Jaisalmer: Day 3 of the 16th edition of Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm began early in the morning as the marathon 200-km special stage awaited the participants near Jaisalmer.
The terrain had changed overnight, the sand dunes weren’t the only obstacles as the terrain became rocky as well.
By the time Rally concluded for the day, it had seen some shocking exits. The defending champion in Xtreme Category of Team Maruti Suzuki Motorsport Suresh Rana and leader of the Moto category and title contender Hero Motorsport rider CS Santosh, who suffered a neck injury after a crash and had to retire.
The exit of these big names has thrown a the Rally wide open as Abhishek Mishra and his navigator V Venu Rameshkumar lead the pack comfortably in the Xtreme category, while Aaron Mare of Angata Racing in the leader in Moto category.
Engine failure for Rana
Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara of Suresh Rana and PVS Murthy suffered an engine failure just about half-way mark of the stage, forcing the six-time Desert Storm winner to retire from the race, ending his hopes winning the third successive title.
Following him with all the dust going into the engine might just be one of the reasons for an engine failure, but we are not sure about it,” said 43-year-old Rana at the end of the day.
Abhishek Mishra, who held a slender advantage over Rana at the end of the leg 2, now leads the timesheet with little over 25 minutes cushion over second-placed Raj Singh Rathore and Sagar Mallappa.
Mishra completed the special stage in three hours 11 minutes and 31 seconds to surge ahead. Rathore, who was closing in, should consider himself rather unfortunate, as he ran out of fuel, 500 metres from the finish line. His service team did not refuel at the previous service station.
The refueling saga cost him 20 minutes, giving Mishra the comfortable lead. Dharampal Jangra and Harikrishnan of Team Maruti Suzuki Motorsport occupy the third spot with the timing of 7 hours 31 minutes and 58 seconds.
Santosh crashes out
After the defending champion R Nataraj crashed out, CS Santosh was another big name to fizzle out on Wednesday.
Santosh and Aaron Mare, the two front-running pilots, were locked in an intense duel for track position when Santosh was blinded by the dust kicked up by Mare’s bike and crashed heavily into the sandbank. Despite sustaining the injury, the country’s top rider completed the stage. Mare now leads the moto class with a total time of 5 hours 29 minutes and 39 with Santosh in second place with a cumulative time of 5:36:43.
After the retirement of the Hero Motosport rider, Santolino Lorenzo of TVS Racing will move into second place, while Sanjay Kumar of Ang’ata Racing will climb into third place on the leaderboard.
Lorenzo was the fastest man to complete the marathon stage with a total time of 2:15:48, while Mare completed the 200 km special with a time of 2:24:19.
Santosh, who crashed into a sandbank suffered a neck injury and as a precautionary measure decided to retire from the Rally.
Xtreme: 1. Abhishek Mishra and V Venu Rameshkumar (6 hours 55 minutes 38 seconds); 2. Raj Singh Rathore and Sagar Mallappa 7:21:55; 3. Dharampal Jangra and Harikrishnan 7:31:58
Moto: 1. Aaron Mare (Angata Racing) 5 hours 29 minutes 39 seconds; 2. Santolino Lorenzo (TVS Racing) 5:42:49; 3. Sanjay Kumar (Angata Racing) 5:51:05.