India at the Dakar Rally
CS Santosh – this is probably the first name that comes to the mind of most Indians when someone mentions the Dakar Rally. After all, it was Santosh who put India on the Dakar map. But what is the Dakar Rally? Put simply, this is an off-road endurance event that sees competitors cover 800-900 kilometers each day over much more difficult terrain than conventional rallies. The Dakar rally has been around since 1977, but it was not until 2015, after nearly four decades, that India won the rally. It is courtesy of CS Santosh who became the first Indian to complete the race in the 36e position. And that’s nothing short of a big win for a rookie given the difficulty of the rally. But, that was only the beginning. Let’s take a look at all the feathers on India’s cap since then.
In 2015, the same year that Santosh innovated, Chennai-based TVS partnered with Sherco Racing, a French and Spanish bicycle maker. At the rally, the representatives of Sherco-TVS, Alain Duclos and Fabien Planet, finished 25e and 29e, respectively.
It was in 2016 that things started to take shape for Bangalore boy CS Santosh. Suzuki Europe decided to support the budding rally driver for the Dakar that year. Unfortunately, he had to abandon the race prematurely due to a major technical problem with his motorcycle. The Sherco-TVS riders, however, managed to finish 23e and 27e, saving the day for India.
2017 was a big year for India. The first Indian manufacturer and driver has come together as a team to face the ruthless Dakar Rally. Hero MotoCorp has teamed up with Speedbrain GmbH, a German off-road racing specialist responsible for the development of the BMW G 450 and the Husqvarna TE 449 RR. After the merger, the Hero MotoSports team was born with the Hero 450RR, which is essentially a refreshed version of the Speedbrian 450 Rally. With a brilliant bike at Hero’s disposal, the company passed the baton to three elite riders – Oriol Mena Valdearcos, Joaquim Rodrigues (JRod) and CS Santosh. It is therefore not surprising that the three riders, accompanied by their respective motorcycles, reached the finish line in one piece. Of the trio, JRod finished the race with a commendable 10th place. CS Santosh finished in 47th place and that year became the only Indian driver to finish the Dakar rally, which is a feat in itself. At the TVS camp, Joan Pedero and Adrien Metge finished 13e and 22sd, respectively. In the same year, Aravind KP of the renowned TVS Racing joined the team and made his debut. However, he had to retire prematurely due to injuries.
Come 2018, Hero MotoCorp riders Oriol Mena and CS Santosh crossed the finish line in the respectable 7e and 34e posts. Meanwhile, Sherco TVS pilot Juan Pedrero also won the 11e position.
The world took a bad break soon after and the Dakar rally couldn’t be held for two years. Fast forward to 2021, fans could feel their knees banging as CS Santosh had a near-fatal crash in Stage 4. But that didn’t stop India from making its mark on the campaign. Harith Noah, only his second outing on the Dakar, managed to finish 20e at the end of stage 12. This makes him the only Indian to finish the race of the season.