Dare, dare Dakar!

The 2019 Dakar Rally will be held in a single country for the first time in the 41 years of its existence, Peru taking complete charge of posing the toughest challenge to conquer yet.

“Injuries are part and parcel of any athlete’s career and I have always looked at it positively as the time off builds my fighting spirit,” says K. P. Aravind of the Sherco TVS rally team.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

A broken leg or a hand, a dislocated shoulder, a torn ACL — every rider will have a crash story or two to tell, some a little more. Injuries are never minor, but that doesn’t stop them from getting back on their feet and pushing their battered body to pursue their dreams with relentless passion and keep testing the limits of human endurance. And no place better than the Dakar Rally to look for such stories of perseverance.

The 2019 Dakar Rally will be held in a single country for the first time in the 41 years of its existence, Peru taking complete charge of posing the toughest challenge to conquer yet.

From January 6 to 17, the 10-stage rally across vast expanse of unforgiving sand dunes, loopy routes and tricky open terrain will test the navigational skills and endurance of the 138 riders astride their 450cc motorcycles. A total of 5,000 kilometres will be covered including 2880 km of special stage in the Peruvian deserts. It will begin in Lima and the difficulty will keep increasing as the riders travel through Pisco, San Juan de Marcona, Arequipa and Moquegua. The riders will get a day’s rest at the end of the fifth stage and then travel back through the same cities to end the race in Lima.

Every international rally that happens after the Dakar is a build up to the next Dakar rally. They are testing grounds for the upgraded bikes and the riders, and India’s TVS Racing, in partnership with Sherco, has been preparing in earnest for its fifth year of participation.

The Riders

The Sherco TVS rally team has lined up four riders to compete in the Dakar this year. India’s K. P. Aravind and Adrien Metge will be joined by two new riders — Michael Metge and Lorenzo Santorini.

Aravind’s place in the team was confirmed only in early December, after he satisfyingly proved his fitness after an injury-ridden year.

“In Stage 5 of Dakar 2018, I had a major crash during the rally and hurt my leg badly. I was feeling good about my performance till then and was disappointed that I couldn’t ride anymore. I came back to India and immediately went in for surgery. This put me out of action for a couple of months but I used that time to build my mental strength through yoga and meditation,” Aravind explained. The 33-year-old Indian again crashed at the Pan Africa rally in September, with a hand injury threatening his Dakar participation in 2019, but he recovered well in time to be added as the fourth and final rider of the team.

It’ll be the fourth outing for Adrien Metge, Michael’s brother.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

“Injuries are part and parcel of any athlete’s career and I have always looked at it positively as the time off builds my fighting spirit. I come back stronger after every injury thanks to the support of my team and team-mates. It can be frustrating to be sitting out when one is injured but I used that time to work on my fitness and ensure my body and mind are focused on a singular goal. This helped speed up the recovery process and today I am thrilled that I am 100% ready for Dakar 2019,” he said.

Though other Indians like Harith Noah and Abdul Tanveer impressed, Aravind was always going to be the first choice for the team provided he proved his fitness. “His potential is great. We monitor the performance not only on track but also the rider’s physical and mental conditions. Even though he sustained injury in the fifth stage, his timings were impressive. Add to that, experience matters a lot,” B. Selvaraj, TVS Racing’s team manager, reasoned.

“ He has completely recovered from the injury he sustained during the Pan Africa rally . We put Aravind through an intensive mental and physical conditioning and training programme in Europe after which he joined his team-mates in Morocco for the final leg of preparations,” he said.

While it will be the fourth outing for Adrien Metge, his brother Michael brings in experience and will be participating in his seventh Dakar Rally. The 38-year-old Frenchman is already billed as being among the contenders who can possibly end the domination of KTM riders who have helped the team retain the title for 17 successive years. He won the Spanish Baja and Pan Africa rally. Adrien, 32, also managed back-to-back podium finishes in the Spanish Baja and Pan Africa Rally, raising hopes for the TVS Sherco team at Dakar.

Spain’s three-time Enduro champion Lorenzo Santolino will be making his Dakar debut, but the 2010 World Junior champion is known for his speed even in tough terrains and can be expected to spring a surprise if he manages to reach the finish line.

“Since it is his debut year, we made a strong training plan specifically for him. He underwent training in Chile where the conditions are similar to Peru. Santolino finished in the top 10 of the Desafio Inca rally event and won the Indian Baja. He did well in rallies in Argentina and Peru,” the TVS Racing manager said.

Michael Metge and Lorenzo Santolino are representing the Sherco TVS team for the first time.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

On the team’s composition, Sherco’s General Manager Thomas Teissier, who is actively involved with the team’s preparation in every stage, said: “For Dakar 2019, we have a bigger and stronger team, which has showcased phenomenal performance in past Rallies therefore bettering our chances of a top-10 finish. Dakar debutant, Lorenzo Santolino has brought in fresh energy into the team with the experienced Dakar veteran Michael Metge fuelling the expertise and motivation. Adrien Metge and Aravind have tremendous potential and are quick learners.

“We are very positive about this edition of Dakar as we have a team which is a perfect combination of experience, skill and camaraderie. To add to that, the enhanced RTR 450 machine, designed by our extremely talented technical team, will play a crucial role in improving our performance,” Teissier said. Joan Pedrero Garcia, the team’s best finisher at 11th place in 2018, has moved to a new team.

“As you might be aware, Dakar 2019 will be held only in Peru and 70% of the track will be sand dunes, which is unique to any Dakar. So we planned a major part of our training in Morocco, which boasts of similar sandy terrain and weather conditions. Over the last one month, I have prioritised on spending as much time as possible on my Dakar motorcycle to get used to the power and handling on the dunes. I have also worked hard on my fitness through cycling and swimming to help build my overall endurance,” Aravind added.

“Preparations have been good so far. We have participated in more number of events this year (six compared to four last year). Our riders’ performance has been very impressive. We won Pan Africa and Spain Baja (Michael Metge). Preparations have been good in terms of number of training days and events and the team’s performance in 2018 has been good. We have a lot of confidence in this bunch of riders,” Selvaraj said.

The Dakar Rally is as much about the endurance and adaptability of the bikes as much as it is about the endurance and skill of the riders. Covering 5,000 kilometres in the harshest of terrains with enough fuel to last the draining stages and safety features including emergency tool kit and a race-specific navigation system are crucial. It requires hundreds of hours of hard work and shrewd analysis to build a machine that can take you past the finish line in wilderness. Race mechanic R. Prakasam has been doing his bit to improve the bike which is at least two kilograms lighter and more durable.

 

“I have been working very closely with the Sherco team engineers in Nimes, France to prepare the RTR 450 Rally motorcycle for Dakar 2019. The new RTR 450 has undergone several modifications with a focus on improving endurance and engine power,” Prakasam said.

“The top speed of the motorcycle is 180 kmph and we have increased the fuel capacity from 29 to 32 litres. The machine has been tuned to suit the sand dunes laden Peruvian landscape by equipping it with specially designed pistons, which are more reliable on that terrain.

“The new roadbook system installed on the bike is lighter, faster and easy to recharge thus making navigation easier for the riders. Finally, to improve the durability of the bike, we have installed an improved cooling system and a new diaphragm spring clutch,” Prakasam explained.

And Aravind vouched for the upgrades. “Sherco and TVS Racing work together on the development of every motorcycle and customise it based on the rider’s preferences and requirement. When I first rode the RTR 450 Dakar motorcycle at the PanAfrica Rally this year, I instantly realised that the motorcycle is quicker than last year with several modifications to improve endurance and engine power. I have tested it extensively for the past one month,” Aravind said.

“The Dakar Rally is the world’s toughest and every racer dreams of being a part of it. I plan on conquering the Dakar this year and will do everything I can to accomplish this. I feel ready both mentally and physically for the 10-day rally. My last two outings at Dakar have given me the necessary experience to know what I can expect during the rally. From harsh terrains to extreme weather, I have experienced Dakar at its worst. Unfortunately, I crashed out in both editions and my rally was cut short. I will look to approach Dakar with the same intensity and am determined to complete the rally,” he said.

Hero MotoSports will be the other Indian factory team in action at Dakar 2019 with India’s C. S. Santosh gearing up for his fifth outing. The team, in its third year of rallying at Dakar, will also be represented again by Joaquim Rodrigues and Oriol Mena. The team finished in the top 15 in 2017 with Rodrigues securing the 10th position and bettered its record in 2018 with Mena finishing seventh overall in his first Dakar outing. Santosh finished 35th overall. With two Indian riders and two Indian factory teams in action, there is much to look forward to at the world’s toughest rally in 2019.

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