Hero MotoSports announces its three-rider Dakar squad at a press conference in Delhi. We sit down with CS Santosh to understand his game plan for his fifth outing in the 'world's toughest rally'.
Hero MotoSports has announced their rider line-up for the 2019 Dakar Rally that will kick-start in January next year. The team will field three riders, all of whom are familiar faces. Representing India will be ace rally racer and India’s most experienced Dakar participant, CS Santosh, for this will Santosh’s fifth outing in Dakar, third as a Hero MotoSports backed rider. The other two riders include the seasoned Portuguese rally rider Joaquim Rodrigues and Spain’s Oriol Mena, who bagged the ‘Best Rookie of the Dakar 2018’ for his seventh-place finish in his debut year.
2019 will mark Hero MotoSports’ third consecutive year at Dakar Rally. In the last two years, the team has consistently improved its performance at the Dakar. In its debut year, the team achieved a top-15 finish, while they bettered it with a top-10 finish in 2018. The target for 2019 will be more or less identical, which is to make it in the top-10 yet again.
Another big change for 2019 is the venue. This year the Dakar Rally will be hosted only in Peru, which means Argentina and Bolivia aren’t part of the ‘world’s toughest rally’ in its next edition. The rally will cover over 5,000-kilometers, starting and finishing in Lima, from January 6-17, 2019. This also means that this year the terrain will include 70 percent of sand dunes.
Given the fact that the riders and their machines will be subjected to hot climate and slippery conditions in the dunes, the 2019 Hero 450RR Dakar-spec bike has been tuned accordingly. According to Hero MotoSports, the suspension setup has been completely modified, and so is the cooling system.
However, during a quick chat with autoX, Santosh explained that a lot of minor but significant updates have also been given to the motorcycle based on the riders’ feedback from the 2018 season. According to him, the handling has improved and they’ve also worked on the high-speed stability of the motorcycle. Similarly, the power delivery is stronger, especially while riding in sand.
So, what does Santosh plan to do differently in the 2019 Dakar Rally? Santosh is aiming for a top-20 finish, and having finished the 2018 edition in 34th position, he believes he has the pace to be in the top-20. In addition to this, he categorically mentioned that he’ll be ‘more ambitious’ and that he’ll be ‘putting himself out there’ more often this time. In short, he’s willing to take more risks in order to up his pace. At the same time, he says that he wants to be more consistent than he was in the previous edition of the rally. For instance, he had two crashes in 2018 and ran out of fuel in one of the stages. ‘That’s three days of Dakar with mistakes, so I can’t afford to do that this year’, he said.
Apart from that, Santosh is also likely to benefit from the hot riding conditions in Peru. Sure, it's not going to be any less demanding physically, and the heat is going to be taxing on the machine as well, but Santosh says that he any day prefers these hot conditions over the biting cold conditions of Bolivia.
There's no doubt that Santosh is looking pumped up and quite confident for next year’s Dakar Rally. And if he doesn’t face any mechanical gremlins and unlucky falls, he may very well be on course to have his best Dakar finish yet - even a top-20 finish is a strong possibility.