Wednesday, December 26, 2007

160 kmph on the Lonavla – Bombay expressway

Approaching Lonavla

I drove from Bombay to Lonavla and back with my wife and two daughters during the X’mas holidays in 2007. We had a wonderful stay at INS Shivaji at Lonavla, did a fair bit of trekking (climbed the Duke’s Nose peak), relived wonderful memories of INS Shivaji / Lonavla / Khandala with my family (we lived there from 1988 to 1990) and met up with my oldest friend Mr. N. Bezbora (86 years young and a great man) and his family at Lonavla town.

Mr. N. Bezbora and I at his lovely garden

Inside INS Shivaji -- Duke's Nose visible at background

And yes, I also enjoyed some great driving on my Swift VDi on the Bombay-Poona Super Expressway.

Why do I call this expressway ‘Super’? Because, unlike most expressways (including the Golden Quadrilateral) in India, this one is almost entirely 6-laned and since the ‘up’ and ‘down’ roads (each 3-laned) are completely segregated (with no interconnecting ‘cuts’), one does not find vehicles moving in the wrong direction. Also, the road is well-barricaded and passes through uninhabited terrain and therefore one does not usually find stray animals or humans loitering on the road. No autorikshas, cycle-rikshas or hand-carts either.

At the Naval College of Engg. inside INS Shivaji -- one of INS Vikrant's propellers (14 ft dia, 9550 kg) visible

The only problem I found on the expressway was several slow-moving (relatively) cars hogging the fast lane and forcing you to either slow down and honk or to overtake them from the left. But even in this respect I found the lane discipline significantly better than most other places in India. Drivers doing 80 to 100 kmph in India often think that they now deserve to be in the fast lane. Little do they know of the scorn with which drivers of superior vehicles moving at 150 kmph or more view them.
Duke's Nose -- as seen from the expressway

I just had to try out my new toy at its max rated speed of 160 kmph and the Bombay – Poona road provided the best opportunity. During our onward journey we started from Bombay at 5 AM (to avoid city traffic) and found ourselves at Lonavla just after sunrise at 7 AM. Since it was dark almost throughout, I did not attempt anything more than 120 kmph. While returning, we started at 10 AM and just after crossing the ghats and descending to level ground at Khopoli I started looking for opportunities to speed up. Finding a long straight stretch where I could see the road clearly for several km, I stepped on the gas and reached 160 kmph quite effortlessly. The car felt absolutely stable and steady and the hum of the engine (whatever was audible above the wind and ground noise) was sweet music to my ears. Though there were 4 of us (plus luggage and half tank of fuel) in the car and AC was on, the engine was clearly ready to exceed 160 kmph and might have gone up to higher speeds. But my 56 years of age caught up with me and I decided not to try higher speeds, having achieved my target of 160 kmph (100 miles per hour). Subsequently, I touched 160 kmph on two more occasions during this drive. What a great way to celebrate Christmas with my family (it was 25.12.07)!

After touching 160 kmph for the third time, I pulled over at a safe spot and felt the temperature of my tubeless radials by hand. They were satisfactorily warm (not hot) and the front tyres were warmer than the rear ones. The time was around 11 AM.

I must add that when I pulled over to check tyre temperature after doing 160 kmph, I did not stop the engine but let it idle. This is very important because turbochargers become very hot at high power and they must be allowed to cool down gradually. If one abruptly stops the engine (thereby stopping oil circulation) after doing high speeds / power, lubricating oil at the turbo may burn and cause damage.

Prior to this, I had done 160 kmph only once before in my life – in March 2003 I had driven my friend Cdr Gopalkrishna’s Hyundai Accent Viva and reached that speed. Interestingly, that drive too was on this very same Bombay – Lonavla stretch of this super expressway. Needless to say, doing 160 kmph on my own car (finally!) was more gratifying.

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