While the Grand Prix scene of India (F1, F3 etc) is evolving with time, it is not even close to international standards. However, if we talk about the Indian car rally scene; it has been booming since day one. This is majorly because of India’s diverse geographical structure and of course, people’s desire to push their cars to the limit at terrains that are practically undrivable.
There are a number of notable rally stages in India like the Maruti Suzuki Desert storm rally and Indian National Rally Championship. And while a lot of cars have participated at these stages, only a couple can be tagged ‘iconic’. So here is GoMechanic with 6 Iconic Rally Stage cars which have absolutely dominated this sport.
The Baleno is not only one of the best sedans India has seen till now but was also a very capable rally stage car. The independent suspension setup was easy to modify which gave it an edge on dirt tracks. It came with a 1.6-litre petrol engine that churned out 91 bhp which was pretty powerful for the early 2000s rally scene, but if this wasn’t enough for you; you could easily churn out around 160 bhp from this capable block.
It was one of the midfielders; placed just above the Esteem and won the National Rally Championship thrice between 2000-2005 under the tuning of ‘N.Leelakrishnan’ and competed with the likes of Honda City.
There was a rally version of the new Baleno too(same specs as the RS) which debuted in Italy in 2016, but it simply can’t match the rally pedigree of its dad.
Fun Fact: There is an example of an AWD working Baleno in India!
The Original Maruti Baleno and Why rally enthusiasts love it?
Aka the ‘mountain goat’. If there is a face to the Indian rally stage, it is the Maruti Gypsy. It was the one that started the sport in 1988 and is the most accomplished rally car to date. It was light, nimble and with a 1.3-litre petrol engine in front making 80 bhp; was very fun to drive. It absolutely dominated the sport, winning a total of 8 National championships in a row(from 1988-1995) and is still considered the perfect car to start your rallying career.
Trivia: A company called the Engineering Exponent (EE) have tuned a Gypsy which puts out an astonishing 400+ horsepower! Let that sink in.
This car has not only been an active member of the rally community in India but has also dominated the sport worldwide. Although it was retired by VW in 2016, it won two titles in just two years of its debut at WRC. In India, it won the 2019 championship under the tuning company called ‘FRK racing’. And it’s not just the rally stage, but the Polo is also an important member of the Indian circuit racing scene. For instance, It made racing more accessible and somewhat cheap with the inauguration of the Polo cup in 2013 and for that, we thank you Volkswagen!
If the Gyspy is the rally legend, then the Esteem is the legend killer. It was the first sedan to participate in the Indian Rally circuit and won the first championship by beating the Gypsy in 1996 for the JK Rally team. The esteem was light, had great power to weight ratio, had low ride height and handled exceptionally. It came with a 1.3-litre petrol engine(post-1994) which produced a decent figure of 65 bhp. It absolutely murdered its competitors on the track and although it’s been more than a decade since Maruti Suzuki stopped production; there is still no alternative to the Esteem in rallying.
The Cedia was India’s first ‘budget performance’ sedan. It came with a 2.0-litre petrol engine which produced 114 bhp, which was unheard of back in 2008. With such great performance figures and Mitsubishi’s racing pedigree, it quickly became the favourite rally car and won 8 National Championships; making it the most successful rally sedan ever. Its brute power couldn’t be matched by any other car and it put unknown teams like Red Rooster Racing in the spotlight. Honestly, you can see more Cedias on a single race day than on public roads in a whole year! and I don’t know about you, but this car is definitely on my bucket list.
Although it was smooth sailing for the Esteem as there were no proper competitors in its class, this was not the case for the Baleno. The competitor which made life hell for it? Honda City. While most of you must think of the City as a suburban sedan; a few suspension modifications made it an absolute beast on the rally stage. There was a time when the team JK Tyre used to be absolutely frustrated as their Baleno was simply no match for Team MRF’s City. Its Vtec was too much to handle! It won the Group A class 4 times in a row and that is more than enough for it to be mentioned on this list.
Without discounting the skill of the drivers and the efforts of the team, fact remains that these 6 iconic Indian rally stage cars have played a pivotal role in Indian rallying and for that; we are absolutely grateful. Do you own or have driven one of these cars? Let us know in the comment section below!