Well, how can I even begin to tell, the tale is long and one always struggles with words when Doctor NN is missing. To make an attempt at laying out the story, which is a bit overdue (though not without benefits of better media coverage) but nevertheless is worthy of doing justice to. ….
The Cholistan Jeep Rally organized by TDCP is the biggest and the most prestigious event on the Pakistan offroad and motorsport calendar. The rally was not held last year primarily on account of crowd security concerns and this year it was being eagerly anticipated by enthusiasts and participants following a very successful Jhal Magsi rally in late 2011. So the 7[SUP]th[/SUP] Cholistan Jeep Rally held on February 16[SUP]th[/SUP] -19[SUP]th[/SUP] turned out to be a landmark event with the organizers assisted by Mr Mehmood Majeed (Bhawalpur 4x4 Club) managed to pulled a fast one on the participants with a major re-designing of the track. Over 70 vehicles participated in the hugely successful event that spanned over 4 days with registration/technical inspection in Bahawalpur on the 16[SUP]th[/SUP] followed by recce/pre-running, qualification and race days. A very large number of spectators and enthusiasts from all over the country came to the Derawar Fort in Bahawalpur which serves as the starting and finishing point of the rally.
There has always been great enthusiasm at the Islamabad Jeep Club for the Cholistan Rally ever since the last adventure by Doc NN and DesertDevil Asad Marwat. This year, with Doc NN missing from the register, two IJC vehicles had been registered to enter the rally: Asad’s Mitsubishi Pajero and yours truly on the IJC Project FJ40 Concordia. Unfortunately on the last minute, Asad Marwat could not attend the event on account of the sudden death of a close family member. Apart from sharing Asad’s grief this was obviously a significant setback for us as Asad is always instrumental in all rally aspects and we felt kinda lost as we were starting out. Our new hosts for the event were Team Evo Saidhi lead by our old friend, Qasim Saidhi who accommodated us next to their camp and helped us get comfortable with the terrain and the surroundings of Cholistan. Our good friend, Adnan Siddiqui on his Hilux Vigo was the other participant from Islamabad.
By way of a race summary, Nadir Magsi took the category A and overall podium on his Toyota Tacoma which was running a turbo charged 1GR 4.0L V6. Ronnie Patel’s modified Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution suffered engine failure in the second half after reportedly leading the race at mid point. Anas Khakwani and Zafar Magsi took Category A and overall second and third positions respectively in Mitsubishi Pajero Evolutions. In the Hilux Vigo dominated category B, Bahawalpur’s own Makhdum Amir Abbas took first in on a while Awais Khakwani stood second and Jam Kamal Khan third. The very competitive Category C saw Mehrab Khan on his Hilux Vigo on the podium with Mehmood Majeed second on a beautifully styled Hilux Vigo. Ali Magsi on a Nissan Patrol took a hard fought third place edging out Mian Shabir Bhurjundiwalley’s Suzuki Jimny and Syed Asif Imam’s Mitsubishi Pajero. Category D, always a Suzuki Jumny affair saw Mian Rafiq Ahmed take first, Khan Muhammad second and Mian Zubair Ahmed taking third just getting past Ghulam Hussain Sharr.
The race saw around 40% of the a total 70 participating vehicles not being able to reach the finish line mainly on account of a major re-design of the race track across the sands of the Cholistan desert. This year’s track in addition to involving negotiation of a number of very tall sand dunes with soft sand, largely did away with the traditional Cholistan straight runs across in favour of small winding tracks through much of the 210 km distance. Most drivers categorized the track as very demanding with greater stress on vehicle suspensions than previous Cholistan rallies. The traditional Cholistani variation and deterioration in the track with the progress of the race apparently played in significantly with the majority of the later starting vehicles suffering. The two soft sand dunes prior to stage break appear to have been a major hurdle with several vehicles getting stuck and half of the Jimny pack ending up with DNFs.
In that respect the starting order determined by the previous day’s qualification round was important albeit not as decisive as in Jhal Magsi where dust factor renders overtaking virtually impossible. This year’s qualification track was mainly the same as previous rallies though slightly shorter at around 2.4kms long. The track was a combination of deep sand runs and whoops and having gotten an early draw our FJ40 Concordia made the best of its power advantage to register a good time of 2 :01. Ronnie Patel was fastest in the middle of the pack at 1:44 up until Nadir Magsi put up 1:38 on the board to claim pole position. Qasim Saidhi also put up an impressive 1:51 despite having landed nose down with slight damage to his Evo in the mid track whoops on his first recce run. Perhaps the performances of the day were by the Khakwanis with Awais registering 1:51 on his Vigo despite a front tire coming off the bead on the last turn and Anas closing at 1:50 on his Evo. Adnan Siddiqui and Rahid Abdullah were exceptional with 2 :01 on a B category Vigo and C category Triton respectively.
For the experienced rally campaigner and our good friend Qasim Saidhi, it would actually be the first time crossing the Cholistan finish line after disappointments in previous attempts. Following his recent podium finishes in Jhal Magsi and Nooriabad and his past accolades as a category D Jimny driver, Qasim has come to be considered the man to watch with his multi-talented navigator Rizwan Buttar’s calm assistance. Qasim finished 5[SUP]th[/SUP] in Category A after a flat tire slowing him down along with managing to get stuck on the sand dunes twice. It was encouraging to see that his very well prepared Mitsubishi Evolution had been sponsored by ZIC and PTCL Evo for the race. We are truly thankful to Qasim, Rizwan and their crew for hosting us and helping us throughout the event, without which we probably would have not have made it out there and participated in the event.
As for us, the IJC Rally Team Concordia which set out to do something no one though was worth doing or even doable as such: race a restored/modified FJ40 at Cholistan and put up a competitive showing despite low-budgets and second hand parts. In our first sandy desert outing, after an early draw and strong showing at qualification, we started the race a 17[SUP]th[/SUP] off of a competitive grid of over 70 participants. Right after the start, we got somewhat distracted negotiating the tremendous crowd and made a silly navigational error that cost us over 30 minutes. Keeping our pace together after that was not easy but having been released of any tension to lodge a competitive finishing time, we ended up trying a number of cocky things from sideways drifting, long air jumps to short ballistic runs pushing the limits of the car. We were making good progress despite our second-hand shocks fading away fast up until we managed to get stuck on the first sand dune. In our attempts to dig our tires out of the sand, we stumbled upon a very agile sand serpent emerging from under the front tire to register his appreciation of the sexy BFG MTs. After pushing the car out with the help of some spectators, we followed a steady pace to the finish line though still losing some time on account of minor mechanical issues. So in the end, while we may not have a podium finish to show for our adventure, together with having qualified 17[SUP]th[/SUP] , matched top speed of 150kmph with some of fastest cars and having finished the race and we can pen it down as a significant achievement on our part given limitations. We did gather more media footage than perhaps ever available on any recent rally in Pakistan.
In the end, while offroad racing all over the world remains a dangerous and expensive sport, with the grace of the Almighty, offroad rallies in Pakistan have maintained a good safety record for both participants and spectators despite budgetary constraints, organization difficulties and limited sponsor support. This year saw a healthy increase in sponsorships with RedBull, Zong, PTCL, PSO, Toyota, Guard and others highlighting their brands through official support to participants. Another focus of Pakistan rally promoters is to focus on international participation and for the future IJC Team Concordia is also looking actively to build our existing partnership with the Pheonix 4405 Land Use Buggy based out of California USA.
Photo & Video Credits: Nashit Ashraf, Suhaib Kiani, Mohammad Siddique, Iqbal Ghangla and Mehroze Kiani
Link to full race results : http://www.ijc.com.pk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=324&start=45#p7856