives them to take part in the world’s most dangerous motor sport.

“It is my absolute fascination for cars and jeeps that propels me to excel every year in the Raid de Himalaya; it is really a great feeling to win it again. Usually I start my preparations three months before the rally but finally it all depends on how spontaneously you react on the spot,” this year’s rally winner Suresh Rana told IANS.

Rana, who has been with Team Thunderbolt for over three years and has won the Raid de Himalaya for a record five times, won this year in the T-1 category (modified vehicles) in a Gypsy King.

“It is all very challenging as we have to drive in the world’s toughest terrains and have to adapt ourselves to the harsh weather conditions that are quite different from our normal life,” pointed out Rana.

Winning has become a habit for 32-year-old Rana, a workshop owner from the resort town of Manali in Himachal Pradesh. He has been the winner of this rally in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. He also came second with Team Thunderbolt in the Desert Storm Rally earlier in 2008.

“Every year the rally throws up new challenges and I have tried my best to face them. There is an immense support of Team Thunderbolt and I hope that the government also starts paying some attention to motor rallying as it has gained immense popularity in the last few years,” stated Rana.

Raid de Himalaya, which covers over 2,500 km in the hilly terrain, starts from Himachal Pradesh capital Shimla and ends at Leh in Jammu and Kashmir.

“My team has one thing in common and that is the passion for scaling the Himalayan heights, which shows from their outstanding record in the country’s most difficult motor rally,” Bali said.

Age is no deterrent for Team Thunderbolt when it comes to conquering heights. There are members from their early thirties to the early sixties.

In the cars category, Anil Sharma, 58, of Team Thunderbolt won the first position in a Mitsubishi Lancer car.

“It is a gruelling seven-day event where daredevils are pushed to the extreme limits. I love to take part in it as it makes me feel younger,” said Sharma, a businessman from Delhi.

He added that he started his preparations two months before the rally and never thought about the expenditure that he had to incur on maintaining his car.

Team Thunderbolt has four national rally champions in its ranks. These include 2004 national championship winner Anil Wadia, Sandeep Sharma (2005 and 2008 national champion), Sanket Shanbag (2006 national champion) and Suresh Rana (2007 national champion).

“One thing is for sure; one needs to possess iron will to participate in this rally that covers the world’s most rugged paths amid most uncongenial weather,” said Wadia.

“Many times we met with major accidents on our way but we had to ignore them to come out victorious,” said Wadia, whose car fell into a 50-foot gorge in 2001. He still managed a third place.

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