K.P. Aravind has hailed this weekend’s Indian Baja rally-raid in Rajasthan as a big step forward for motorsport in the country. The Baja, which begins in Jaisalmer on Friday, has this year been included in the Dakar Challenge series, with the winner earning a free entry to the Merzouga Rally in May and the 40th edition of the Dakar in 2018 (equating to a total waiver of around EUR 18,000 in registration fees). Aravind and Frenchman Adrian Metge will headline TVS Racing’s four-man team, which also includes R. Nataraj and Abdul Wahid Tanveer, at the two-wheeler rally.
“It's a big opportunity for Indian motorsport,” said Aravind here on Wednesday. “It creates more openings. Earlier, Indians would wonder what to do after the INRC. Now they have a bigger sea to swim in. It's a big step forward for off-road racing. We're getting global recognition.”
The Baja is a unique event in the Indian context, requiring competitors to navigate by road-books alone, and without the aid of the Global Positioning System (GPS). “This is how it is in the major rallies of the world, like the WRC and the Dakar. Only when Indians compete in such events can they be prepared for the big international rallies,” the Mangaluru rider added.
Aravind and Metge were both part of the Sherco TVS rally team at this year’s Dakar in January. While the former crashed out in Stage 3, Metge finished 22nd. Aravind had a hand in his colleague’s success, towing him for some distance in Stage 2 after an engine breakdown. Metge had been in 123rd place on day two; he made his way up quickly thereafter. “A lot can happen in Dakar [even after you've had a bad stage]. It only finishes at the finish line,” he said. “I wanted to improve on my first Dakar (11th place in 2016) but it didn't happen.”
The 2018 Dakar may be nine months away, but for riders and teams, work has already begun. “The new bike (RTR 450 Rally) is lighter than last time by 20kg. It's lighter and smaller. It's much more nimble and powerful,” said Aravind.
The 31-year-old was confident of an improved showing come January. “The 2017 Dakar was an eye-opener for me,” he said. “I'm better prepared for the next edition. I've grown as a person and a rider.”
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