Stronger and smarter Santosh raring to conquer Dakar again

In early 2015, when he competed in the Dakar Rally, C.S. Santosh had blazed a new trail. He was the first Indian to take part in arguably the world’s toughest motor-racing event. Two weeks and 9,203 kilometres later, he managed the unthinkable — finishing a race in which more than half the vehicles that started didn’t see the end.

C.S Santosh in action during the Dakar Rally.

In early 2015, when he competed in the Dakar Rally, C.S. Santosh had blazed a new trail. He was the first Indian to take part in arguably the world’s toughest motor-racing event. Two weeks and 9,203 kilometres later, he managed the unthinkable — finishing a race in which more than half the vehicles that started didn’t see the end.

It’s been nearly two years since then, and by his own admission Santosh is “more professional, physically stronger and mentally smarter.” And all of this will be put to test as the 32-year-old sets his mind on his third Dakar Rally in 2017.

“When I did the first Dakar, it was the unknown,” said Santosh. “Very few people from Asia have actually taken part in it. I was totally unprepared. Everything from clothing to what to eat, I had no clue. It was just sheer will power with which I finished.”

“[In] second Dakar, I was not able to put together a good programme. I was not able to show the kind of progress I had made through the year. The 2017 one is like my real second Dakar. As a person I am a lot better. I think it will show.”

Much of the confidence stems from the fact that Santosh has the firm backing of Hero, with whom he has penned a three-year-contract.

“Its important not to have the mental baggage,” explained Santosh. “Often, you don’t know if you will make the next Dakar. Everything depends on you finishing this year to make it to the next. Also as a privateer you try and cut corners wherever you can. But now I have a contract and it’s comforting to know that they are behind me.”

The preparation thus far had been good too felt Santosh.

“I have spent a lot of time on the motorcycle [Speedbrain 450cc], testing and training in Europe. The two international events — Merzouga and the Rally of Morocco — were important to put miles in a race-like condition. I did a lot of cycling. I did motorcross, which is the best way to train for off-road racing. My speed has been better than it has ever been.”

As much as he has changed, the Rally too seems to be evolving.

“The Dakar today is about the next generation,” Santosh said. “Earlier when it was in Africa it was a wide-open desert. Today, in South America, it’s fast. The top guys are on the gas always. They are racing, not rallying. Earlier riders used to be the eccentrics and the adventurers. Today, the top-15, 20 are all hardcore motorsport guys including world champions.”

Back in 2015, Santosh had expressed the hope that his performance ‘could open doors for others.’ With K.P. Aravind also set to feature in the Dakar, his wish has come true.

“If I had been the only person, I would have been like an endangered species,” he said. “It’s not good for the ecosystem. So I am happy that we have Aravind. I am happy that there is TVS, putting in another driver. India is the fourth or fifth largest automobile manufacturer in the world. So there is scope for more. Not just in two-wheelers but four-wheelers too.”