Alhamdolillah, team IJC is back safely from Jhal Desert Rally!
So where do I begin? So many things and so much to say!
This rallying passion………………………….. is totally worth it! Win or lose, each n every time, we have come back with the biggest of Grins on our face! Although the fatigue and lack of sleep at the end is a killer, but just after few days of return the talk of next rally begins.
Team IJC was anxiously waiting n preparing for Rohtas rally in November, in fact we even went to Rohtas to meet up with the TDCP organizing team when they came to Rohtas for track identification! Unfortunately for various reasons the Rohtas rally didn’t take place!
Next was Jhal, and as soon as the dates were announced, everyone got extremely excited. Jhal Rally along with Cholistan, is one of the premier rallies of Pakistan! This years rally was the 10th rally organized!
For IJCians, lots of decisions were involved on what to do, how to do? This year new categories for race participants were announced, which included stock categories in addition to the usual prepared ones for the four classes (by engine sizes). And than we had an additional women category!
The planned participants were
NN and Madcyrus in NPP, in Stock category
Untamed and Charged in Tundra, A prepared
Desert Devil and Pink Panther in Jero, B prepared
Zohaib Jadoon and Fahad Akeel in Safari, A prepared
Maliha Elahi and Abdullah, in women category
Unfortunately the Safari’s timing chain broke down during recce on Friday, and hence it could not participate in the rally. Mustaghese sb came along to Jhal just for support, however after the safari’s withdrawal, with a little bit of coaxing decided to participate in the rally in his TLC 70 with 3B engine. Zohaib Jadoon who was my navigator in two of jhal rallies in 2010 and 2012 became Mustaghese Sbs navigator this time. He was in B stock category.
Pre-rally preparations in Islamabad were going on till last minute, in fact last second. The tundra had few minor niggles and therefore missed the trailer transport. Turned out with its huge tires and wider suspension, it could not get on the trailer truck anyway and had to be driven all the way there and back! Mustaghese sb also drove his TLC all the way and back. The remaining four vehicles were transported to and from sukhar on trailer. From sukhar to jhal n back they were obviously driven by the respective drivers.
We had hired a Hiace Buksa for our travel to Jhal for the drivers n navigators. The journey started at 2am Thursday 18th. Extreme fog meant we were very slow and eventually had to leave the motorway when it was closed. I did share plenty driving of the Hiace both on onwards and return journey along with the driver of rented Hiace. Being in one vehicle together meant our journey was a blast. There were jokes, leg pulling, snoring, more snoring, louder snoring, musical snoring and lots more during the 18 hour journey to Sukhar. Our driver Jaffar was also a very interesting chappy and good sport. The total distance from ISB to sukhar on the Hiace odometer was 1050km on our chosen route. On the way we saw plenty accidents and rolled on side vehicles, most probably as a result of severe fog and careless driving!
Shabab n Ali had left some 10 hours earlier from Islamabad on tundra, so made it to sukhar well before us. They collected all the vehicles, and went to the hotel, where the rest joined them. Despite being awake the whole night before, the gang kept the chit chat going till midnight before we all went to sleep. To me it seemed like I had just closed my eyes, and the morning 7 o clock alarm went off! After breakfast, we left for Jhal in a convoy of 6 vehicles. On the way I noticed the wheel wobble on the safari, turned out the wheel nuts needed tightning, but after a while it happened again and we re-tightened the nuts, eventally Ali worked out a makeshift/ jugaar for the wheel nuts and we made it un-evenetfully to Jhal. The distance to Jhal was 225km from Sukhar.
At Jhal we occupied space in the shamyanay kanaat area for our tents n beds. Quick snack were gulped and than we went for the stage 1 track recce! Things were going smoothly, the track seemed very dry and powdery, with huge puff of sand / clay on windscreen with each dip or bump. We stopped briefly in the rocky area for some quick snaps. Then one by one we moved on, to the Nadi Area, which is the dry river bed with heavy sand. Soon we got a radio call that Mustaghese sb TLC had got stuck. So we went for the rescue, while I was towing out the TLC, got a radio call from Jadoon, that his safari just suddenly shut off and won’t start again! So after TLC rescue we went back to the Safari. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and I knew that we couldn’t pull the heavy safari all by ourselves through the long sandy section, as even getting out the RKR was a struggle. I decided to go back to the camp and get some help. There was no mobile signal in the area and our radio signal was also not reaching the camp.
I didn’t know any short cut back to the camp, so we completed the rest of stage 1 track recce and went back to the camp. Everyone was still out and so had to wait for a while before we re-grouped and went back to Jadoon, it was almost 9pm by the time we got to him. It was a cold clear night, they had setup a bon fire and patiently waited for us. Ali tried all to get it re-started without success. Eventually we decided to tow the safari back to the camp. Where with the help of another mechanic we managed to diagnose a broken timing chain. A very rare and freak occurrence. Jadoon understandably was very disappointed!
It was already past mid-night we had the cold leftover dinner and setup the tents and finally slept after 1:30am. Early next morning, I was checking NPP’s cold tire pressures, when I saw mustaghese sb checking out his RKR, after a discussion, mustaghese sb decided that he has come nearly 1300km, might as well enter the rally for the unique experience! The tundra was having some 4X4 issues, so it was decided that it would compete in 4X2.
Next morning was qualifying day. Due to severe fog, the qualifying was delayed from 10am to 11 and finally to 12. Maliha was asked to do her run first, and she did a very decent time for a first timer! There after the rest of us went on our turns. The qualifying for team IJC went smoothly, and our grid positions were mid pack. Unfortunately there was a roll over of a new entrant in his Toyota Surf during the qualifying, however no one got hurt. A polaris buggy driver also got over exhuberant and rolled his buggy, again he was unhurt.
After qualifying, Imtiaz and myself went back to the camp to change our rear shocks. Shabab also very kindly lent his hand in changing the shocks. Soon Asad arrived back at camp after his qualifying and Myself Imtiaz and Asad left on NPP for the recce of stage 2. As we had seat belts for only two in NPP, the recce was done at steady pace and we reached back the camp just after dark! At the camp various discussions took place, and we relaxed by the bon fire for a while. Than the driver’s meeting took place. It was announced at the meeting that the stock cars would leave for the rally run after the prepped cars, so Imtiaz n I and Mustaghese sb n Jadoon were to have plenty time in morning before our launch. So I decided to leave the final preps of the vehicle for the morning and went back to the camp for sleep. Imtiaz was diligently compiling the navigation notes for the race at 1am when I went to sleep.
Race Day, as usual, was up early before 7am. Usual cold tyre pressure checks. This time I decided to race at 18 psi front and 17 rear. The tyres were my standard trust Micheline HTs. Everyone competing at Jhal would tell you, you gotta have MTs or at the very least ATs for the fast sliding tracks of Jhal. And they are right, I was sliding around like on Ice Rink! ;( I was banking on the fact that just maybe stock vehicles will be asked to do just stage 1 like they did at Cholistan. Stage 1 has the sandy section of dry river bed, where HTs are preferred and I would hopefully had made up the lost time from the other section! But it was not to be, no regrets, tyres were not the let down! A broken down Jimny travelling on the dusty track made us slow down, and also a private vehicle crossing the track made us lose our concentration and we very briefly went the wrong way! And last but the not the least, just general lapse of concentration, the details of which cannot be elaborated here, or I will never hear the end of it!
Unlike the qualifying day, the sun came out very early and seemed like the race would start on time and it will be full race distance. We were all set. Ronnie patel who qualified first, was waiting on the starting line for a long time. Initially we were told that there was still some fog in the mid of stage 1 between the vegetation etc, later we heard there was some fighting going on between the local villages in the area!. After nearly 2 hours delay, it was announced that the race will go ahead, but as it was already 12 noon, it will only be for stage 2, 117km. Damn the HTs! So we all headed towards the mid point, some 25km from starting line.
Everyone lined up according to grid position, our launch was over two hours after the pole position launch, each vehicle being launched after a gap of 4 minutes. First to go was Shabab, than Asad, than us, than Mustaghese Sb and finally Maliha. Our launch went fine, the track was lot more dug up compared to our recce the day before, but than we weren’t trying to push during recce. So plenty drifts, skids, fish tailing and lot more in the dry long putt section. With such extreme dust, we did have some issues with the accelerator cable getting stuck at full throttle, which was a bit unnerving, specially when you are banking on engine braking as well to control you drift / slide. We saw a few broken down vehicles by the side, including eventually Asad’s Jero.
Lack of top end grunt and sliding tyres, meant our top speeds weren’t too high. The GPS showed the maximum we hit was 134kmph. 134 isn’t slow, but it took forever to reach that speed, which meant we were losing plenty time in the faster sections. The lack of traction wasn’t much confidence inspiring, so we were driving well within the limits, which showed in the end result as well! ;p
Imtiaz was my navigator for the first time, he was upto speed with his navigation, very alert and totally cool headed. He was very helpful with all the usual chores as well before the rally. Many thnx Imtiaz!
After finishing, we went upto the finish line monitoring tower, they had posted the rally times there and then, on the notice board, I worked out that we missed the podium by 29 seconds or so, which was disappointing for myself n for Imtiaz, hopefully we will try not to repeat the same mistakes again!
Than the wait was on, for Mustaghese Sb and Maliha to finish, which they did, Alhamdolillah, both in their first ever rally, and that too none other than the Jhal rally, the toughest in Pakistan! Afterwards, I went to recover Asad, Asad’s jero died some 25 km from finish line. After returning to the camp, we all gathered to share stories. Some jumped under the warm waters of tubewell to freshen up. Than we started wrapping up/ packing all our belongings in the vehicles.
Then all headed for the prize distribution ceremony, where Maliha, received her second position trophy in her category, a very proud achievement indeed, Mashaallah. The rest were awarded the participation shields, and than the group pictures of all drivers took place. As we had two broken down vehicles, we left after dinner for our drive back. I was in NPP towing Asad’s Jero, while Ali was towing Zuhaibs Safari with Tundra. While the remaining 4 vehicles were following us. Nadir Magsi, as usual was kind enough to arrange a police escort for us during night travel as safety precaution. The distance for towing was long (228km) and it was way past bed time, but lack of traffic made things bearable.
We reached Sukhar around 4:30am. The rally vehicles were parked at the petrol stations for collection n loading onto transport trailer the next day. Shabab drove his tundra back as it can’t be loaded onto the trailer due to its width. The rest got onto the Hiace for the return journey! As expected it was an extremely long tiring journey, despite just one breakfast and one lunch break. The tractor trolleys and slow moving trucks made our progress rather slow. I took over the DJ duties, and everyone was forced to listen to my choice. Everyone was too tired n sleepy to complain! Eventually we reached ISB /RWP at midnight, dropping people one by one, people were so tired n sleepy that some could not identify their own house in the street!! Last stop was for me, by than it was almost 1:30am.
In the end, would repeat again, Eternally Grateful to Almighty for all his blessings, for keeping us safe, for giving us the opportunity to explore various activities around. Many thnx to all the friend who came along, for their company, their patience, their sense of humour, comraderi and most of all the the selfless attitude. During the trip I got a new nick name, “Doc NN” now changed to “Doc Eshtock”, coz I participated in stock category! Many thnx to all the IJCian, our families and all others for their wishes n prayer for our safe return back!
Finally……………….guys lets get cracking…………..Cholistan is just 6-7 weeks away!