The annual event was flagged off by T Hashimoto, Executive Director (Marketing & Sales), Maruti Suzuki India Limited. Team Mahindra, including National Rally Championship winner Sunny Sidhu, pulled out of the event at the last minute, causing a major embarrassment to local organizers. "Mahindra submitted their entry fees. But we have not received any clear reasons from Mahindra side. It may be that they are re-thinking the budget issue. This could be a reason but no confirmation as of now," said Manjeev Bhalla, vice-president of Himalayan Motosport.

Suresh Rana, seven time Raid-de-Himalaya champion also rued the fact that Team Mahindra is not coming for the rally. "It's great to have other companies in the rally. Team Mahindra not participating is a sad thing as their presence would have enhanced the competition level. Sidhu is a great driver and I was looking forward to have a contest with him," said Rana.

The 15th edition of the rally is marked by the highest number of entries ever, and a number of firsts to its credit. In 2013, as many as 153 teams are competing in this arguably one of the toughest rallies in the world and test competitor's dexterity in handling rough roads, uncertain and extreme weather conditions.

Add to the adventure and excitement an all new scooters category and a large female contingent, including an Indian woman participant Sheetal Bidaye in the two-wheeler Xtreme Category for the first time. The youngest participant in the women's category is Kalyani Potekar, a 20-year-old student of Fergusson College of Pune, who is competing in two-wheeler Alpine category.

"Raid-de-Himalaya is not only a pioneer motorsport event in the country, it has put India on global motorsport arena as it combines the challenges for the participants at par with the toughest motor rallies in the world," Hashimoto said during the flag off.

"Today, the ever increasing participation across age groups and gender is a testimony to this stature of the event. It is heartening to note that this year we have an increased participation from women, from the services, and bikers," he added.

After the ceremonial flag off, the rallyists will set off for the first competitive leg to Manali on Tuesday morning. This year the rally will run again in two different routes for the X-treme and Adventure Trial categories. Enroute, participants and their machines will brave challenges thrown by some of the highest mountain passes in the world.

The rally will culminate in Leh on October 12 with prize distribution ceremony. There are five categories this year to which Scooter is an addition with the usual X-treme, Adventure trial, Moto X-treme and Moto Alpine sections. There are 39 teams in the X-treme category, 62 in Adventure trial, 21 in Moto Alpine and five in scooter.

"The 2013 rally will have 'Speed control Zones' to check the excessive rush driving and accident that happen due to over-taking tendency of the drivers. The average speed limit for the vehicles would be 30 km per hour. There would be penalty for those who will exceed the speed limit," said Bhalla.


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