Popular Rally, back on the big track

He is the defending champion, the big man here, but Younus Ilyas is not thinking of a podium finish when the 24th Popular Rally begins at Kuttikanam in Idukki on Saturday and winds up in Kochi the next day.

For the Popular Rally is no longer a one-off event like last year when the Kollam youngster shocked many, including Asia Pacific Rally star PG Abhilash, to run away with the title.

The event is now back in the MRF FMSCI Indian National Rally Championship after a decade and with that all the top names are here, including Delhi’s Gaurav Gill, the country’s best rally ever, Kolkata’s Amitrajit Ghosh who has driven in the European circuit and Bengaluru’s Karna Kadur and Rahul Kanthraj.

Popular Rally, back on the big track

That being the scene, Ilyas is not thinking of big things here. The 23-year-old is a regular in the national circuit now and he has roped in Bengaluru’s KN Harish as his navigator but still that is not enough.

“This year, we had three DNFs (did not finish), we had some issues with our Mitsubishi Cedia, it took three rallies to sort out things but we finished third in our class and fourth overall in the last rally in Chikmagalur (Coffee Day Rally) last month,” said Ilyas.

Ilyas has set a modest goal for himself in the Popular Rally, which incidentally is the five-round national championship’s final round.

“I don’t want to take any chances, I just want to nurse my car home. My goal is just to finish the rally and in a decent time too,” said Ilyas who plans to start a new venture early next year which will promote the sport among young Kerala drivers by renting out rally cars and rally suits to them.

Popular Rally, back on the big track

Gaurav Gill, who has Kasargod’s experienced Musa Sherif – a man with more than 250 rallies under his belt – as his navigator, and his Team Mahindra Adventure teammate Amitrajit Ghosh are close to each other at the top of the standings in the national drivers title race. Arka Motorsports’ Karna Kadur is also very close to them and that is why the race to the title is expected to be very hot this time, much hotter than the current weather in Kochi.

“That is the wonderful part this time, since it is a close race all the top drivers are here for the final round,” said John K. Paul, the Managing Director of Popular Vehicles who is virtually the father of motor sport in Kerala and who has supported the Popular Rally for nearly 25 years. “Had the title been decided in an earlier round, the top stars would not have come here.”

Short tarmac stages

Gill has many fond memories of Kochi, having first come here as a bike rallyist and having tasted one of his first victories in the national championship for cars here.

The 37-year-old, a three-time Asia Pacific Rally champion who now competes in the World Rally Championship-2, feels the Popular Rally with its short tarmac stages is more like a T20 cricket match.

“I love longer stages because they require more skill and you need to save your tyres, you need to see how the tyres overheat, shorts stages are more like playing a quick match,” said Gill about the event which has a 14-km stretch as its longest stage.

Bikku Babu, a dermatologist popularly known as Dr. Speed for his exploits in the national rally and autocross circuits, is among the top drivers from Kerala in the two-day event which will end with a thrilling super special stage at HMT Colony in Kalamassery, in Kochi, on Sunday.

Babu, the National Autocross champion, is not a regular in the circuit and was the organiser of the event last year.

“I just did one national rally last year and one this season, both in Coimbatore,” said Bikku who has now begun winning titles in the international autocross circuit.

KJ Jacob, Fabid Ahmer, Nibu Sayed and Noufal Sayed are among the local drivers who will try their best to make the most of the home event.

So fasten your seat belts and get set for the thriller…and stay safe.

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2021 4:07:18 AM |

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