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Own an SUV? Here's what you can do for adrenaline rush

May 30, 2014 08:37 IST

Own an SUV? Here's what you can do for adrenaline rush

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Joel Rai

What use is a BMW X-Series or a Mercedes-Benz M-Class holed up in the commodious garage of a city home?

Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) sell well in the country, but they are not exactly out there crunching across dirt tracks.

And here is a poser: would the owner of an expensive SUV deign to ride hard, live rough?

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Photographs: Courtesy, Cougar Motorsport

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“Most owners of such SUVs are competitive, Type A personalities who would love the challenge of motorsport,” responds Ashish Gupta.

This articulate 43-year-old former director of ABN Amro Bank is himself an example of this class of well-placed executives who wouldn’t mind letting down their motoring hair but would dread going hungry or spending a night at mosquito-infested halts.

“They need the right combination of adventure and luxury,” says Gupta.

They are men and women who obviously cannot take extreme risks, given their importance to their companies. They also are part-time drivers, with chauffeurs behind the wheels of their SUVs most of the time.

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Photographs: Courtesy, Cougar Motorsport

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Importantly, they are not brash young adventurers, but accomplished people over the age of 40.

With these realities in mind, Gupta and some friends started Cougar Motorsport in 2009 to provide turnkey motor adventures to premium customers who owned SUVs and yearned to take their vehicles through their paces without, of course, suffering much in the process.

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Photographs: Courtesy, Cougar Motorsport

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Every year in the past five years, Cougar Motorsport has taken groups of executives in their costly cars across the sand dunes of Rajasthan and the mountain passes of Ladakh, as well as the coastal region of western India and on a sanctuary trail in central India.

The first is a competitive TSD (time-speed-distance) programme, the others, leisurely expeditions.

“In these events, everyone drives a regular SUV, unlike in a rally where the vehicles require immense modifications,” says Gupta.

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Photographs: Courtesy, Cougar Motorsport

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The Desert Dash requires a team of two - a driver and a navigator - and more often than not, a participant pairs up with a spouse for the offroading event. It is recognised by the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India.

The expeditions are more slow paced, and participants frequently come in groups of up to four per car, sometimes family members, at other times peers in their businesses.

“It is an exciting experience,” testifies Gurpreet Singh, director of Gurgaon-based architecture firm Aakar Design, who went on the first Desert Dash in 2009 and enjoyed himself so much that he went for two repeat drives.

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Photographs: Courtesy, Cougar Motorsport

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“I am 58 years old and can’t take chances with risky drives or with my reflexes. So this sort of what I would call ‘soft offroading’ fits my needs,” says Singh.

He drove his Mitsubishi Montero with his wife and daughter as navigators the first time, and then had his brother-in-law guiding him during the other sojourns.

He remembers thinking the drive across the salt pans at Sambhar would be breezy, only to find an expert motor journalist turning his SUV on its back.

“How easy things appear,” he chuckles. “Two Porsche Cayennes met with minor accidents during the eventful drive.”

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Photographs: Courtesy, Cougar Motorsport

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Gagan Verma, a senior executive with Bechtel, has gone on two Himalayan Dashes - with friends because “my wife isn’t too fond of motorsports”.

His adrenaline flows at the thought of car rallies, but says that as an amateur there is a limit to what he can do.

The Cougar Motorsport events fulfilled the 47-year-old’s need for adventure. “Every day of the drive was a highlight for me. All details were taken care of. The well-planned routes across the mountains leave you humbled by nature.”

He adds, “The best thing is that on Day 1 you don’t know any of the other participants. By Day 3, you are good friends.”

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Photographs: Courtesy, Cougar Motorsport

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To ensure that the participants don’t feel too out of sorts during the drive, Cougar Motorsport ensures night halts in hotels like Shimla’s Wildflower Hall, the Lalit Grand Palace in Srinagar, Suryagarh in Jaisalmer, Umaid Bhawan in Jodhpur and the Lebua Resort in Jaipur.

In places where accommodation in the best hotels is not possible, special arrangements are made to up the comfort quotient of campsites, like in Nubra valley or at Pangong Tso.

Because the Desert Dash is a mini rally, it is a frenetic four-night romp that allows no time for entertainment.

But the others, like the 11-night Himalayan Dash, is punctuated by leisure activities like wine-tasting at Wildflower Hall, offroading on the banks of the River Spiti in Jispa, bonfires, singalongs, and parasailing and rides on Bactrian camels in Nubra.  

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Photographs: Courtesy, Cougar Motorsport

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It’s prudent to confirm your participation in advance because the various dashes are limited by the number of hotel rooms that the company can reserve.

The 2014 Himalayan Dash is fully booked and will take place in June-July. The competitive Desert Dash takes place in November-December and you can log in to the company’s website, www.cougarmotorsport.in, for details and to register.

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Photographs: Courtesy, Cougar Motorsport
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Groups are deliberately kept small to enable premium, one-on-one attention to the participants. And here’s a nice surprise.

For all the meticulous planning, the prices are not high. The Himalayan Dash costs Rs 75,000 per person, while a team of two pays Rs 150,000 for the Desert Dash.

Of course, you drive your own vehicle and fill its tank too. But then, that’s a small price to pay to give your Audi Q5 a taste of what it was built for.


Photographs: Courtesy, Cougar Motorsport

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