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A row of refitted Gypsys, and some of the ‘rust buckets’ in the background. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint (Ramesh Pathania/Mint)
A row of refitted Gypsys, and some of the ‘rust buckets’ in the background. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
(Ramesh Pathania/Mint)

Photo Essay | Rallying forth

Motorsport enthusiasts in India have more than F1 to cheer about. A look at a workshop that builds rally cars from scratch

The Formula One (F1) races will be taking place at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida next week (25-27 October), but last weekend saw the culmination of one of the largest events in the Indian off-road circuit. The Raid de Himalaya, which ended on 12 October, is all about negotiating harsh weather and some of the toughest driving conditions in the world at an altitude of 18,380ft.

Amanpreet Ahluwalia, 36, also took part in the Raid de Himalaya and has been a regular participant in car rallies for the last 11 years. He is also CEO of Auto Attitudes Motorsports Pvt. Ltd, a Noida-based automobile workshop that specializes in fixing and fitting cars to take part in rallies. Ahluwalia, who was the national go-karting champion in 2002, won the Maruti Suzuki Dakshin Dare Rally in August in a Maruti Gypsy he has custom-fitted for rallies. He drove the same car in the Raid de Himalaya but could not finish the rally.

At his workshop, you can see rally cars such as Grand Vitaras and Gypsys, and you can also find old Army vehicles that have been decommissioned. These are stripped down, their parts reinforced, and repainted to make them roadworthy and suitable for use in rallies. The cars are brought in by enthusiasts who’ve heard about the workshop through Internet discussion groups or visited Auto Attitudes Facebook page.

Every part has to be tested for reliability, and parts that might fail under the stress of a rally race are replaced. There’s a whole checklist, which includes everything from the engine, the roll cage, to the cabin structure, and strength modifications, by replacing critical parts with high-performance variants that can weather the rally conditions. These cars require special seats, fasteners for the bonnet to keep it from being jolted loose on the bad roads, to things like stronger radiators and air intakes to keep the engine functioning smoothly in the thin air in the moutains.

Rebuildling the cars is a long process: It takes around two months and 5.50 lakh, according to Ahluwalia. Most start with “rust buckets", old cars that are available for relatively little.

While customizing cars is a business, Ahluwalia’s passion lies in racing. Ahluwalia decided to use his expertise and knowledge from the circuit to start Auto Attitude in 2005, which pays for his passion.

Since rally prizes are small and not everyone can start a business, Ahluwalia says sponsorship of the racers is essential for motorsports to flourish in India.

Gopal Sathe contributed to this story.

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