KUTTIKANAM, IDUKKI : Misty hills of Kuttikanam reverberated with roaring sound of engines as the 2018 edition of Popular Rally - Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) got under way with title favourite Gaurav Gill of New Delhi in his Mahindra XUV 500 for Team Mahindra Adventure stealing the show and maintaining the lead after nine stages of the race ended on day one here on Saturday. Musa Sheriff of Kasargod is Gill’s navigator in the rally.
Kerala driver Younus Illyas and his Bengaluru navigator Harish K N of ‘Race Concepts Motorsport’ came second in position after maintaining good timing in the overall INRC category throughout the nine stages with their Mitsubishi Cedia on day one. Driver Karan Kadur and navigator Nikhil Vittal Pal of Arka Motorsports secured the third position with their Volkswagen Polo. As many as 35 teams from across the country are vying for the championship title in the two-day rally which will end on Sunday in a Super Special Stage (SSS) at HMT Colony Road, Kalamassery, in Ernakulam.
On Saturday, nine special stages on the tarmac in the Mundakkayam-Kuttikanam sector in Idukki district witnessed a few drivers going off the road but finishing tight to take the fight to the grand culmination at the SSS in Kalamassery. As the cars vroomed on the roads covering the stages titled Rubber City, Mountain Challenge and Tea Garden, hundreds of people on either side of the tarmac cheered the drivers who had to be extra cautious as many a time people were seen getting on the roads despite repeated warnings.
The most unfortunate story was that of Nibu Sayed’s Volkswagen Polo representing Chettinad Sporting when he lost control and rammed a culvert while negotiating a curve during Stage 3 of the rally on Saturday. Both Nibu Sayed and his navigator M Chandrashekar escaped unhurt but the car suffered heavy frontal damage. “I believe we can still go for a spin if we get the vehicle repaired. The engine has not suffered any damage, The front right shock and axle need to be changed,” said a confident Sayed after getting out of the vehicle.
The take of Day One was the impressive performance by title favourite Gaurav Gill for Team Mahindra Adventure. He continued to keep a good time finish all throughout the nine stages in the day. Gill is also the most decorated racer with the APRC championship three times to his credit.
Meanwhile, two-time INRC champion Amittrajit Ghosh also representing Team Mahindra Adventure in his XUV 500 continued to put a tough challenge for the podium finish. Taking advantage of a better Day one than his teammate Amittrajit Ghosh, who has been pipped as a possible champion in this rally, Gaurav Gill was just unstoppable with better timing in all the stages.