V R Naren Kumar and co-driver Moosa Sherif of Team MRF won the MRF Taj Challenge Rally, the second round of the Indian National Rally Championship in Nashik on Sunday.
In the process, Naren Kumar, without his regular co-driver D Ramkumar, chalked up his sixth straight INRC victory and appeared well on course to equalling the record of 10 wins, set by team-mate N Leelakrishnan in 1992-93.
At the finish of the Motorsport Association of India organised two-day event which saw the cars complete six Special Stages, Naren Kumar was a comfortable 55 seconds ahead of team mates Arjun Balu and co-driver Kumar Ramaswamy, who finished a distant second.
Naren Kumar, the 28-year-old from Coimbatore, clocked one hour, 13 minutes, 40 seconds to Balu's 1:14:35.
Meanwhile, the third Team MRF driver in the running, Karandip Singh and co-driver Jaidas Menon suffered his third puncture of the event and lost considerable time to finish sixth, behind Jiby Maliakkal (co-driver Nikhil Pai).
There were some pleasing performances lower down the field, especially in the 1400cc class won by Rahul Kantha Raj and co-driver Vivek Bhatt of Team Nova. The duo also finished third in the overall standings.
Arjunrao Aroor, a teenager from Manipal, won the Rally Star Cup in the company of co-driver C K Chinnappa, the oldest competitor at 51 years of age.
Aroor's victory was more or less confirmed late last night when one of his main competitor, Sanjay Agarwal (co-driver Ashwin Naik) was excluded from the Rally by the Stewards. Agarwal was penalised for attending to his gear-box in the control area just at the start of the day's last special stage.
Overall: 1. Team MRF (VR Naren Kumar/Moosa Sherif) (1 hour, 13 mins,
40 secs); 2. Team MRF (Arjun Balu/Kumar Ramaswamy) (1:14:35); 3. Team Nova (Rahul Kantharaj/Vivek Bhatt) (1:19:10); 4. Lohit V Urs/MK Bopanna (1:19:13); 5. Jiby Maliakkal/Nikhil Pai (1:22:59); 6. Team MRF (Karandip Singh/Jaidas Menon) (1:23:11); 7. Blue Lines (V Shamsunder/PVS Murthy) (1:25:13).
1400cc: 1. Kantharaj/Bhatt, 2. Urs/Bopanna, 3. Shamsunder/Murt
Rally Star Cup: 1. Arjunrao Aroor/CK Chinnappa, 2. Ranjith Ballal/Shanmuga Nataraj, 3. Anita Khole/Rashmi Bopanna.
Photographs: RICHARD MIRANDA