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LSM: Indian leg from today

By Stan Rayan

KOCHI, JUNE 17. The numbers are quite interesting. It's the Toyota RunX versus the Honda Integra at the top of the pack as the London-Sydney Marathon gets set for the spicy Indian leg, which begins at the Cochin International Airport, Nedumbassery, on Friday morning.

"We hold the first, third and fifth positions," said the Toyota star Jimmy McRae who now leads the marathon after the European leg. "The Hondas have filled up the spots in between, with the fast New Zealander Joe McAndrew in second place," said the Scot, who enjoys a 48-second edge over the Kiwi, here on Thursday. The LSM gets to the halfway mark with the Indian leg, which will be run entirely in the south.

And the 1,200-km Indian leg, which runs through Munnar, Coimbatore and Mysore before returning to Kochi (on June 21), is likely to throw up a lot of surprises.

"India will be a revelation. It will be very different from anything the drivers have ever seen," said the marathon's event director Nick Brittan who did the recce in the country a few weeks ago.

"In Europe, which we've just finished, most of the stages were through the regular rally routes, like the British forest stages, and the final leg in Australia will be all gravel with wide open spaces. But India's narrow, twisty roads will be a new experience for everybody. And the hairpin bends could be totally confusing," said Nick.

Under such situations, India will suit the small nimble cars better. But these same cars will have a big disadvantage when they move to Australia's wide open roads where the faster, stronger cars will enjoy an edge. So, that balances up the whole thing.

Despite teams from Great Britain and Australia dominating the field, the marathon is a heady mix with drivers of all ages (Freddie Preston, 74, is the oldest) and cars of all sizes.

Fifty-eight teams are in the fray in the Indian leg which will have closed special stages totalling nearly 150km. Though the LSM is run over 15,000km, the timings in the special stages (totalling 1,000km, in the entire event) are all that count. And the fastest man through the stages wins the marathon.

The rally is run under three sections, for classics up to 1977, modern modified showroom cars (FIA Group N) and the Clowes Cup, a regularity event where no special preparation is necessary and competition licences are not required.

Joy Rainy, the little lady in a 33-year-old Morris Minor, is the cynosure in the Clowes Cup. "Some places, especially in France, were very steep, it was tough pulling the car up," said Joy as she fitted a small camera onto her car this afternoon. "But the main thing is to get to Sydney," she said.

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