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The 2018 Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm is all set to kick off on March 18. This is the 16th edition of the rally and it will go on for five days, beginning at Noida and culminating at Jaisalmer.
This year's rally might have attracted a record number of competitors under the different categories including international rally riders. But all eyes are going to be on reigning champion Suresh Rana.
Suresh Rana has been one of the most well-known personalities in Indian motorsport. Having been in the Indian motorsport scene for nearly two decades, the man has won several accolades and has many podium finishes to his name.
Suresh Rana has been driving for team Maruti Suzuki Motorsports and dominating the rally scene in India for a few years now. Driving a Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara, he won the Desert Storm, Dakshin Dare and Raid De Himalaya in 2017.
This year, he is back and geared up for the first rally of the season. In an exclusive with DriveSpark, Suresh Rana speaks about the 2018 Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm. Here are excerpts from the interview:
DriveSpark: Just a couple of days away from Desert Storm, how are you feeling? What are the thoughts running through your mind?
Suresh Rana: I am looking forward to the Desert Storm this year as always. There will be a few challenges though, especially on day 2. It is expected to be tougher than last year as we are not allowed to use gps this time. My Navigator will have to guide me through the entire route using just a roadbook. This makes it tougher for him than for me.
DriveSpark: Describe the Desert Storm from your point of view as a reigning champion.
Suresh Rana: There is always more pressure on me since I have been at the number one mark for a while now. I have to try not to give into pressure, but work on my team-work with the navigator. I should also focus on keeping myself and the vehicle fit and safe through all the stages.
DriveSpark: How different is this year's Desert Storm going to be from last year's?
Suresh Rana: The route doesn't seem too tough. Just one 200km stage looks challenging because of the extreme heat and the hot sand out in the desert. Once again, the navigator has a major role to play here in get us through that stage quickly. Other than this, it seems similar to previous year's rally right now.
DriveSpark: Tell us about the car you're driving.
Suresh Rana: As always, I will be driving a Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara in the Xtreme class for team Maruti Suzuki Motorsports. The SUV is equipped with rally-spec suspension to handle the terrain better.
The engine though has been kept stock since modified engines are not durable most of the time. With respect to Desert Storm, the major challenge for the vehicle will be soaring temperatures in Rajasthan.
DriveSpark: What does it take to be a championship-winning driver?
Suresh Rana: Primarily, the machine must be in a good condition and team-work with the navigator too needs to be good. The most important characteristics for a championship-winning driver to possess though is, a cool mind and a fit body. This will help the driver avoid taking too many breaks. Other than this, humility too is of utmost importance.
DriveSpark: Do you have some advice for aspiring rally drivers or those who have just begun?
Suresh Rana: Big rallies like the Desert Storm, Dakshin Dare, Raid De Himalaya, etc are tough for newcomers. The biggest challenge is expenses, and this prevents most beginners from advancing.
When I started off in 2001, there wasn't much importance being given to safety equipment. We would use any helmet. Now though, all equipment has to match the standards. This makes it more expensive.
Hence, the best advice for newcomers would be to find sponsors early in their career. Maruti Suzuki Motorsport has been helping the right talent in rising up by providing the team, cars and all required equipment. The company has been doing this for decades and needs to be appreciated for it.
The 2018 Desert Storm marks the beginning of the rally calendar this year. Suresh Rana is extremely hopeful of taking the trophy home this time too. Would he be able to? Stay tuned to DriveSpark for live coverage of the 2018 Desert Storm.