Two Indian riders, two Indian motorcycle companies. All parties have the same goal, for which they underwent one final test.
Ever since we got to know of not one, but two, Indians flying the flag at the 2017 Dakar Rally, we had been eagerly waiting to see both in action in cross-country rallying. Everyone knew what CS Santosh was capable of with previous top ten finishes in rounds of the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship and a 36th place finish in the 2015 Dakar Rally. But Indian motorsport fans also knew what Aravind KP, the rider included in Sherco-TVS’s cross-country rally program for the first time, was capable of.
Aravind had won pretty much everything that there was to win in India and he was expected to follow in Santosh’s footsteps as we all hoped the Bengaluru-based two-wheel auto major would not repeat the same mistake it did with Santosh that led to him seeking his own path to fulfill his ambitions. He didn’t disappoint either as a part of the French-Indian collaboration’s campaign at the final cross country rally world championship round in Morocco; the OiLibya Rally.
Aravind was the highest ranking Indian rider on the event as he finished 26th overall in the bike/quad category. With that finish he secured his qualification for January’s Dakar Rally.
Three other Sherco riders placed in the top 15 of the classification, including Juan Pedrero Garcia who finished ninth overall. Flying the flag for the Hero Motosports Rally Team on the Speedbrain 450 bike was Joaquim Rodrigues who finished 16th overall, with Santosh finishing only 60th overall out of a total of 68 classified riders after wrestling with mechanical problems and then some navigation errors after he tried to make up for lost time.
While Speedbrain are old hands in the motorcycle class of cross-country rallying and Hero MotoCorp seem to be willing to spend whatever money it takes to achieve a respectable finish, it is still a young association and the bike an old warhorse that has been modified and tweaked to adapt to the changes in rallying since 2007.
For one thing, the bike was made to compete on the vast open expanses of the African Sahara rather than the relatively twisty terrain found in South America ever since the Dakar Rally shifted continents. Getting around that has been a work in progress ever since the Merzouga Rally when Hero Moto Sports first made its debut in international motorsport.
The OiLibya Rally was supposed to be the last tune up for the team as well as the riders but it seems like there will still be a lot of work left to be done. Santosh, in particular, will be hoping for things to go smoother in South America as the last thing he would want is to be pressured into trying to make up time again, like he had to do this time around. While navigation will not be as much of a problem for him at the Dakar – the Moroccan desert doesn’t have much by way of reference points – road book reading is still something he is working on.
But the consolation for Santosh and Hero is that they at least were able to get a better benchmark than they could in the Merzouga on account of the quality of the participants.
This year’s Dakar Rally winner Toby Price was one of the participants and he was victorious in the five-day event. Price’s teammate Sam Sunderland was second as Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla took third place and with it, enough points to be crowned this year’s champion.
Meanwhile, in the event’s four-wheel class – the FIA Cross Country Rally World Championship – Toyota flexed its muscles with new signing Nasser Al-Attiyah managing to best Peugeot’s Carlos Sainz and its new 3008 DKR, while three X-Raid Mini drivers completed the top five.