Bangalore’s C S Santosh has come good on his intent to participate in and finish motorsport’s toughest test, he now has his sights set firmly to the future.
“I need more speed now and for that I need bigger balls.” Hearing those words coming from a very weary C S Santosh sounds particularly odd. Especially when you consider he says so after finishing 36th overall on the gruelling 9,000 kilometer Dakar Rally.
That’s right, the 31-year-old from Bangalore became the first Indian to not only participate in but also finish what is considered to be the most gruelling test in global motorsport. And that too on two wheels.
Riding a KTM 450 Rally Replica through an arrangement with the Austrian bike manufacturer – and raising almost all of the Rs. 77 lakh required to do so himself – C S Santosh added a new chapter in the still developing history of Indian motorsport.
The operative word here being developing as Santosh still feels like there is room for improvement on a personal level.
“I have now proved to myself that I can finish rallies,” Santosh, who competed in the FIM Cross Country Rally World Cup last year, told autoX. “Now I have to be much faster and for that I need to read the terrain a lot better.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
“On the final two legs of the Dakar, I riding through mountains and forests and going at 150 to 160 kmph off-road. And the only way I was able to do that was by getting a feel for the lay of the land by watching the treeline, the telephone poles and other landmarks. If I were to just watch the road and drive then I would never have been able to ride that fast.”
Santosh’s riding on the previous twelve legs showcased his determination and heart more than just his speed, however. Riding with a broken left toe, that he injured halfway through the rally, he proceeded to climb steadily up the overall rankings until he broke into the top 40. No mean feat considering his overall rank was 85th at the end of the first day.
Encountering some of the harshest terrain in all of South America - which included deserts, salt flats and even patches of sand that looked solid but were actually loose – Santosh’s heroics caught the imagination of Indian motorsport fans, who have recently been deprived of daily highlights from the Dakar of late thanks to decisions made in the boardrooms of Indian broadcasters’ offices.
However, Santosh’s participation not only meant a renewed appetite for the extreme motorsport crucible but also an increased relevance. Here was a homegrown talent who had come through the ranks of motocross and supercross events in India as well as triumphing in the country’s toughest cross-country event; the Raid de Himalaya.
His triumph at the 2012 edition of the Raid prompted Santosh to throw his hat into the global cross-country rally stage in 2013, which didn’t go particularly smoothly but only galvanised his 2014 season.
Two top ten finishes out of the three events on the Cross Country Rally World Championship calendar put Santosh in ninth place in the points standings.
LOOKING FOR SUPPORT
That alone should probably have been enough to get Indian bike manufacturers excited. Particularly those like TVS who have had a long involvement in Indian motorsport and with whom Santosh has been affiliated since the start of his motocross career.
The Bangalorean was in for a rude shock, however, if he expected an ‘assist’ as TVS decided to paste their stickers on bikes entered in this year’s Dakar Rally by French manufacturers Sherco and send two of their engineers to South America in an effort to increase their technical database about powerful 450cc off-road bikes and how they perform in gruelling conditions.
The motorsport head of TVS, Arvind Pangaonkar, shielded queries about Santosh not being a part of the Chennai-based company’s Dakar foray in differing ways before and after this year’s event.
When quizzed by autoX at a press conference held in Bangalore in early January, Pangaonkar indicated that Santosh was too “impatient” to wait for the company to make his Dakar debut. A few days after the end of the Dakar, Pangaonkar spoke from Germany and stated that despite Santosh’s 36th overall finish, he still did not feel an Indian rider was ready to be competitive at the Dakar.
“We need to focus on the company first and getting our own bikes ready to compete as one hundred percent Indian entries,” Pangaonkar told autoX. “Only then can we look at promoting our riders.”
That does not sound particularly encouraging for Santosh if he was looking for his old racing team to back him once more as there is no guarantee and certainly no timeline as of now for when TVS will be ready to compete as a proper Indian manufacturer rather than a sponsor for a foreign bike company.
Neither can it be promising for the likes of R. Natraj to hear, who finished third in the Raid de Himalaya in 2013 and won it outright last year.
Particularly Santosh who has decided to go out on a limb as far as finances are concerned. While his participation at the Dakar was announced at a Red Bull India press conference in Mumbai, Santosh himself states that the energy drinks maker’s contribution is very little. Promised help from Pune-based S Balan Group, under their PB Racing Banner, hasn’t materialized as yet either and he still owes KTM Austria over 20,000 Euros.
“The plan for me now is to compete in cross-country events again this year,” said Santosh. “But going forward now I need support from Bajaj (who hold a 47 percent stake in KTM) if I am to do something like this again.
“KTM were really awesome to me for letting me compete with them and interact with their top guys. But I need more support from Indian bike manufacturers, it’s as simple as that.”