Heavy snowfall on Kunzum La, the mountain pass that connects Lahaul and Spiti on a height of 4,500 meters in Himachal Pradesh, today halted the 16th Maruti Suzuki Raid De Himalaya in its tracks. Today was the fourth day of the six-day marathon motorsport event. The Raid is likely to resume tomorrow.Champion rallyists of the country, who are used to speeding over steep, rocky stretches and even black ice had to halt at Kunzum La. All competitors and also the marshals of the Maruti Suzuki Raid De Himalaya had to put snow-chains on the tyres of their vehicles, form convoys and drive slowly down the mountain. Manohar Bhat, Vice President (Marketing) Maruti Suzuki, said this was the first time that the Spiti valley has stalled the Raid. “It is such extreme weather conditions, combined with extreme terrain, that makes the Raid one of the most grueling motorsport races worldwide. Snowfall is expected at Sarchu, where the Raid will proceed now. But we are hopeful that the Raid will run on Day Five and Day Six as per schedule,” said Mr Bhat. In 2007, the Raid had to be brought to a premature end due to heavy snowfall at Patseo.Manjeev Bhalla, heading Raid Xtreme, said the competitive stretches had to be completely abandoned today because the track had become highly slippery.
“The 11-kilometer uphill stretch from Losar to Kunzum, and the 17-kilometer downhill run from Kunzum to Batal had become difficult to negotiate, especially around the hairpin bends,” said Bhalla.From Batal, the competitors in Raid Xtreme moved on to Gramfu, Chhatru, and further towards Sarchu camp for the night halt. In Raid Xtreme (4X4), the high-speed, high-risk category, only 27 of the total 41 teams are left in the competition. In the Raid Xtreme (Motorcycles) category, only 16 of the total 28 bikers are left in the fray.In Raid Adventure, which follows the Time-Speed-Distance format, 41 of the total 51 teams are still part of the competition. The rest of the rallyists had to quit the tough motorsport event because of technical problems in their vehicles or other setbacks.
Jagmeet Gill, defending champion for Raid Adventure, said heavy snowfall started when the rallyists were about 15 kilometers short of Kunzum La. “Raid Adventure was able to have a competitive run from Tabo (near Kaza) to Kunzum, but had to be suspended thereafter. The downhill stretch from Kunzum to Chhatru was covered with snow too. We all came down to Keylong for the night-halt. I hope the Raid is able to resume tomorrow,” said Jagmeet. Raid Adventure follows the Time-Speed-Distance format.The Alpine category of Raid Xtreme (Motorcycles) for first-time competitors ended yesterday at Kaza. Arun Mehta was first in the category with a total time-score of 5.41.18 hours. Chinmay Bisht was second at 5.43.34 hours. Pankaj Sharma was third at 6.02.17 hours. Of the total 21 rallyists in the Alpine category, only three were able to make it to the finish line in Kaza.The Raid started from Shimla on October 5. Rallyists have to cross the high mountain passes of Baralacha La, Naki La and Shingo La before the Raid ends at Manali on October 10.