Sunny Sidhu held on to his lead to win his seventh Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm title here on Saturday, a competition marked by confusion, organisational mismanagement and controversial pullouts.

The Chandigarh driver clocked a total time of 12:47:42 in the Xtreme category in the 2200km long rally spread over six days.

Accompanied by P. V. Srinivas Moorthy as his navigator, Sidhu was almost 20 minutes ahead of second-placed Sandeep Sharma.

The final stage of the race was cancelled for ‘safety reasons.’ Sources, however, said that one of the drivers had hit a couple of villagers near Kaalu during the first stage on Monday night, something many had been whispering about all through. The organisers feared a backlash since the final leg passed through the same village. The organisers though refuted the charge.

Sidhu’s victory was all but assured after many of the other top drivers crashed out of the competition on the first day itself.

Defending  champion Suresh Rana, APRC champion Gaurav Gill and Malaysian driver Karamjit Singh all suffered mechanical failures during the opening stage on February 24.

The results: Xtreme: 1. Sunny Sidhu (12:47:42), 2. Sandeep Sharma (13:08:20), 3. Amartejpal Buwal (13:13:34).

Moto: 1. C. S. Santosh (9:57:09), 2. Helmut Frauwellner (10:15:38), 3. Suresh Babu Janarthanan (11:31:45).

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