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Ralph Auswin Lyngdoh Nongpiur’s journey started with his grandfather’s jeep. He has come a long way since then and the path has been strewn with hurdles, literally. But the 33-year-old rally driver has overcome them all.
Nongpiur, who grew up in Mawlai Nongmali, won his first race in 2014, the Toteilari Trophy at Kharsati Park. “I learned driving when I was in Class VI. The first car that I drove was my grandfather’s jeep. Then I graduated to other vehicles, including two-wheelers,” says the ace driver.
Nongpiur’s love for “anything with wheels, including bicycles” subsequently developed into passion for racing and off-road driving. He has participated in rallies, autocross and off-roads.
“It would be difficult to say which one I love the most but if I have to choose then it would be rally. That is simply because I love speed racing. Ironically though, I have won more off-road trophies,” Nongpiur replies to a question about his racing preference.
Among his best races are Mahindra Great Escape at Mynsain, Nongkhnum Offroad and Hornbill Festival this year in Kohima. He has also participated in and won awards at AHOR, a popular car rally in Meghalaya.
For off-roads, Nongpiur, who is an independent driver, has a modified jeep and drives a Gypsy in rallies. For AHOR, Nongpiur says his “close friend and co-driver” Yastarlan Pariong helped him in modifying the vehicle.
“First, an upgrading of the engine and installing a roll cage are required. Strengthening of chassis comes next. Off-road tyres and modified suspension system are also required. The jeep that I drive is actually modified by me and Pariong. Most of the trophies which I have won were when I had him at my side as a co-driver. So I am indeed indebted to him,” says Nongpiur about his association with Pariong.
On his inspiration, Nongpiur says there are many “but the ones who have inspired me the most are (French professional rally, racing, and rallycross driver) Sebastien Loeb, (Belgian rally driver) Thierry Neuville and (Indian race car driver) Gaurav Gill”.
“Last but not the least I owe all of this to my late grandfather. Without his encouragement, I would not be where I am today.”
Car rallies are regular events at the local level in the state and there are many experienced drivers like Eugene Niangti, Larry Mukhim and Chiborlang Wahlang who have also participated in events outside Meghalaya.
But there are several challenges for enthusiasts even in this adventure sport. “There are a few hurdles when it comes to promotion. Obviously it is not a mainstream sport and there is a definite lack of support regarding its expansion. That is probably the reason why competitions are organised by local clubs and not by any recognised sponsor. There are also problems regarding availability of performance parts, especially in this part of the country,” says Nongpiur, an alumnus of Shillong Public School.
Though Meghalaya has a natural terrain for car rallies, there are no national standard competitions here and sponsorship for such events is also lacking, Nongpiur points out.
At the same time, he advises young car enthusiasts to be persistent and dedicated. “Failures are of paramount importance. Patience is as important as the great effort and hard work put in. One should understand that winning is not everything. What is more valuable is the nurturing of passion for the sport and utilising one’s talent and potential to the fullest by trusting in one’s abilities. Finally, stay away from drugs and alcohol if you want to be successful,” is his advice.
Nongpiur, who runs a business, says he is completely dedicated to the sport. “And when I am not driving or busy with my business, I am in the company of family and close friends.”
Photo courtesy: Ralph Nongpiur