Team Mahindra favourites at Rally of Maharashtra

Nashik: The gloves are off in this year`s Indian Rally Championship with the powerful SUVs thrown together with the saloon cars for the overall title as the all-tarmac three-day Mahindra Adventure Rally of Maharashtra, the first of the six rounds of the re-christened series, commences here Friday.

Team Mahindra Adventure, who have entered three XUV 500 vehicles, will be starting out as the hot favourites as they seem to have a virtually unbeatable driver-navigator combination that will be up against veterans Samir Thapar and co-driver Gurinder Singh Mann in a Mitsubishi Evo X, representing team JCT Rallying.

The rally comprises 108.50 km of Special Stages with the total distance being 621.31 km. While the Super Special Stage of 2.03 km will be run on Friday in the city, the competitors will head out of town on Saturday and Sunday for the Special Stages.

Heading the Mahindra challenge will be 2013 Asia Pacific champion Gaurav Gill (co-driver Musa Sherif) who will be back in contention for the national title that he had won in 2011.

Gill will be teaming up for the first time with his once fierce rival and double National champion Kolkata`s Amittrajit Ghosh (Ashwin Naik). Backing up this formidable pair will be the seasoned Sunny Sidhu (PVS Murthy), the multiple Desert Storm champion.

Last season, the Delhi-based Gill was the quickest in the series and comfortably won the SUV class title. However, the SUV class was outside the National championship that Ghosh won for the second year in a row, piloting a Groun N-spec Mitsubishi Cedia.

In all, 20 cars have so far registered for the National championship in the four categories - Indian Rally Championship (IRC) (only Saloon cars/SUVs upto 3500cc), IRC 2000cc (Group N, 2WD), IRC 1600cc (Group N, 2WD) and the FMSCI 1600cc Cup (for cars homologated prior to Dec 31, 2007). Participants in the IRC 2000cc, the IRC 1600cc and the FMSCI 1600cc Cup also compete for the overall championship.

All other rounds will be run on gravel and are scheduled to be held in Coimbatore (July 13-15), Chennai (July 25-27), Kolkata (Oct 31-Nov 2), Bangalore (Nov 21-13) and Chikmagalur (Dec 5-7).

Among the registered participants is an all-woman entry in Garima Avatar and co-driver Sukhbans Mann who will be making their debut in the IRC 1600cc catogory in a VW Polo for Slideways Industries who have entered a five-car team.

Bangalore`s Harshitha Gowda is another woman driver participating in the 1600cc category driving a Maruthi Baleno.

With Ghosh opting for SUV and last year`s runner-up Arjun Rao not having registered for the opening round, Rahul Kanthraj (Vivek Bhatt) from team Yokohama in a Mitsubishi Cedia is the leading title contender in the IRC 2000cc, along with Sumit Panjabi (Venu Ramesh Kumar), also in a Cedia.

The IRC 1600cc has nine cars in the fray and features the likes of Vikram Devadasen (Srikanth Gowda) and Sirish Chandran (Nikhil Pai) of Slideways Industries and both in VW Polo, while four cars compete for the FMSCI 1600cc Cup.

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