As the Baja Aragon kicks off this weekend with riders from Hero MotoSports Team Rally and Sherco-TVS Racing, independent rider Ashish Raorane will be preparing to take part in this year's Panafrica Rally in Morocco on 8th to 15th September.
It will be the first step towards the ultimate goal of taking part in the 2020 Dakar Rally.
Raorane has established himself as one of the top independent rally riders in India outside of the likes of Aravind KP, CS Santosh, Tanveer Abdul Wahid and R Nataraj - all of whom are factory riders with either TVS Racing or Hero MotoSports.
Unlike these riders, Raorane works full-time as a marine engineer and often spends extended periods of time away at sea.
As part of the effort to raise funds to pursue his passion, Raorane has secured sponsorship from BigBadBikes, Slipstream Performance and Baycity Speed Shop.
A third place finish in the Group A class at the Nashik round of the 2015 Two-wheel Indian National Rally Championship set him on the road to pursuing his passion for cross-country rallying.
A 12th place overall finish in that year's Raid de Himalaya was followed by a 10th and 5th place overall finish in the 2016 and 2017 Desert Storm rallies, respectively.
Earlier at this year's Desert Storm rally Raorane was running fourth overall until the very last stage of the rally when his KTM 450 EXC's engine packed up barely two kilometers from the finish of the event.
It was a creditable performance in an event that featured Santosh, Wahid, Nataraj as well as international riders from Sherco-TVS, and riders from the well-funded Angata Racing team that included Sanjay Kumar's KTM 450 Rally Replica.
Raorane was encouraged enough to take the plunge to international cross country events that follow the same format as the Dakar Rally where navigation across rough terrain is done only via a road-book. That is unlike events in India where GPS navigation on more clearly defined tracks puts a far greater emphasis on riding as fast as possible.
In addition to road-book training in Spain (regarded as the centre of the cross-country rallying universe and a major two-wheel hub too), Raorane has also been putting in work to prepare physically.
On alternate days he rides his motorcycle and goes to the gym where the focus is on building lower body strength and endurance. The latter is achieved riding a bicycle or stationary cycle where a heart rate of 150-160bpm for up to two hours is targeted.
Raorane embarking on an international cross-country rallying foray is the latest chapter in that discipline's growth in India ever since CS Santosh finished 36th overall in the 2015 Dakar Rally while riding as an independent rider on a KTM 450 Rally Replica.
After participating in the Pan Africa Rally this year, Raorane's aim will be to rent a 450 Rally Replica as well on which he would ride in the Dakar Rally in 2020.
Prior to the Pan Africa Rally, of course, he will be participating in the three-day India Baja Rally in Rajasthan next month. The event, organized by Northern Motorsport, was a qualifying event for the Dakar Rally where the highest placed rider who had not yet taken part in the fabled event would be awarded a free entry to it.