Pune: Satisfaction was writ large on Sanjay Takale’s face after the Pune rally driver secured his first podium in a cross-country rally this season and drove the 4-wheel drive Isuzu DMax to the finish in the mountaneous Mondulkiri region in the East-coast of Cambodia and won the Runners-up trophy in Khmer Rally Raid on Sunday.
The treacherous three-day-long rally that involved almost 1200 kilometres of driving and camping from Bangkok to the Cambodian border to reach the rally start point, had drivers from varied nationalities making this unique raid one of the hotly contested rally on the roads that Khmer kings used during the great wars in the region then known as Kampuchea.
Takale and his Thai co-driver Thanyaphat Meenil, who together suffered wretched season on the Thailand roads in the two rallies they took part in, however, let that pass this time around to win the runners-up trophy in Open class behind the wheel of Isuzu D-Max utility vehicle.
The rally began in Mondulkiri on Friday with super special stage and Takale nailed all the demons that prevented him from finishing in the two rallies on Isuzu DMax vehicle to post a time of 1 hour 14 minutes and 50 seconds for the second place.
Takale, who suffered in the two rallies in Thailand this season due to under-prepared vehicle, changed to Team Delo and delivered immediately.
There were alltogether 18 cars in competition, 27 bikes and 8 Moto quads in the fray with drivers from Thailand, United Kingdon, the Netherlands, Australia, Israel, New Zealand and off course the home country, Cambodia.
Takale had difficult times in the Round 4 of Thailand Rally driving Isuzu DMax when his drive shaft broke. But in a better-prepared Isuzu DMax vehicle that withstood the difficult terrain, Takale was able to deliver the results that were expected of him.
Team Delo had entered three Utility vehicles, all Isuzu DMax’s, but only two took the flag-off—Takale being one.
The Thai pair of Natthaphon Angrithanon and Peerapong Sombutwong, driving the same Isuzu D Max as Takale, won the rally by 1:07.35.
On Friday in the superspecial stage, Takale clocked 1 minute and 30 seconds to finish tied second with the Thai pair of Wichawat Chotiravee and Cholanat Phopipat. Another Thai duo of Natthaphon Angirthanon and Peerapong Sombutwong won the superspecial stage in 1:28, also in Isuzu DMax, but prepared in Australia.
“That Isuzu DMax prepared by Australian team was almost Dakar spec and has done China Silkway Rally and also tested in a few touch rallies,” said Takale of Natthaphon, who has been undisputed Asia Cross-Country rally winner for five years since 2012.
The first competitive stage measuring 34-km saw Takale start in the third position due to his tied-second position in the superspecial stage.
“I had to start behind Wichawat as the Thai driver had more podium finishes as compared to me in Asia Cross-country,” explained Takale about Wichawat, who has finished Asia Cross-country twice in the second place and twice in third place.
Push in Stage 2
At the end of Stage 2, Takale and his Thai co-driver were second overall in the foreign open class and also overall second in the rally including the Cambodian drivers.
“We drove well and I picked up the pace immediately at the start to make time on Wichawat as I knew he had pace. I pushed hard and made over a minute on him.
“At tulip 24.77-km we had to go through a very tall grass section on both sides. Grass was over 15-20 feet high and we could hardly see and also there were multiple tracks inside,” Takale said.
The Indo-Thai pair then lost for a bit while taking one wrong turn on the navigator call and got lost and took the wrong road. The next tulip luckily was short one and it did not match.
“We immediately turned back and took the next turn which matched the next tulip, but lost about 50-55 seconds and then we continued,” he said.
“The terrain was very different than west Cambodia, which we had done early on in Asia crosscountry rally. There were amazing steep drops suddenly after a fast section and also very slippery fine gravel in which tyres struggle for grip because hard surface at the bottom,” explained Takale.
The roads had gravel sand on tarmac making them very slippery. On Sunday, the final stage had deep ruts, one water crossing and very muddy section.
“Nathapon definitely had huge advantage of the knowledge this car. And he has good experience in cross country rally. He is a specialist in it and he only does crosscountry events plus does testing for pick-up trucks,” Takale said.
Final stage toughest
- The final stage measuring 47.88-km was the toughest of the rally. It had deep holes in many places. There was one water crossing and steep drop down.
- Takale kept his place as he knew his teammate would push hard and his patience paid off as in the quest for speed Wichawat broke his drive shaft in a big ditch due to massive impact.
- Nathaporn also maintained his lead and his car was much superior prepared and it was easy for him to go through the rough section compared to Takale’s car.
- With tall grass on either side car, drivers could barely go through and as this part was close to Vietnam it reminded of the Vietnamese terrain that is seen in Sylvester Stallone Rambo movies.
Results: Open Class:
1. Natthaphon Angrithanon (Tha) and Peerapong Sombutwong (Tha) (Isuzu D Max) 1 hour, 07 minutes, 35 seconds
2. Sanjay Takale (Ind) and Thanyaphat Meenil (Tha) (Isuzu D-Max) 1:14.50
3. Pittiphon Promchotikul (Tha) and Prakorb Chawthale (Tha) (Toyota Revo) 1:22.31
4. San Darith (Cam) and Ros Ratanak (Cam) (Toyota Landcruiser) 1:25.30
5. Oran (Isr) and Heng Sothhealux (Cam) (Polaris RZR) 1:25.44
6. Nikit Ngamsirijit (Tha) and Chaiya Chommalee (Tha) (Toyota Vigo) 1:29.51
7. Sok Puthivuth (Cam) and Wong Pily (Cam) (Polaris RZR) 1:31.58
8. Meng Luy Seng (Cam) and Meng Kheang (Cam) (Can Am X3) 1:32.17.
We had to be careful going in high speed crossing wooden bridge with no railings. Also multiple tracks was also a navigational challenge. Thanyapat did well to navigate as he has the experience of cross country rally and he asked me to slow down at very dangerous places where we could have gone off or wreacked the car.
— Sanjay Takale