Though it may seem like yesterday that TVS Racing and Hero Moto Sports returned from the Dakar Rally, their preparations for 2019 have already kicked off.
All of a sudden January doesn’t seem very far away, be it the January that has already gone or the one that’s yet to come. And you all know that month’s significance in motorsport. The Dakar Rally marks the culmination of the efforts of competitors and manufacturers to prove that they can go fast enough and long enough to finish the toughest motorsport event in the world.
Recently there was much hullabaloo about Valentino Rossi having completed enough races in MotoGP to equal the circumference of the Earth. Of course, looking at it from a larger motorsport perspective, it’s something that experienced Dakar Rally competitors would have achieved well before Rossi hit the mark after 20 seasons of racing in the three classes of motorcycle grand prix racing. Not to mention the Dakar Rally distances would be over far more brutal terrain.
With three Dakar Rally finishes under his belt, and no indication of hanging up his helmet just yet, CS Santosh could well be on course to rack up some serious mileage too. Especially if you include events like the Merzouga Rally, the first step towards securing a berth for the Dakar.
Of course, Santosh is not the only Indian presence in international cross-country rallying. Hero MotoSports Team Rally, for whom he competes, and TVS Racing are also in the fray, and they made their presence felt at this year’s Merzouga Rally, as they earlier had at the Dakar Rally.
Sherco-TVS’ ever reliable Joan Pedrero was seventh overall, leading the Franco-Indian outfit’s contingent of four riders. Martin Diego Duplessis was eleventh overall ahead of teammates Vanni Cominotto in 21st and Lorenzo Santolino in 31st overall.
Hero MotoSports’ Oriol Mena and Santosh were 15th and 19th overall. Mena was one of the stars of this year’s Dakar Rally, where he was seventh overall in his debut event and continued his solid form, while Hero’s Joaquim Rodrigues convalesced to full riding fitness.
‘It was our first international rally after the Dakar,’ said Santosh. ‘I am really glad to have finished the Merzouga, as I was a little worried after the crash I had at the Desert Storm.
‘Overall, I think I made fewer mistakes this year and improved a lot in my speed and navigation. This has been a good learning experience for me. The bike and the team have been fantastic and helped me get the bike home every day. Now I will look to build upon this experience for the next races to come.’
The Merzouga was also the first ‘proper’ cross-country rally for Santosh to tackle due to the greater distances and the far greater emphasis on navigation as compared to the Desert Storm, an event that has been referred to as India’s ‘mini Dakar’.
Of course, for the event to truly live up to that tag, the Group A class competitors (at least) would have to tackle the rally using only a road-book for navigation. It’s an essential skill to learn for any aspiring rider who wants to follow in Santosh and also Aravind KP’s footsteps. Those aspirants may get their chance at the India Baja this year, as the introduction of road-book only navigation is being considered. The sooner India starts to follow the event structure of international events the better, given that’s where our eyes are trained.