Santosh 13th after 1st stage at Dakar Rally

C. S. Santosh’s team-mate Joaquim Rodrigues crashed midway through stage one, while compatriot Arvind finished 30th.

Sam Sunderland of Great Britain and KTM rides a 450 Rally Replica KTM bike during stage one of the 2018 Dakar Rally between Lima and Pisco.   -  Getty Images

India’s C. S. Santosh was placed at a creditable 13th among the bikers at the end of the first stage of the gruelling Dakar Rally while his Hero Motorsports Rally teammate Joaquim Rodrigues met with a spectacular crash to end his race here.

Santosh clocked 24 minutes, 11 seconds to cover the first stage of 30 km. The first stage covered from Lima to Pisco.

Another 13 stages are remaining in the world’s toughest off-road rally which will end on January 20 in Cordoba of Argentina via Bolivia.

“First day of a race is usually nervous. Today was just 30 km and tomorrow more than 200km. It is a long way to go and anything can happen at any stage in such a long rally,” he said after the first day’s race.

“This year, there is a big change in the bike from last year and so much easier to ride. I am enjoying my time.”

Read: Santosh sets himself Dakar Rally goal

Riding on a vastly improved and new-look Hero RR 450 bike with the Indian tri-colour imprint on it, Santosh set off from the starting line here in Bib No 49 yesterday.

His Hero Motorsports Team Rally teammate Joaquim Rodrigues met with a crash midway into the 1st stage. The rider from Portugal, who finished 12th last year, suffered injuries to his hand and back and will not take part in the remaining stages.

“It is unfortunate that Rodrigues’ race ended early. He met with a crash and suffered injuries in his hand and back. He is all right now but will not further take part in the race,” a team official said.

Rodrigues overshot a sand dune for nearly 10m and his bike landed on top of another dune. He was thrown out of his bike and had to be evacuated from the course. He was rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment.

“X-rays were taken and he was examined by doctors. He was all right and his condition was not that serious. But he is out of the race,” the team spokesperson said.

Hero Motorsports Rally’s third rider Oriol Mena Valdearcos of Spain was placed 22nd after first stage. Another Indian in the bikers’ category, Prabhakar Arvind of TVS Racing was 30th.

Earlier yesterday, Santosh set off for the fourth time at the gruelling Dakar Rally with an aim of recording his best ever show at world’s toughest off-road rally.

“I believe I am having my best preparation ever and I hope to do well. I am mentally and physically prepared,” Santosh said, even as he rode his bike towards the starting line in Lima.

“The weather is also almost similar with that in India and so I am confident I can do well. Let us see,” he added.

Asked if he is expecting the best-ever finish this time, he said, “Every time I take part in a race I want to do my best. The same this time in this race also, I want to have the best ever finish.”

Santosh is taking part for the fourth year in the Dakar Rally. But this is his second year with Hero Motorsports Team Rally. He finished 36th in his debut year in 2015 but failed to complete the race in his next two attempts due to problems in his bike.

Head of Hero MotoSports and Hero MotoCorp Chief Technology Officer Markus Braunsperger said the team’s main target was to have a top-10 finish.

“If there is no major issues or an accident, we hope all our riders to complete the race and then a top 10 finish is our aim and it can happen. At least we can do better than last year. If that is done we will be happy,” he said.

“Our CMD Mr Munjal had sent us good wishes. He is very happy about taking part in world’s toughest off-road race and India flag flying. He is in constant touch with us,” he added.

The new ‘Hero RR 450’ rally bike made its debut at the Dakar this year. The new bike is an upgrade of the well-proven rally bike from last year, with new design and styling of tank, body parts and front section to improve mass centralization, handling and riding ergonomics.

The new ‘Hero 450 RR’ proved its capabilities at the OiLibya Rally in Morocco this year. The key learning from the Teams rookie year and last year’s Dakar experience have been implemented in the bike. There are several improvements in the bike, which have affected an increase in rider’s confidence.

The biggest and toughest rally-raid in the world, Dakar, in its 40th edition will cross three countries, starting with Peru today and travelling through Bolivia before concluding in Argentina on January 20.

This edition will witness participation of 500 competitors from 60 countries who will cover a grueling stretch of almost 9,000 km.

Out of the overall 14 stages, seven will include 100 percent dunes/off-piste, one marathon stage for all categories and one marathon stage for bikes and quads only.

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