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1st Dakar I was a tourist, now I’m a competitor: CS Santosh

By Chitrangada
CS Santosh

Bengaluru, January 30: Destiny. That’s one word that plays a pivotal role in CS Santosh’s life. What’s meant to happen will happen. Back in 2011, the country’s No. 1 off-roader had 'supposedly’ reached the end of his journey, or so he believed. He didn’t see a future in the sport anymore, and had decided the call it quits. But seven years down the line, Santosh has taken the motorsports world by storm, becoming the country’s only rider to complete the Dakar - the toughest rally - three times.

The Karnataka rider who has taken part in four Dakar rallies so far, failed to finish only the second time and that too because of technical glitches. But put that aside, it has been a wonderful joyride. Well, at least a joyride for us who have seen him rise to the top. It has surely been a rough and dangerous one for him, but one that he has enjoyed at the end of the day.

Confident Santosh set to take the Dakar by storm

Before leaving for the Dakar this year, Santosh had joked that his dream was to come on TV! And to have the helicopters shoot your video in action you would need to be in the top 20. Well maybe not for too long, but the Karnataka rider did get his wish. Santosh set hearts racing when he notched up a commendable 13th place on the opening day. He followed it up with a 28th place finish the next day. That got him his 'TV appearance’ and also helped him realise his worth.

As the Hero rider aptly put it Santosh is no longer a 'tourist’ at the Dakar, but a 'competitor’ and one who has the capabilities to reach the top.

Speaking about his Dakar adventures, where he finished 34th overall this year, the Karnataka lad seemed different from his chirpy self. Upon being probed Santosh revealed 'now more than the Dakar stories I have realised that I can seriously compete and I’m more focussed on my performance’.

Here are a few excerpts from the interview.

On starting his Dakar journey:

I have been riding since 2004 or 2003 and it’s been a long time. 2011 I stopped because I thought it was the end of the line. You race in India and you don’t think you can do anymore in life, because I knew professionally I would not be able to make a career out of it. I took a one year break and then took part in the Raid de Himalaya for fun and it snowballed from there on.

Dakar was never my idea! When I competed in the Raid there was one guy from Austria who had won it before and I beat him that year. So he mentioned to some people around me, my friends, that I should do the world championships and Dakar. They send my application and I didn’t think they would accept it. I participated in the world championships thinking maybe one day I might get into the Dakar. But surprisingly I got a positive response.

It was not my dream to ride at the Dakar. And to finish it in the first time, I have always told everyone that I’m destined to do it. A lot of people don’t finish. Hence I guess it’s difficult to finish. So I guess I am destined! Only one time I didn’t finish was because of mechanical problems. The second one. Now when I look back so much has changed and it’s become popular.

On this year’s Dakar:

For me this Dakar was really good. The first two days the results that I had in the stage was something that I didn’t imagine I would have. When I started I was ahead of Toby Price, I never imagined that would happen. That was really cool! The second day I was 28th and that was also very good.

I wanted to tick a couple of boxes. One was getting a really good stage time and that I did on the first day. The second was to be on television and I wanted like one helicopter shot of me and they did get one shot of me (he added gleefully)! It wasn’t as long as I wanted it but I got it. I got these two in those couple of days and then I had my troubles.

The Dakar gets tougher. The level of competition is increasing as the riders participating are top level riders. So at that level I think it was a good start for me.

On the terrain this year:

Peru desert was kind of sketchy. It was really tough to read the dunes. One day I came down a dune which was two kilometres - it’s incredible. The dessert is much different from anything I’ve ever raced and it was really sketchy. A lot of guys crashed and got out but that was the nature of the rally.

The toughest stage this year:

The one in Bolivia was the toughest. First they had the dunes and then the camel grass. To go through camel grass for over 90 kms at an average speed of 10 or 15 kms - it took forever. That day was incredibly tough.

I had two big crashes, but I was lucky to walk away. In stage 10 when I crashed I had a concussion on my head. I didn’t know where I was. When I got up I started going in the opposite direction. My spokes were broken and my tower as well, and I didn’t know where I was going. Then someone who was passing told me 'no no this way, this way’. So I turned my bike and as soon as I did that the wheels got locked because the spokes were broken. I thought I was not going to finish that day. But it was only 15 kilometres to the finish of the stage where my service was there and then there was another stage after that, so somebody else came along and they helped me kick the bike and get it straight and get it into a condition so I could reach the finish stage. That was a tough day!

The Dakar journey till now:

First Dakar I was a tourist and today I’m trying to be competitive. In this Dakar that I went I was trying to compete. So the journey has progressed in the right direction. I’ve put in a lot of work and I’ve progressed over the years. I like where I am and next year I know that I will do much better. I am confident I will get better with each passing year.

Having taking part in Dakar over the last few years the only thing you figure out is that after so many Dakar’s your takeaway is that you know that they will torture you every year. If you’re prepared for that then everything else is on the go.

The only Indian to finish three Dakars:

It doesn’t mean anything to me. After you finish the first Dakar it doesn’t really matter if it’s the first second or third. It doesn’t make a difference to me.

Your takeaway from this Dakar:

Today to ride at the Dakar it’s all off road. I realised this Dakar that I didn’t have the right rhythm. You need to have the right rhythm to compete 400-500 kms. It was up and down for me. I was good in some parts and then I lag back. That is something I need to work on because the rally is so big. And this year one stage was 500 kms and it was tough. They really made it hard this year.

I rode with some of the top guys, people who have won and I learnt a lot. It was invaluable. I realised that these people aren’t gods. They are of course better but I know it’s achievable now.

In Dakar you need to know when you can push your luck and when you cannot push your luck. You need to be really aware of yourself. You can’t always go to every stage and ride the way you want to. You need to tone it down sometimes.

Also, I think luck plays a big role. I always say this, that luck plays a big role. My navigation was much better this year, now I need to concentrate more on my riding, my speed.

On your plans for next year’s Dakar:

Next year I want to go fast. That has been bugging me. I wanted to go fast but I couldn’t. We can go train till July or August to get familiar. I’ve never done that before. This year I am going to do that.

This year I’ve almost figured out what I need to do. I need to be fitter. I’m fit off the bike but on it I need to be fitter. This year I will go and do stretches of 10-15 stages to get into shape, like 300-400 kms everyday. Now I need to spend more time riding in terrains like this.

Earlier when I went to the Dakar I didn’t have any expectation but now I have - especially when I saw 13 and 28! If your in the front the race pulls you with it but if your behind its the recipe for everything bad that can happen.

How many more Dakars?

First I need to finish in the top 20 and then I will see what to do. If I plan to switch to four wheels it’s not going to be tough. But I think cars will be boring and I will really miss the bikes.

Upcoming plans:

Next I go to the Dessert Storm in India. It’s so easy compared to all the other races and you can have a lot of fun so I look forward to that. I love going there, it’s my favourite so I’m really looking forward to that. Then we are going to do some races in South America because it’s important to prepare for the next Dakar.

Take him out of the race our man likes to talk about philosophy - now that’s another side we have not seen. Well as they say, there’s more to one than meets the eye! The mystery and the riding skills will surely keep us hooked to this champion for years to come.

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    Story first published: Tuesday, January 30, 2018, 0:51 [IST]
    Other articles published on Jan 30, 2018
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