Way back in 2003, Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm put its first step into the undulating dunes of Thar Desert in Rajasthan. The race back then consisted of Xtreme format, where man and machine were tested to limits and one has to cover the stages in fastest time.
Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm continues to be the longest cross country rally in India and the toughest in the desert as competitors battle extreme weather conditions, navigation takes a key role owing to the terrain. The 7 day long rally covers picturesque untouched dunes , dhanis (traditional villages of Rajasthan).
Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm is organized by country’s premier motorsport club, Northern Motorsport who are also behind the famous Maruti Suzuki Autocross and the India Baja (qualifier to Dakar 2018). The team leaves no stone unturned to make Desert Storm an unforgettable experience. The tracks are prepared months in advance after rigorous rounds of recce. The location of stages combined with the format of race, makes it a treat to watch.
Desert Storm has unmatched patronage in the country and has produced some excellent rallyists over the years like Sandeep Sharma, Sunny Sidhu, Suresh Rana etc. Each year it sees over 100 participants from Indian Army, Maruti Team, and many from all across the country congregate to take part in the battleground of desert. Since its inception Desert Storm has been an event to look for as the rally traverses from Bikaner, Jodhpur, Jaiselmer for over 2000 km in a period of 7 days.
Desert Storm 2017
The 2016 edition saw international participation with a team from Austria taking part in Moto category (bikes) . Suresh Rana from Team Maruti and CS Santosh , the fastest Indian and Dakar participant won in Moto category.
The rally in 2017 shall run in four formats , Xtreme , Xplore, Endure and Moto , following gives a lowdown on each one of them :
- Xtreme – Open for 4 *4 rally prepared vehicles, this remains the classic format of Desert Storm and challenges the particpant to the maximum as one has to cover the entire rally in fastest time.
Moto– the category is meant for bikes and tracks are same as that of Xtreme format and runs on fastest time concept. Moto in Desert Storm gets extremely challenging with sand dunes playing it tough on competitors and navigation being a key component.
- Xplore (2 wheel drive) & Endure (4 wheel drive) – the two formats run on a TSD (Time- Speed- Distance) format rally is not a Race. A Road book is provided to Driver and Navigator, which has all the instructions on distances and directions, while a Speed Chart is provided to ascertain ideal speed and time they should move on. Now, the Navigator in a TSD has an important role to play, as he/ she calculates the ideal time to reach at every point as per designated speed, with which they need to move.
The old school formula applies; Speed= Distance/ Time. So, the target of the driver navigator duo is to reach on precise time, reaching earlier or later bot attracts penalty at a time check, which will be placed somewhere on the track.
Next would be what all equipment can we use, yes calculators are allowed, historically only a calculator and roadbook worked, but now with GPS, mobiles and apps coming in, TSD has revamped. Simple GPS applications like Orux (available on Android) and MotionX (available on IPhone) can be used along with a calculator (or special TSD calculators).
The tracks in Desert Storm are handpicked and pass through small picturesque villages and offroad tracks which are challenging, beautiful and will test one’s driving as well as navigational skills. As per difficulty level of tracks, the whole TSD competition in Desert Storm is divided in two categories Xplore(2WD) and Ndure(4WD).
Those who are new to motorsports, Xplore and Ndure are the perfect formats to put the first step into this exciting arena with friends and family with an ordinary 2 wheel/ 4 wheel drive.
For details we request you go through Supplementary Rules of the category you desire to take part.
So what should you expect for the Storm ’17?
We can not reveal all at this point of time but we can share hindsight with you to help you prepare for the unexpected.
First and foremost is the traditional motto of Storm : “Sweat and grind during the day and luxury and relaxation after sundown.” The participants are put through tough sandy and barren sections with challenges thrown at them at virtually every turn. Unexpected dunes and rocky terrain are all mixed with thorn scrub and greenery around oasis. Then after a full day’s grind come the rest halts at majestic and imposing heritage properties unique to the Indian Thar Desert. Luxury accommodations that are famous for pampering their guests. Inviting pools of water and chilled drinks with sumptuous food spread. This will continue to be the theme.
Secondly the last few Storms have broken that hospitality and relaxation tradition a tiny-weeny bit by introducing killing night sections. These are looked at with dread by the veteran rallyists. Post the event once the panic has subsided, the response was overwhelmingly in favor of keeping this in the schedule. So expect more night runs this year.
Thirdly we are going to increase the “endurance” challenge by clubbing already long sections in to one or two huge stages per day. Choice of speed versus safety is entirely up to participants but just be forewarned. The long section do come interspersed with “speed zones” where you are restricted to low speeds while passing through villages and hamlets. The longest stage this year is going to be in the region of 300 kilometers…… something very few current ralliest have experienced.
Fourth element that will test you utmost would be increased stress on “dead on” navigation. Especially when you are running in near proximity and parallel to the borders of the country, on a trackless expanse of Great Thar Desert, you’d better not stray in the wrong direction!
Fifth suggestion would be to prepare your self physically and mentally to cope with increased length of the event. The length would increase both in number of days & nights run and distance to be run.
Sixth be prepared to wade into deep sand & push, pull and cajole your reluctant beast. The gloves are off this year and expect deep sand and huge dunes.
That said, at end of the day it is man and his machine which are put to real test. In the past we had people off the competition as the had run out of fuel, had radiators boiled over, had more than one puncture, had a dead battery, had a blown gasket, had…………
The list is varied and endless but the common theme – they were not prepared.
In the calm before the Storm , prepare for the worst.
Momentum is the key : The fundamental rule of driving on sand is to conserve your momentum. Since traction is at a premium, any increase in speed can be difficult, if not impossible, and you do not want to lose any momentum, as you may not be able to regain it.
The first thing to do before driving on sand is to lower your tire pressures. This is done to provide better flotation by increasing the size of your “footprint” and thus dramatically improving your traction. It also reduces the amount of strain on your vehicle and minimizes wear and tear on the tracks.
The optimum tire pressure depends on your vehicle, the type of tires fitted and the terrain. The following technique provides a good starting point to find the optimum pressure and is best performed before leaving the bitumen.
Park your loaded vehicle on a level surface and place a brick 1 cm away from the sidewall of your rear tire. Deflate that tire until the sidewall just touches the brick and then measure the tire pressure. Use this pressure as your starting point when initially lowering your tire pressure for sand driving. As you become more familiar with sand driving, you con alter this pressure as the terrain dictates.
If you haven’t performed the above technique before you reach the sand, don’t fret. A good rule of thumb is to use a pressure of 15 psi.
Remember : if you are going to lower your tire pressures, ensure you have a pressure gauge and some means of pumping your tires back up.
As you lower tire pressure, the tire becomes more vulnerable to damage by stoking the sidewall or rolling the tire off the rim. The lower the pressure, the higher the risk. However the gain in traction can be remarkable and may make the difference between becoming hopelessly bogged or simply driving away. The “correct” tire pressure becomes a decision between better traction versus increased risk of tire damage.
In severe cases of bogging, tire pressure can be lowered to a minimum of 40 kPa (6psi), as most tires require at least 6psi to remain seated on the rim while stationary. In almost all situations 10psi should be used as the minimum pressure as 6psi is likely to result in tire damage ie. tires rolled off rims or punctured sidewalls. Speeds should be severely restricted at these low pressures. To minimize tire damage, it is important that these low pressures are only used on sand and tire pressures should be increased if limestone or rocky outcrops are encountered, or when the terrain becomes more firm. Failure to do so will almost certainly result in tire or rim damage.
Sand Driving Techniques
When traveling on sand, you should endeavor to follow in the tire tracks of the vehicle in front as they have already compressed the sand to form a firmer surface than un-traversed ground. Never drive on vegetation as this will destroy it and lead to erosion and environmental damage.
You should avoid rapid changes in speed when accelerating or braking. Braking on sand will cause a mound to build up in front of all wheels and possibly prevent your vehicle from taking off. Rapid acceleration simply digs the wheels in and can actually lead to slower take-off speeds.
Take-off should be performed as smoothly as possible with gear changes done at fairly high revs. Sand driving requires plenty of engine power to get your vehicle “planing” on the sand. It is advisable to use low range as this multiplies the amount of engine torque available and will provide that extra gear if you encounter a particularly soft patch of sand. Check that your tires are pointing straight ahead when taking off to reduce the takeoff effort required.
When stopping on sand, depress the clutch and allow the vehicle to coast to a stop. This will minimize any sand build-up in front of the wheels. If the terrain permits, coast to a stop, rather than braking, with the vehicle pointing downhill as this will aid take-off. Avoid the soft sand at the base of most dunes and gullies when stopping.
When turning, make the turn as wide as possible to reduce the chance of bogging. Your front wheels act more like a rudder in sand and turning too sharp has a similar effect to applying the brakes.
Steep sand dunes can be traversed only straight up or down. If you drive even on a slight angle, the weight transfer is to the downhill side wheels. If the vehicle starts to slip, the downhill wheels tend to dig in and make the angle of the dune even worse, leading to a potential rollover.
If you are traveling straight down a steep dune and the back end starts to slip sideways, it is best to accelerate slightly to try and straighten the vehicle. Never use the brake, as this will cause weight transfer to the front wheels and can increase the back end movement.
If traveling up a dune and you do not get to the top, reverse down the dune in gear, NEVER coast down the dune and NEVER attempt a U turn.
Vehicle Recovery in Sand
As soon as you become bogged, avoid the temptation to simply floor the accelerator as this will just make vehicle recovery more difficult. Put the vehicle in reverse and gently try to back along your tracks as they provide a compacted path. When you have reversed a sufficient distance, try going forward again while being careful not dig yourself in. Hopefully you will travel further each time you repeat this technique and eventually be able to slowly pass through a particularly soft section.
If you cannot reverse out of trouble, get out of the vehicle and let your tires down further. A rule of thumb is to drop them by a further 12 psi. Before trying to reverse out, remove the build-up of sand from behind the tires. See if any part of the underside is touching. If it is, clear the sand away to allow the vehicle to reverse out. You may need to try this several times.
If necessary, continue to drop the tire pressures to 10 psi. Also, never underestimate the assistance of your passengers giving a push. As mentioned earlier, tires can be lowered to 6psi in extreme cases, but this should be avoided if other means of vehicle recovery are available.
If you are still stuck and your tires are down to the minimum pressure, you will have to resort to a snatch strap, winching or jacking to extricate yourself. The easiest method is usually by snatch strap, but this relies on another vehicle being present. If you are by yourself you will have to resort to winching (if you have one!) or jacking.
- Maintain Momentum
- Drive smoothly : Avoid sudden acceleration & braking
- Lower tire pressures to greatly improve traction and reduce track erosion
- Ensure wheels are pointing straight ahead when taking off
- Avoid the soft sand at the base of dunes and gullies
- Make turns as wide as possible
- ONLY travel straight up or down dunes
- Follow in others tire tracks to drive on compressed ground
- Avoid braking by coasting to a stop
- Do not floor the accelerator if you are bogging down
- When bogged, try to reverse on your own tracks