After suffering near fatal burns last year, C S Santosh proved a point with a top ten finish in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge
"The bike somersaulted as I went too fast over the dune,” 2012 Raid de Himalaya and this year’s Desert Storm winner C S Santosh told autoX from Bangalore as he recounted an incident on the third day of this year’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge (ADDC). “The bike kind of landed on top of me, my camelbak exploded and I had just 3 kilometers left to finish the leg.”
Even though 30-year-old Santosh rattled off the incident somewhat matter of factly on the phone, it was an extreme case of déjà vu for the former multiple time national motocross and supercross champion.
At last year’s ADDC, Santosh was lucky to escape with his life when his Suzuki 450 RMX developed an electrical problem and the resulting fuel overflow lead to an intense blue flame that caused him third degree burns.
When we spoke to Santosh last year in the aftermath of the incident, he recalled not believing that such an incident actually took place.
Following this year’s event, however, that feeling of disbelief was replaced with a profound sense of relief from having successfully redeemed himself by not only finishing the 2,400 kilometer opener to the International Motorcycle Federation (FIM) Cross Country Rallies World Championship but by doing so as one of the top ten overall finishers in the two-wheel category.
An improvement indeed over the top 15 finish he was chasing so desperately last year that blinded him to the signs of impending disaster.
PULLING OUT THE STOPS
Keen to make more of an impression this year, Santosh had managed to strike a deal with the all-conquering factory KTM squad to use the same bike that this year’s Dakar Rally winner Marc Coma (who also won the Dakar on three previous occasions) had used to win the ADDC last year.
But don’t ask Santosh how much he had to shell out to avail of the services of a proven machine along with some assistance from the factory mechanics to carry out basic maintenance to keep the bike running throughout the five day event.
Santosh was very tight lipped about the figure mainly because not a single paisa of it was through sponsorship as per his claims. Whatever money he managed to rustle up in order to compete at the ADDC and the Sealine Cross Country Rally in Qatar (the second round of the world championship), Santosh says came from friends and well-wishers.
And that is how it shall remain in India based on Santosh’s own efforts to sell his cross country rally exploits both in India and abroad to potential sponsors.
The example of Austria’s Helmut Frauwallner, who has won the Raid de Himalaya twice in 2011 and 2013, shows what a little bit of help from one’s home country can do for much needed finances.
Frauwallner had close to twenty sponsors from Austria along with support from Yamaha’s Austrian operations to give him two bikes to use throughout the year along with spares.
But for Santosh to look beyond India for competition, he is on his own.
“Maybe I need to stop blaming the country,” said Santosh with a bit of resignation. “I mean if I am serious about competing consistently at the international level I honestly feel that I will be better off moving to the Middle East or Europe where I will have a better chance of finding sponsors.
“A company like TVS definitely does a lot to help youngsters here in India but after a point even that support becomes insufficient without sponsors. There are some talented young riders like Harris Noah and Arvind KT but you need to stop being a big fish in a small pond.”