A storm in the desert

Posted on April 29, 2014

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A piece on Desert Storm rally:

It’s a sultry afternoon in Jaipur as CS Santosh finishes formalities with the officials of the Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm 2014, the energy-sapping rally from February 24-March 1 across Rajasthan, through the wild, mostly uninhibited outbacks of the Thar Desert.

As you speak to the 30-year-old Santosh, who clinched the rally in his maiden attempt in the Xtreme category for motorbikes, your eyes shift focus to his neck marred with scars; a fire mishap at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge last year led to third degree burns and eventually two skin grafting operations and months of recuperation to get back on the road.

While an airlift came to Santosh’s rescue at Abu Dhabi, and other medical facilities were in place, the same can’t be said of the Desert Storm, with the participants feeling that the organisers could do with better safety facilities.

“There can be no chances taken when it comes to safety. The organisers can do a little more and bring in helicopter support. There’s nothing like airlifting and presence of paramedics. There were ambulances present, but there were long stretches with few ambulances. Transponders also could be provided on the bikes, so that they can traced if any bike loses its way,” said Santhosh who was on Suzuki RMX 450. The event spanned over 500 kilometres through wild shrubbery and sand dunes, making the course look like the sets of the Mel Gibson-hit Mad Max.

Suresh Babu, who finished third in the bikes category, emphasised on the need for medical support in the winding stretches which are far away from any proper medical care. “There was 105-m stretch between Bikaner and Jaisalmer. We were told Ambulances were positioned at either ends. But if there were an accident in the middle by the time the ambulances reach, it could lead to critical problems. A helicopter will always be better in such cases,” said Suresh, who trailed second place winner Helmut Fraunwaller on Suzuki RMX 450.

“Vehicles have advanced over the years, and likewise the infrastructure also should get better. Ahead of Jaisalmer, it won’t be possible to have helicopters since it is close to the border. In that part, the help of the local authorities and the army can be sought,” said the 39-year-old.

Farooq Ahmed, the chief steward from the Federation of Motor Sport Clubs of India (FMSCI), also critically stressed on the same measures.

“In a big event like the storm, the safety is the most vital aspect. The stages were safe, but there is room for lot of improvement,” said Ahmed, who headed a three member team.

“Having a stage for 105 kms is not advisable with most of the terrain not suitable for ambulances. I would say the stages should be at a maximum of 80 kms and an ambulance present for every 25-30 kms. With mobile netoworks unavailable for a bulk part of the rally, there should be radio hops present every 10 kms to facilitate better communication,” said Ahmed.

The night stages too did not seem to go down very well with the FMSCI officials.
“I would recommend for the removal of the night stages. If any vehicle goes lost, then they will end going in circles and how can they traced easily?,” said Ahmed.

Apart from safety, the rally was found wanting with respect to timings as well and the absence of authorities in villages, were proceeding were disrupted after locals blocked the cars.

With timings manually recorded on paper and electronic aid absent, the question over the transparency of the results also arose.

An official, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “The event is very bad with paperwork, and it is questionable. For instance one competitor checked in late and there records about his delay.

Ahmed said, “Timing beams and other equipment too should be in place. There were no protests over the timings, but electronic timings will be precise.”

On more than one occasion, the villagers blocked roads and rally paths claiming the event disturbed wrecked the peace in the vicinity. The lack of police was missed at such places.

“If they need to keep the FIA tag they will need to do better, it will be mentioned in the stewards report and discussed with the cross-country rally chairman,” said Ahmed.

 

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