Not many would consider Wagner for a long drive. Nor would they drive around in Chennai’s nasty August heat in Ferrari jerkins. But then Paul Haran is not your average driver. And he isn’t on just another drive. Haran and friend Mark Hanscomb, who goes by Harry, form team Nigel Manzil, one of 13 participating in the third annual auto rickshaw rally from Chennai to Mumbai.
The rally, promoted by Chennai Event Management Services (CEMS) and Round Table India, features 27 participants, who have ambitions of covering the 1,900 km stretch via Vellore, Bangalore, Mysore, Mangalore, Bhatkal, Panaji, Ratnagiri, Mahabaleshwar, Pune and Alibagh, in less than two weeks.
Haran and Hanscomb’s pride and joy is a shocking Ferrari red to live up to its name (for F1 newbies, Nigel Mansell is a former Ferrari driver. So.), though under the hood (so to speak: the engine block is actually mounted at the butt-end of the vehicle) it’s the same old petrol 2-stroke Bajaj auto. They don’t seem to mind that. “We’ve always wanted to see India, and this way, we get to see a lot of it in a short span of time.
“That the rally is for charity doesn’t hurt either,” says Haran. The UAE-based duo, originally from the UK and Ireland, are hoping to raise money for a UAE-based group called Manzil, which works with special-needs children. Which explains the ‘Manzil’ in the team name.
H&H’s motivations are far from novel. Most other participants see the rally as a fun and easy (okay, not really) way to catch as much of India as they can in two weeks. Some are also here “to make a difference, however small”, and Joseph Ferlazzo and Lynda Lawrence of team Tuk-Tuk-Walla-Walla-Tuk-Tuk would like to be counted among them.
There’s also the easily self-serving motive of getting an adrenaline fix. “We like doing crazy stuff,” is a common refrain among the participants. Haran scaled Mt Kilimanjaro just two years ago. Matthew Bass of team Crud Bug says he is an adventure junkie—from snowboarding to scuba diving to bungee jumping to paragliding, he’s done it all. Catharine “Kate” Collison, a 31-year-old schoolteacher from the UK, says her students wouldn’t be surprised when they find out what she did during the vacations. “They know I’m crazy,” she says with a laugh.
Likewise Christy Denike and Jocelyn Turner of The Mystery Machine are after the unusual. “It was a great excuse to dress up. And we’ve grown up on Scooby Doo, so it was a natural choice,” says Denike, whose purple top and matching swishy skirt give her a fair likeness to Daphne from the popular cartoon show. Turner in her orange outfit and glasses is clearly playing Velma. The girls from Canada even have a bobble-head Scooby Doo near the driver’s seat!
The steep €2,000 entry fee (including a refundable €900 deposit on the vehicles) practically rules out local participation, though the organisers say they are hoping to launch a similar rally for Indians only, which will cost much less. “We want more Indian participation but it’s an expensive affair,” explains CEMS’ Aaron Kot.
Pradeep Maharana, the only Indian at the rally, is a DJ from Mumbai. That’s not counting Suresh, who is a pro. Waiting outside Queen Mary’s College, where the rally was flagged off earlier this month, he looked a little bored by all the fuss. “Give me one of those, and I’ll get to Mumbai in three days. These people won’t make it in a month.”
About five minutes after this brief exchange, the buzz was about an auto rickshaw doing wheelies. And there he was, Suresh, grinning out of a rickshaw, going around in tight circles on two wheels. “I just wanted to show these people what a real autowallah is about, especially a Chennai autowallah,” he says, trying hard not to grin. Duly impressed, the amateurs line up at the start line. Haran and Hanscomb have shed their Ferrari racing suits for shorts and T-shirts, but Wagner plays on.