Sriperumbudur (Tamil Nadu): Young Amittrajit Ghosh (co-driver Ashwin Naik), the new Team MRF recruit, was poised to win the South India Rally, enjoying a one minute, 39-second lead over team-mate Lohitt Urs (PV Srinivasa Murthy) at the end of the first day here Saturday that witnessed a clutch of retirements.
So much so that in the high-end 2000cc (N+) class, only Ghosh and Urs remained in contention while their team-mates, Gaurav Gill (Musa Sherif) and Arjun Balu (Sujith Kumar) besides privateer Arjun Rao Aroor (Satish Rajagopal) dropped out of contention in the second round of the Indian National Rally Championship (INRC).
Ghosh and Urs too had their share of problems, but just about limped home. Ghosh in fact drove the day`s last Special Stage in fifth gear due to gearbox problems, but he had enough buffer time to remain in the lead.
The day`s proceedings made for poor viewing with slow speeds due to the tight and twisty route while the terrain was rather too bumpy. Consequently, the conditions, not to forget the high temperatures and extreme humidity took their toll.
Gill and Balu retired with electrical problems while Aroor rolled in the day`s very first Special Stage that led to its cancellation and the competitors were awarded scratch timing.
Down the field, Sirish Chandran (Nikhil Pai), the championship leaders in Group N 2000cc class, were comfortably leading until the day`s last Special Stage when their Mitsubishi Cedia packed up.
Consequently, veteran Rahul Kanthraj (Vivek Bhatt) moved up a spot after driving four of the seven stages on borrowed rear dampers and led Karna Kadur (Somonita Ghosh) by just one second with Vikram Devadasen (Somayya AG) in third, 16 seconds behind the leader.
"I had problems with the suspension. Today, I drove the first three Stages on old dampers, but after (Shailender) Hegde retired, I borrowed his and managed to finish," said Kanthraj.
In the Gypsy Class, the seasoned Sanjay Agarwal (Shivaprakash E) from Bangalore looked set to win as he led Sachin Singh (Venu Ramesh) by 90 seconds despite losing a minute due to electrical malfunction.
The competition in the 1600cc class was also very tight with Den Thimmaiah (Pradeep Kumar K) ahead of Ashish Nath (Chandrasekaran V) by 32 seconds.
Meanwhile, the Rally route and terrain came in for more criticism with the top drivers lamenting the lack of speed that did little justice to the powerful Cedia cars.
"I averaged a ridiculous 53kmph today and that was my best. I don`t think I even crossed a top speed of 70kmph. I was mostly in first and second gears, and occasionally in third or fourth. It was very frustrating," said Gill.
Other drivers concurred with the observation while it was learnt that the FMSCI-appointed Route Inspector Farooq Ahmed had adversely commented on the route in his report submitted to the Rally Commission.
Consequently, speed was at a premium and it hardly set the pulses racing, despite a couple of eye-catching "drifts" and power slides by the top guns.