Carlton Supercross Sri Lanka, 29-30 January 2011

For 2011 the Carlton Supercross was held at the gravel circuit near the town of Tissamaharama in the Hambantota district of Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan super cross racing shares many similarities with traditional rallycross, however the chief difference is that super cross racing is conducted on a full dirt circuit. The Carlton Supercross formed part of the wider Carlton Super Sports festival which included rowing, target shooting and athletic events. The Carlton Supercross was round 1 of the Sri Lankan National Gravel Championship (encompasing both super cross racing and special stage rallying) and round 1 of the SLARDAR championship.

The track itself (above) is largely clay based and provides a nice mix of fast sweepers and tighter 2nd and 3rd gear corners. We were able to pre-run the track on the Friday before race weekend, and got a good view of the circuit from the lofty heights of a Prado before a couple of quick laps in Dinesh’s full spec Group N Evo X. The track gets mighty slippery when wet, as we discovered.

Yokohama & CIFL sponsored Dinesh Deheragoda competes in the top-tier SLGT category for 4WD turbo vehicles in his Group N Evo X RS. A multiple national champion both on tarmac and gravel, Dinesh was kind enough to allow me to tag along with his team, Team CIFL, to a couple of races and gave me enormous assistance while I was in the country. We quickly became friends, and I owe Dinesh for the kind hospitality he and the other competitors showed me.

Dinesh qualified on pole for Race 1, and led from the first corner to the finish line 12 laps later to take the win. As I stood on the outside of the first corner of lap 1 as I took this shot, my idea of exciting motor racing was completely redefined.

During a break in circuit action I noticed hundreds of people walking up a little path into the rainforest. I followed them with no idea where I was heading, and was most surprised to find this 4WD competition taking place just a few hundred metres from the circuit.

Competing vehicles were mostly either Jeeps, Nissan Patrols, Land Rovers or Toyota Landcruisers. Almost all of them were very heavily modified, and some of the vehicles were little more than a tube frame chassis with a powerful turbo diesel motor bolted in. The tests were so challenging that it was actually impossible to walk some of them on foot, and as a rule the spectators were standing dangerously close to the action. It was a brilliant spectacle.

Back to the racing, and the second tier category is for normally aspirated vehicles under 2000cc and is almost entirely made up of B18C powered Vtec Civic’s. The front running cars are all so close in performance which makes for brilliant racing.

I spent some time shooting with Raehan at various locations around the track. It was a little bit nuts, there were no safety fences and the only thing between you and the action is your own sense of self-preservation. It was pretty handy sometimes though, if your spot was no good you could just cross the track in the middle of a race and try somewhere else!

Ashan Silva had a little bit of bad luck at Carlton but drove brilliantly to a 2nd place overall finish in the category championship. I spent 5 hours driving to the track with Ashan from the capital Colombo, and he’s a great guy. Two weeks later he would be out at the tarmac Pannala Circuit racing his Honda, an Evo 7 and a VanDieman Formula Ford. You just don’t get drivers with that kind of diversity in Australia!

Dinesh’s race 1 victory gave him a pole position start for the feature race 2. As we were walking the grid a soft patter of rain began to descend -my mind flashed back to the previous Friday and just how slippery this track is in the wet. The atmosphere was like nothing I’ve ever experienced, thousands of people waiting on edge with the real feeling that just anything could happen.

Aravinda Premadasa (above) got the jump on Dinesh and beat him to the first corner. Dinesh maintained second place, staying ahead of Pasindu in the Exide/Browns Evo 9. Aravinda maintained his lead for a few laps…

… but lost it when Dinesh made a brave move around the outside of the final corner.

Intense battle raged further down the field as well. Janaka Dias tried this move on Missaka Naveen in the closing laps of the race…

… but it didn’t quite pay off.

Dinesh took first place in the SL-GT class and scored maximum points for the national gravel championship and the SLARDAR championship. Aravinda (left) took second, with Pasindu (right) rounding out the podium.

Ashan finished second overall in the under 2000cc class, giving him vital points for the rest of the series.

There’s a really good sense of camaraderie and friendship in the Sri Lankan motor sport fraternity. They are just as knowledgeable and enthusiastic as we are in Australia, and every bit as competitive.

And finally, a big thank-you to Dinesh. Without his wonderful help and friendship my trip would not have been anywhere near the fantastic experience it was.

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