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Hey Guys, I’m back 😉 😉 😉 As promised in my previous post Chicas Fantasticas For Times Women’s Drive 2018 , today I’m sharing with you all my first-ever car rally experience. Boy, was it exciting 😀 😀 😀

Picking up from my last post, wherein I requested you all to vote for my team Chicas Fantasticas (‘Fantastic Girls’ in Spanish 😉 ), here’s my experience of the two-day Times Women’s Drive (TWD), which took place on April 28 – 29 followed by a Gala Awards Ceremony on the 30th, at the Holiday Inn Resort in Goa.

Times Women’s Drive is the world’s largest all women’s TSD (Time-Speed-Distance) rally, a type of motorsport rally with the object of driving each segment of a Course in a specified time at a specified average speed.

A TSD rally is all about following the Road Book (Tulip Chart + Speed Chart) and not losing your way. Above all, avoiding penalty points! The winning team is the one that reaches the destination on time and with the lowest number of penalty points. The Navigator has to follow the Tulip Chart (or Road Book), keep an eye on the left side of the road for STCs (Secret Time Control), calculate the ideal time to finish each distance, etc.  There is a speed limit for each distance in the Road Book, and it has to be followed at all times. And there are free zones with no speed limits, only time limits. A free zone is a zone in which there are no controls and is meant for taking short breaks, if required. For every second of late arrival at any of the STCs guarded by a Marshall there is a one second penalty. For every second of early arrival, there is a two seconds’ penalty. The Driver has to follow the Navigator’s instructions and drive, so the latter’s expertise is vital to the team’s success.

Since its inception, TWD has been working closely with Women’s Cancer Initiative- Tata Memorial Hospital, and a large part of the money collected through registration is donated to the hospital. This year, the registration fee was 29,382 rupees, including three nights’ hotel stay, breakfast and dinner.

In its 9th edition and for the 3rd consecutive year – Goa was the final destination for the rally, which is flagged off from three cities – Mumbai, Bengaluru (or Bangalore) and Pune. But this year, there were four cities participating in the drive. The new entrant was the southern city of Hyderabad. In total, there were 530 cars and 1600 participants.

As you know, my teammates were my two elder sisters – Shilpa and Swapna. It was the first time for all three of us. Shilpa was going to be the Driver, I – the Navigator, and Swapna – the Team Correspondent. It had been a long time since I had been behind the wheel, so Shilpa was going to be the team’s sole driver. She frequently drives from Mumbai to Kudal (which is 474 KM away, and 1.5 hours’ drive from Panaji) on work trips with her business partner. Between them they take turns at driving. So she is used to driving for long periods of time, and familiar with the Mumbai-Goa road as well.

Swapna is good with directions, but she hasn’t learnt to drive. I wasn’t aware of the responsibilities of a Navigator, so when I googled about it, I found the whole thing quite exciting 😀 Among other things required of a Navigator, I’m good at maths 😉 It also meant that Swapna and I had to work together, and Shilpa had to follow my instructions. Most importantly, Swapna and I had to work together without any fights and disagreements. That was the daunting part as we both tend to argue quite a lot, mostly when she tries to dominate over me 😀

The Road Map was going to be handed out to the teams at the time of flag off. A week before the rally, on April 22, the participants were going to be briefed about the rally rules and regulations, and the Road Book.

The teams selected for participation in the rally had to keep all the required documents ready for submission and verification on April 3 – 8 at the Jeep showroom on Annie Besant Road in Worli. Jeep was the official sponsor of the rally. The documents required included FMSCI (Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India) license and special rally insurance for two days. The FMSCI license number is obtained online on their website www.fmsci.co.in

For this particular drive, it costs 472 rupees. Rally insurance is an endorsement on the original vehicle insurance policy and is to be applied for at the branch of the insurance company which has issued the original policy. The premium payable is two hundred rupees or so. It didn’t take much time for me to get the two. On April 4, Shilpa and I went to the showroom and got our work done. I’m not much into cars, but the Jeep parked inside the showroom looked quite nice. Good for tough terrain. The Times Women’s Drive team were active on social media with contests, offering wild card entries for the rally… and a Jeep drive to Goa for those keen on participating in the exciting women’s drive!

At the end of the online voting on March 11, my team was in the 137th position in the Leaderboard out of 199 selected entries. I was under the impression that the rally registration and voting had started on April 7 as the Times of India newspaper advertisement stated so. But a look through the drive’s Twitter hashtags showed that it had started more than a month ago. Hence the lead ranking individual teams had a whopping number of votes to their credit, +500000 compared to my team’s measly +17000. There were some dropouts during the fees payment and document submission phase, and we climbed up to the 134th position on the Leaderboard. There were corporate entries too. Of the more than 500 cars participating in the drive, 212 were from Mumbai. We got our car number on the day of the briefing, which was on a Sunday.

The briefing was held at Lalit Hotel, from 2 pm onwards. The designated car numbers were put up on notice boards. The first ten numbers were missing the team names. My team’s number was 144.

Yours truly (centre), Shilpa (left) and Swapna (right) 😀

Selfie time 😀

The place was buzzing with excited participants. We received three car stickers, one for the bonnet and two for the sides. Two sets of t-shirts were given to each team member. On the first day, we had to wear canary yellow and on the second day, fluorescent green. Each team was handed a sample Tulip Chart (or Road Book). In addition, each of us received a 2000-rupee coupon of the fashion brand Central (a sponsor), and a canvas sling bag.

The briefing session lasted for two hours or so and included tips from some leading female drivers. Their first tip was “Do not fight on the drive” 😀 (Haha… so Swapna and I didn’t fight as much ;-)) The briefing helped clear my doubts regarding a few of the tulips (schematic giving driving directions). But I wanted a trial experience before the final thing. The sample Road Book was a road map from Lalit Hotel to Raheja Universal in Navi Mumbai, where the flag-off was going to take place.  They had given a sample Speed Chart too. This was for calculating the ideal time to cover the distance of each stretch in the Road Book. I thought of using this Tulip Chart to gain an experience of navigation. So, on April 26, two days before the start of the rally, we started for Lalit Hotel at 6:30 AM. From there, I took over as a navigator and got myself acquainted with the tulip icons and the navigational exercise. The experience was very helpful 😀

Tulip icons…

Speed Chart sample…

The Times Women’s Drive awards were going to be presented city-wise. The winner from each city would take home prizes worth 450,000 rupees, 330,000 rupees and 220,000 rupees for the top three spots. Some engaging contests had been planned for participants in each city: Best Dressed Car (Rs.60,000), Best Dressed Team (Rs.45,000), Best Social Message On Car (Rs.45,000), Best Car Karaoke Video (Rs.15,000), Most Creative Group-fie (Rs.21,000), Most Stylish Woman (Rs.20,000) and Woman Of Impact (Rs.20,000). Of these, two interested us: Best Dressed Car and Best Social Message On Car.

TWD addresses women’s empowerment, spreading awareness about cancer and early detection. But participants could choose any subject or cause to promote on their cars. My team’s message was in support of breast cancer awareness. Our slogan was “#STANDFORPINK”. I wanted to give our car an eye-catching look. Vinyl printing (which most of the participants did!) was the easiest thing to do…just dump all the work on a car decorator, and that’s it! But no, I wanted a handmade car decoration. And that wasn’t easy. Designing, shopping, creating, assembling… it all involved a good amount of time and effort. For the car roof, I did an artwork in silver and pink, and hired the services of a decorator to make it with thermocol, which cost me 3500 bucks.

The day before the start of the rally was Shilpa’s birthday, but we also had to decorate the car that day. It was a tremendously hectic day. We went off to bed at a little past midnight and got up early at 5:30 AM. The reporting time of our car at Raheja Universal was 7:00 AM. It took about half an hour to reach the place. There were seven slots for the participating cars: 001-030, 031-060, 061-090, 091-120, 121-150, 151-180 and 181-213

Cars awaiting their turn for the flag-off…

Flag-off area…

Team Chicas Fantasticas 😀 And our beautiful-looking car 😉

Watch my video: Chicas Fantasticas Car

Bollywood star Kunal Kapoor was the celebrity guest at the flag-off…

Breakfast boxes and mineral water bottles were handed out to the participants. Tea and coffee was available to all…

Each car was photographed as it entered the grounds. About half an hour before flag-off, the safety scrutiny team came by for a check. Since the car had already been photographed for the contests, they suggested removing the thermocol work atop the roof for a safe drive. It was a bit bothersome as the ribbons came in the way while opening the door. So we readily took it off.

We got the Road Book when the participating car ahead of us made its way to the flag-off area…

The destination was Hotel Sayaji in Kolhapur, 375 KM to go 😀

And then it was our turn to be flagged off…

Watch my video: Chicas Fantasticas Car flag-off 

The rally’s presenter posed a few questions to Shilpa when our car reached the platform. Meanwhile, a TWD team member came over to my side to hand me the Time Card.  It was my responsibility to ensure that the correct time was recorded on the Time Card. I had to present it to the Marshall at each STC, identified with a red banner displaying a clock and umbrellas.  The Marshalls, who enter the time, have synchronized clocks. The check-in time at the STC has to be entered on the Marshall’s Time Card too. Both Time Cards have to be signed by the Navigator and Marshall.  A missing Time Card meant disqualification from the rally. We had to keep a watch for the STC as skipping it was an offence resulting in penalty points and disqualification at the third time. Despite feeling uncomfortable, Swapna had to wear the seat belt in the back seat. Otherwise, there was a fine of 5000 rupees. Use of mobile phones by drivers and navigators was prohibited, but the Team Correspondent was exempted. So she was happy 😀

Our car was flagged off at 8:57 AM. Shilpa pressed the car’s odometer button to return the reading to zero. And then our journey began 😀

Following the Road Book, everything went on smoothly for the next two hours or so. It was a slow drive with speed limits fixed between 20 KMPH to 45 KMPH. We stopped at each STC and presented the Time Card. At times, there were a few cars ahead and we had to wait in the queue. It was fun and exciting 😀

We travelled 72 KM, leaving behind Khandala’s  Bhor Ghat, and then…we ran into trouble! I misread a Tulip icon and we took a wrong turn. The road led to the expressway!

We had four TC recordings in the Time Card by then. Not wanting to miss an STC, we turned around to return to the place where we had taken a wrong turn. We were back on the rally route with cars that were flagged off after us. And there were some earlier flagged off cars too, which had fallen for that wrong turn. I calculated the additional kilometres to be added to the ODO reading in the Road Book to match it with the car’s odometer reading. Some cars had risked skipping STCs and getting penalty points by taking a U-turn instead of going all the way back like we did. As it turned out, there were no STCs on the entire stretch!

We had driven around 60 kilometres extra. Shilpa did a highly commendable job at the wheel, reducing the wastage time. Soon, we were in the free zone to recoup the lost time. We skipped lunch and drove on. There was another ghat to pass through before entering Kolhapur. Some of the car’s decoration started coming off, so I quickly removed it to avoid unnecessary safety risks.

We reached Hotel Sayaji at 6:55 PM.  The Time Card was collected by the last STC at the hotel’s entrance gate. In all, there were only ten STCs (including at the start and the end) on the drive.  After the formalities, we proceeded to our hotel. The name of the hotel where we were to stay had been given to us on the day of the briefing. Three hotels – Hotel Sayaji, Hotel Panchsheel and Hotel Keys Select – had been booked for the participants in the Mumbai-Kolhapur drive. The lucky first lot were accommodated at Hotel Sayaji, the next lot at Hotel Panchsheel, and the rest at Hotel Keys Select in the Tarabai Park area.

After a tiring day, dinner at Hotel Keys Select was a bit disappointing for all. The restaurant served non-vegetarian food, but the organizers had arranged a vegetarian meal for the rally participants.

The next morning, after a better meal, one by one, each car started leaving for Hotel Sayaji in numerical order. We reached Hotel Sayaji at 8:40 AM.

Yours truly 😀

Cars lined up for flag-off…

Colourful car decorations…

Jeep…

As a part of the drive, the first-ever all-women car rally team from Egypt called Gazelle Rally Team was driving from Mumbai and Bengaluru. Their vehicle…

Our car was flagged off at 8:23 AM. Three minutes before that, we got our Road Book for the Kolhapur-Goa drive…

The destination was SGPDA Market Parking Lot in Margao, 241 KM away…

There were 10 STCs (including at the start and the end) on the second day’s drive too. But unlike the previous day, almost all of them were placed at close distance from each other. So before noon, we had passed eight of them. The ninth and the second-last STC was at 2:43 PM.

Thereafter, it was the end at 5:25 PM. We hadn’t stopped for lunch, though we rested for a while to have fresh sugarcane juice at a roadside stall. My second day’s mistake was stopping for tea and sandwich just half an hour from the destination. It cost us 25 minutes, despite the fact that I had calculated the ideal time to reach the destination.

Speed Chart for the two days’ drive…

Reaching the destination, we received our medals for the completion of the rally 😀

Completing the two-day rally was quite an achievement 😀 Some of the teams didn’t receive medals as they got disqualified for failing to present the Time Card at the STC, missing more than two STCs, arriving way too late at the destination, etc. After a quick photo session, we exited the place and started for our hotel located on the Raj Baga beach in Canacona, in South Goa district, about 40 KM away. All Mumbai participants were put up at the sprawling Lalit Golf & Spa Resort. The road was narrow with no lights. Thankfully, we reached the hotel before dark.

The luxurious, international award-winning hotel is built in Baroque-Portuguese style with beautiful landscaped gardens. It includes a double-tee 9-hole golf course and a private beach.

Our hotel room…

Margarita and Goan seafood at the hotel’s beach restaurant…

Dinnertime…

Early morning view from the room balcony…

Before breakfast, we got the final results of the rally by email. We had done alright on the first day. We could have entered the top 50 but landed at 64 among 213 participants. But on the second day when the results came out, our ranking was a little past 100. I was distressed, blaming myself for the debacle. Shilpa had done a wonderful job driving 10 hours, non-stop for two days and deserved a loud applause. Nevertheless, participating in the rally had been fun. We decided to forget about the results and enjoy our time in Goa.

The hotel grounds were vast and lush green…

There was a golf cart to move around the place and ferry guests to their parked cars. It was a relief in the extremely hot weather. And there were 213 dressed up cars scattered around 😀

Yours truly on the lovely hotel staircase 😀

It felt quite different seeing so many females around, more than 600 of them! Bet it must have surprised the non-rally hotel guests 😀 After breakfast, we wandered around the hotel grounds. I had already booked a one-hour beginner’s golf lesson for the next morning. They had many activities like archery, balloon shooting, outdoor chess, etc. I decided upon archery.

It wasn’t the professional bow and arrow that I had tried my hand at the JRD Tata Sports Complex in  Jamshedpur, but good enough. My ten odd arrows landed in all the coloured zones and outside as well, but the two that landed in the yellow centre delighted me 😀

Having done exceptionally well at the Indian Amy camp in Manipur (where I dealt with an armed weapon for the first time) shooting with an air rifle felt kiddish. To my shock, I missed the first few shots. It was very hot and the air rifle was heavy. But after gulping down a cold beer, I was all charged up 😀 The guy in charge of the activity let out that people usually end up shooting 2-3 balloons with the given quantity of pellets, but I had shot down all of them. Yayyy 😀 😀 😀

At 11:00 AM, the rally results were posted on the noticeboard in the hotel lobby. The place was crowded. The results were questioned by the participants whose cars were flagged off later. They argued that on the first day, they had encountered heavy traffic in the Ghat, while the cars that had been flagged off early in the morning had escaped it. So, the final results were postponed. Two hours later, the new results were put up. The names of the leading three teams from the previous list didn’t feature in the top three of the new list. Moreover, each team’s ranking had changed in the new list. There was bitterness among those whose team rankings had fallen down.

Lunchtime…

Ready for the awards event 😀

The event organizers had arranged for buses as it was almost 40 KM to Hotel Holiday Inn, where the awards ceremony was to be held from 5:30 PM onwards.

At the sprawling lawns of Holiday Inn Resort…

The show was anchored by Cyrus Sahukar and the awards to the three winning teams from each city were given away by Bollywood heartthrob, Ranbir Kapoor.  The programme included a fashion show and ended with a pulsating atmosphere as the dynamic duo of DJ Tarun and DJ Sasha – Electro Dyad along with saxophonist Nastassia and violinist Zukhra pumped up the energy levels of the dancing crowd.

Alcoholic drinks were available. However, the wide and varied multi-cuisine food was strictly vegetarian.

It was a beautiful full moon night 😀 View of the stage from the beach…

Ten minutes after finishing dinner, I went off to dance till it was nearing 11:15 PM, time for the departure of the first bus back to Lalit Hotel. Halfway through the journey, the bus ran into a problem – punctured tyre! The second bus that had left half an hour later and taken a shorter route, reached the hotel first. It was well past midnight.

The next morning, I woke up late. My plans of playing golf and then frolicking in the swimming pool went for a toss.  We checked out of the hotel at 11:30 AM. Our destination was Tendoli village near Kudal, after lunching at Kokni Kanteen (located at Dada Vaidya Road, near Mahalaxmi Temple), one of Panaji’s best places for Goan Kokni cuisine.

Panaji’s new bridge over the river Mandovi…

We visited the beautiful Mahalaxmi Temple before proceeding to the restaurant. As expected, it was a delightful meal 😀

Bai Margarita…

Fried pomfret…

IMG_3276

Phodi (vegetable fritters)…

Fish thali…

And the creamy dessert, Cerradura was so yummy, it made me forget to click a photo 😀

At 5:00 PM, we were at the quiet and scenic Tendoli village 😀

 

We stayed here for two nights, basking in the beauty and tranquility of the pristine surroundings 😀

And then, it was back to Mumbai. Two weeks later, we got our certificate of participation through email…

Participating in the TSD car rally had been a thrilling experience which left me wanting to be a navigator soon again in some other TSD rally 😀

After reading this post, I’m sure you will be wanting to participate in a car rally too 😉 I hope you do so, it’s really fun and a great learning experience 😀

 

 

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