Mucking About: Mahindra Adventure Off-Roading Trophy 2018-19

Somewhere near Nashik. Two rain-filled days. More than 40 people. An off-road competition. Here’s one man’s account of his experience

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I floored the accelerator, waited for the revs to build and then dumped the clutch. Immediately all hell broke loose as the Thar lurched forward and began spinning its wheels wildly. It slipped and slid and... wait, wait, wait. Why am I telling you this first?

Let’s rewind to the start. Over the weekend, a bunch of people gathered in Nashik to partake in an off-road competition, the winner of which would be driving home a brand new Mahindra Thar 700. Being from the media, I was invited to attend and also compete. However, my prize was not the Thar 700, but rather the honour of being the best among my peers.

It all started with a driver’s briefing on Friday night with Mahindra officials filling us in on the rules of the competition. To put it simply, there would be six stages with each stage having flags, super flags and cones. The driver had to collect the maximum number of flags (10 points each) they could, the super flag (20 points) and avoid hitting any cones (-10 points if you hit a cone) within a set time limit (5 to 7 minutes) per course. No external help, apart from a spotter who would help guide you through the course, was allowed.

Of the six courses that Mahindra had designed, we got to drive on three. This was after the actual competitors (ones in contention for the Thar 700) were done, which was good as it gave me enough time to watch and understand the mistakes that could be made on the course. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, it was time for us journalists to get behind the wheel and make our way through the obstacles. Having spent more than two hours analysing the perfect route through the obstacle, the fashion in which I messed up my start was spectacular. At the start, the spotter is required to be inside the car with the driver. They can only get out of the car once the stopwatch has been started. Once my spotter was out of the car did I realise that I was not wearing my seatbelt!

Luckily, I realised this before I set off, which meant that I did not incur any kind of penalty. I was cursing myself for wasting precious time though, which could have been utilised at navigating the obstacle. It was called ‘The Gopher Dam’ and comprised of cramped 90 degree turns and a short 30-35 degree incline with a rut on one side. The entry and exit to the obstacle were two almost vertical drops,placed side by side. The super flag for this stage was placed after the course, designed to reward those who complete the stage.

With expert guidance from my spotter (a marshal from Mahindra took over spotting for the media), I managed to complete the course with more than one minute remaining on the clock. There was even time to mimic a victory pose on the bonnet of my Thar before picking up the super flag. I was filled with joy having completed the stage successfully and also breathed a sigh of relief as the seatbelt snafu had not come back to haunt me.

The second obstacle was called ‘The Canopy’. It was a pretty straight forward obstacle, that was super-easy in the beginning and super-difficult in the end. The course comprised of a path filled with ditches on the left and right in an alternating fashion. There was a 90 degree right turn, a full 180 degree U-turn, a small pool of water and then a steep incline that was approximately 20 metres long. This stage had four regular flags and a super flag. Cones were placed along the turns. I managed to clear the ditches and the turns quite easily, collecting two flags and not hitting any of the cones.

There were three flags for the taking on the incline, with the last one being the super flag. The surface had been dug up by the multiple attempts from previous competitors, and the fact that no one had managed to reach the flag at the top was not helping me garner any kind of confidence. One of the rules of the competition was that if you got stuck at any phase of the obstacle, you would be given three attempts to make it to the other side. If you couldn’t do so in three attempts, you would be marked DNF (did not finish). This rule was in place to keep the competition fair and to stop competitors who went first from messing up the obstacle for the remaining participants.

The surface of the incline was muddy and acted like grease. It didn’t have enough water to make it slushy, but at the same time the mud looked slick. Chances of finding any kind of traction were slim. As I went for my first attempt, I put the Thar in second gear (4-Low was previously engaged) and floored the throttle hoping that good old-fashioned power would help me clear the obstacle. Boy, was I wrong. The Thar went up the incline and within a couple of meters was just spinning its tyres wildly, making no upward progress and I was still some considerable distance away from the first flag. In the second attempt, I backed up the Thar to the farthest point to gain some extra momentum, stretching the bunting to its limit (breaking it would result in me incurring a DNF), floored it and immediately dumped the clutch. I managed to make progress but my hand was still not able to reach the first flag.

On my last attempt, I decided a change of strategy was in order and backed up the Thar as far as possible, built up my revs and held them there for a second, before dumping the clutch. I could immediately feel the difference in the momentum, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Due to the limited traction, the Thar moved around with a mind of its own. Instead of placing the flag next to my driver-window, I managed to place it underneath the Thar. Oops! The marshalls sounded their whistle signalling I had not managed to finish the course. The only solace I could find was in the fact that none of my friends from the media and most of the regular competitors were able to progress any further than I did.

The third and the last obstacle for the media was called ‘SUV 2.0’. It was a predominantly straight and narrow obstacle, with one slight left-hander that had a flag placed on the far right of the turn. Going up the small incline that led to the left-hander, you had two flags to collect. Now the incline was not that challenging but stopping and starting on it multiple times to collect flags did spice things up a bit. Setting off after collecting a flag often resulted in the tyres of the Thar spinning uncontrollably as momentum had been lost. However, I managed to go up without too much drama.

Once on the straight to the finish line, the course was lined with deep alternating ditches that had filled up with water due to the rain. With only one flag, apart from the super flag at the end, remaining, I set off at crawl speeds in first gear. Most competitors made the mistake of using flat out power to clear this obstacle, leading to a loss of points under the vehicle preservation section (you got marked on how well you preserved your vehicle during the obstacle). With a touch of finesse, the Thar easily cleared the water-filled ditches. The end of the stage required getting out of one big ditch and collecting a super flag on the right.

Getting out of the ditch wasn’t a difficult task and all you had to do was keep your steering pointed straight and power out. However, the challenge here was that the super flag was positioned on the right. So if you went too straight, you could miss it. I utilised my three attempts and kept trying to turn right while powering out of the ditch, against the advice of my spotter. In the end, I incurred a DNF right at the finish line and in that moment I knew that I had slipped out of contention for first spot. It was a bitter-sweet feeling. I missed out on first but still ended up being on the podium by finishing third. The points tally later revealed that even If I had picked up the super flag, I would have missed out on first position by a couple of points.

Now while the competition was all fun and games, there was something of real value that I learnt from my two days in Igatpuri. Driving in the real world, we take traction for granted. But it is in the lap of mother nature, at a facility like Mahindra’s Off-Road Training Centre, where you truly understand how a vehicle will behave when you are on the very edge of traction. It is there that you learn to take the harshness out of your inputs and try and un-learn all the bad driving habits we have picked up over time. It is there where you might realise that wet and muddy conditions aren’t necessarily bad for some good old-fashioned four-wheel fun.

Recommended Variant : Thar CRDe

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