Communication is key when it comes to getting people excited about something. India’s off-road rally star is doing so through action and refreshing openness . . .
That photo you see of a tired and slightly bloodied face is that of a man not afraid to admit to shortcomings but doggedly determined to not let them hold him back. It is also the face of an extremely talented rally rider who has permanently carved out a place for himself in Indian motorsport history.
The first Indian to finish in the top ten of an FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship event, not once but in two consecutive events in 2014. The first Indian to compete in the Dakar Rally and also finish it in 2015. The first Indian to finish it twice and now thrice, with a best ever finish of 35th overall. It’s a small improvement on paper from his previous best finish of 36th overall in ’15, but a lot of progress had to be made as the difference in each Dakar Rally from the previous one ensures that even the best laid plans can fall by the wayside.
Santosh’s preparations for the unexpected were dealt a heavy blow this year when a mere refuelling mishap led to a setback that has been much talked about by now. Losing almost 30 positions in the overall standings on just one stage led to a messy comeback effort that involved some nasty falls. One of them came on a stage that Santosh tackled, despite being sleep deprived. But not only did he finish, he also gained a total of 21 positions from stage four until the end of the rally despite two cancelled stages.
Managing the disappointment of a mistake that cost him dear, the sense of achievement and the knowledge that there is still work to be done can’t be an easy balancing act. But so far Santosh – or CS, or even Chunchunguppe (as his name was announced at the ceremonial start) – is doing so without fear of having his shortcomings discussed. In my previous interactions with him, it took no prodding for him to admit to that they aren’t something to be ashamed of. And this was before he made the leap from India to the global stage.
It is a rare attitude to have in motorsport as the timing screens and results sheets are unforgiving as is the news cycle whenever things go pear-shaped. It is praiseworthy for it to come naturally to Santosh and still not lead to complacency.
First on the list of things to be done must be to ensure a lot more seat time with the bike he competes with prior to a Dakar Rally. Santosh has not competed in an FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship event since the first two on the 2014 calendar, where he was 10th and 8th overall. So far, he has had to balance his personal ambition with Hero MotoCorp’s strategy on how to make the best of their involvement in cross-country rallying.
Hero is keen to ‘bring the Dakar to India’, which seems to mean having FIM level events in India and their riders taking part in events like the Merzouga and OiLibya rallies. This is not a problem for their two European riders Oriol Mena and Joaquim Rodrigues who are based in hubs of cross-country rallying and have enduro and motocross experience prior to it. But for Santosh, who comes from a country where the events he has stated doesn’t prepare riders for the international stage, it is a bit of a problem.
Hopefully, the openness with which Santosh shares his epic adventures with the world at large is also there in his discussions with the decision makers of the manufacturer that allows him to go on them.