Beyond circuit racing’s neat and tidy environs India is set to take an extreme plunge into the unknown.
It’s never easy being the first to throw your hat into the ring at anything, especially the astronomically expensive and at many times distant - geographically as well as other sociological factors - world of global motorsport. Just ask Narain Karthikeyan, Karun Chandhok and a whole crowd of aspirants in the race for success at circuit racing (four wheels and two).
At the Dakar Rally this year, India will take the plunge in global cross-country rallying with TVS Motorcycles sponsoring French bike manufacturer Sherco and sending two of their engineers – along with TVS Racing head Arvind Pangaonkar – to the 9,000 km test of man and machine to help in technical development on their own bikes in India.
An Indian rider
More importantly, however, an Indian participant will also be present with Bangalore’s C S Santosh (Chunchunguppe Shivashankar Santosh in full) becoming the first from the country to take part in the Dakar Rally on either two wheels or four.
The 31-year-old multiple motocross and supercross champion - as well as 2012 Raid de Himalaya winner - has not, however, had an easy path to the Dakar. It may seem so now with backing from the S Balan Group (under its PB Racing banner) - a prominent Pune-based real estate and construction company that has been involved in the hosting of supercross events - as well as Kini Red Bull, a motorcycle riding equipment manufacturer in partnership with the Austrian energy drinks giant.
In order to compete in three of the six events that make up the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Cup, Santosh was left to fend for himself, which included asking close friends for money too. To raise the Rs. 77 lakh required to pay for using a KTM 450 Rally bike tuned by KTM Austria Santosh initially felt convinced that looking outside of India was the only way to go. “Every bike manufacturer that sells in India didn’t show any interest as they said they don’t sell the kind of bikes that feature in the Dakar yet,” Santosh told autoX. “I had even talked to TVS regarding this as I have spent most of my career with them.”
TVS Racing head Pangaonkar also recalls Santosh’s zeal in wanting to take that all important first step to the Dakar and stated that rather than talk about why the two did not collaborate, he was happy that “India’s best cross country rider by far” has gotten the chance to make history. As far as Santosh is concerned his first stab at the event that has seen 27 participant fatalities since its first edition 36 years ago – one in each of the last three events – is more to make a statement than anything else.
“The situation is still pretty bad for sports outside of cricket in India and anyone wanting to do something different needs a lot of support,” said Santosh. “But I feel like the only way something will change with regards to what I do is if I force the issue a bit.”