Motorsport is defined as, “a sport involving the racing of motor vehicles.” The term motorsport is a large umbrella that encompasses quite a few types of races. Be it F1 Grand Prix, Le Mans or WRC (World Rally Cross, for first time readers), all these come under the category of motorsport. One such category is called TSD Rally, standing for Time, Speed and Distance respectively. A TSD Rally is usually conducted on standard motor able roads and the cars participating do not need to undergo any sort of special modifications to take part in the race. The rally is based on the mathematical formula that speed = distance/ time. Here constant time calculations are required as the average speed and distance is provided. The basic requirements to take part in a TSD Rally are, ability to use a scientific computation device, aka a calculator, an understanding of road signs and the capability to navigate a driver that can follow instructions. If you have all these check marked then the rest is smooth sailing. Not really, as we found out with the Range Rover Autobiography and the grueling path that lay before us as part of the Royal Rajasthan Rally.
Jaipur, also known as the Pink City was our reporting city for the Rally. To be precise it was the Fortune Select Metropolitan Hotel on Tonk road. Our journey didn’t actually start from there; it started from Mumbai, as we decided to drive the 1200km from to Jaipur, non-stop a day before the rally started. The drive was long, straight and tiring involving a lot of passing of trucks and lorries, but without any hiccups we made it to the hotel safe and sound ready for rally scrutiny and documentation.
The Royal Rajasthan Rally, also referred to as RRR , is conducted every year by “Thar Motorsport,” a Jaipur based company that is renowned for desert rallies and off-road adventures around northern India. Many enthusiasts treat the RRR as a prequel or a test for themselves, before the formidable Desert Storm that takes place later in the year.
There were a total of about 80 cars that had enrolled for the rally this year, including us with the Range Rover Autobiography. The participants were divided into classes based on the vehicles that had been enrolled, namely, two-wheel drive, below 1600cc 4x4 Amateur, below 1600cc 4x4 Pro, above 1600cc 4x4 Amateur and above 1600cc 4x4 Pro. There was also an only ladies category. The Range Rover without doubt came under the “above 1600cc 4x4 Pro” category with it’s 4.4L V8 Turbo diesel, but unfortunately the drivers came under the Amateur category, if you know what I mean.
We were pretty excited about the 3 days that were to come in Rajasthan. Our brief told us that we would be driving through dried riverbeds, crossing small rivers as well as conquering sand dunes. In my mind, here was an opportunity to put the Range Rover through a series of tests to see how great an off-roader it really is. I mean, if a 4x4 Thar can do it then it’s just a piece of cake for the benchmark in Luxury off-roading.
After a fancy dinner at the Amber Fort Café and a few delays in getting the line-up sorted out, the rally finally kicked off from the Jal Mahal at around quarter past eleven at night. The first stage of the rally was the longest and the most difficult. Driving through the night on dirt roads, that turned into sand paths that suddenly became rocky crags and involved river crossings, all together with trying to understand the bare minimum directions of the road book got a little out of hand sometimes. At every stage though, the Range Rover was a formidable vehicle. It took every challenge thrown at it.
It wasn’t about how the Range Rover behaved off-road, it was more about how we felt inside the Range Rover as we were covering the stages of the rally. The car is a fortress! The seats are extremely comfortable, the climate control works great, and to top it all off, we were out in the desert in the middle of the night, it was two degrees outside but inside the Range Rover we had the seat heaters running with a massage going on! What more could be asked for? The Best part of the Range Rover was that in the night the lights turned with you and slight extra tilts to the left or the right triggered the automatic cornering lamps. The HID lights were daylight at the push of a button.
The first 427 kilometers involved some highway driving, most of the driving was off the standard path, on trails through a dried up riverbed and rocky canyons. As fun as it was exploring the terrain, what we were concentrating on was making sure that the Range Rover remained damage free. That was the toughest part of the whole trip. When you have a vehicle over two crore rupees in cost, making sure it completes the rally without any damage is of the utmost importance. That is something I can proudly say that we were successful at. After driving through the whole night, crossing through the Sambhar lake salt flats and the dunes we may not have been the first to reach Pushkar based on our time chart but we did make it without getting lost or having any troubles.
The night’s stay was at the Bhanwar Singh palace, a newer property on the outskirts of Pushkar. It was a pretty place, with haveli styles villas surrounding a large courtyard. Unfortunately we were so tired that there wasn’t much time to take elaborate photos of the place. After getting there at about three in the afternoon, the need for sleep over took the remaining motivation for anything else. To add to the lack of rest, the next day we had our rally flag off at four in the morning with another 360 kilometers to go. Hence to justify everything, sleep was needed.
The next day, after a somewhat good night’s sleep started of along the same route back. Sunrise was at Sambhar Lake, a beautiful spot where we did get to take quite a few photos as we were in a free zone. The vastness of the dried up lake bed, as the fog thickened in the morning light was a sight worth watching. Unfortunately we had a lot of time to catch up on in the rally so we chugged along the route to our next stop, which was the Dune Course.
Only the 4x4 vehicles were allowed to participate here. The gypsys and the Thars were straining themselves through the course but the Range Rover had no issue at all. It was a piece of cake. The special off-road height and terrain response system works so well that the driver can focus on throttle control and maneuvering the beast through its path.
After having some fun in the dunes it was time to head back, following the road book to the hotel. We did get a lost a little and had to turn back twice to match our waypoints to the book but in the end we got things straightened out and were on the right path to the hotel. By the time we reached the hotel it was 7pm and we were exhausted. The drive had been long and the constant calculations were quite a lot for the CarDekho team, but nonetheless we did finish the rally and there was no damage to the Range Rover at all. All that remained was the prize distribution and the farewell. The night ended with a gala party, loads of laughs and a lot of drinking.
Forty-four years ago, Land Rover decided to make an up-market SUV but was not really looking into making something as a status symbol or set a benchmark in luxury. The first Range Rover had vinyl seats and a complete plastic interior so that it could easily be hosed down when needed. The A/C and the comfortable seats were added later and in time to come the vehicle set a benchmark in the luxury SUV market. The Range Rover was designed to be an object of prominence at the opera house as well as extremely capable in the outback. Here in the desert, in the sand the British Fortress was more than capable and comfortable. The luxury is unmatched as compared to any other off-road vehicle in the market. The rest of the participants were getting sand and dust blown in their face where as the Range Rover was as cozy as a five star hotel on the inside. Seat A/C with massagers, two mini fridges to keep the water cool and an amazing Meridian music system to keep the tunes bumping. Not once during this rally did we feel that the Range Rover was inadequate. Infact there were times that we felt the Range Rover was a little too much. No matter how good the vehicle is, it still is 2 meters wide and 5 meters long and costs an arm and a leg. All that adds up when the road gets a little narrow or the village streets transform into tight corners. Nonetheless the Range Rover made it through everything.
We saw how the Range Rover was in the outback; hence we decided to take it to the Opera house, which here means the second largest hotel property in Agra, the Wyndham Grand Hotel. The Drive from Jaipur to Agra was easy and relaxed. There is a four lane highway connecting the two cites, so getting to the city of the Taj Mahal is no pain at all.
The property we were staying at was three years old and magnanimous, the Wyndham Grand is a work of art just like the Range Rover. The attention to detail is what was most striking. Buildings of red and pink sandstone, where each room complex had their own garden, connected to a huge courtyard with fountains flowing and the green lawns fresh with dew. The comfort was unbelievable and at Rs.35,000 per person per night the suits were regal. The property was never ending and the rooms were large with immaculately comfortable beds. After spending a night there, we experienced the best sleep we did in a long time and were rejuvenated, ready to make our way back to Jaipur the next day, after a visit to the Taj Mahal.
The Range Rover Autobiography combined with the TSD Rally in Rajasthan and the luxurious stay in Agra gave us a well-rounded understanding of “the good life.” However capable the car may be, I am pretty sure no one that owns a Range Rover really takes it to the limit. The Range Rover is equipped with everything one can ask for to win any kind of off-road rally, but in today’s world the Range Rover Autobiography has become the status symbol of the rich and famous that sit in the back seat getting a massage while watching TV and chauffeured around from point A to point B.
The whole point of motorsport is for the thrill of driving and the fun of competition, and in a TSD Rally nothing special has to be done to the car. It is a stock car race won on calculations, navigation skill and driving skill. Precision in the correct term. People think motorsport is an expensive sport, but when you have companies like Thar Motorsport organizing the everything for you then why worry, fill out the necessary forms required, pay the fees, drive safe and more than anything, have fun, because in the end, that’s what its all about!