Indian riders and manufacturers took their first step towards next year’s Dakar Rally in Morocco.
The two cross-country rally racing squads that have kindled Indian interest in the Dakar Rally completed the first event in their preparation for the 2018 edition of the famous South American event as the Merzouga Rally in Morocco came to a close.
The Franco-Indian partnership of Sherco-TVS celebrated a top five finish 934km over six special stages in the Moroccan Sahara near Merzouga and Erfoud.
Juan Pedrero Garcia was classified fourth overall at the end of the rally that was won by Xavier de Soultrait of Yamaha, followed by Gerard Farres Guell of KTM and Franco Caimi of Yamaha.
Meanwhile, the Indo-German partnership of Hero Motosports and Speedbrain Rally managed to get a rider into the top 10 with Joaquim Rodrigues, a top ten finisher at this year’s Dakar Rally and the winner of the India Baja classified ninth.
Among the three Indian riders, Hero’s CS Santosh was 17th overall after once breaking into the top 15. Sherco-TVS’ Aravind KP was 21st overall while Tanveer Abdul Wahid had a satisfactory international debut in 27th overall out of the 76 riders that were officially classified at the end of the rally.
Tanveer had booked his spot to compete in the Merzouga Rally and next year’s Dakar Rally by being the highest placed rider who had not taken part in the Dakar at the India Baja.
“What a great end to a fantastic six days of racing here in Morocco,” said Santosh. “It has been a year since my journey with Hero began and I have definitely made a lot of progress from the way I rode last year to this year.
“I came here with the target to gain experience and finish the Rally with a decent result. I’m happy to have achieved both. Overall, an exciting and purposeful Rally for the whole team.”
Purposeful would indeed be the right word to use given that India now has three confirmed riders for next year’s Dakar Rally. And it is heartening for Indian motorsport fans to know that it happened during an event held in India – the India Baja.
However, Santosh’s words also reminds us of earlier statements he made to the press when he claimed that cross country rallies in India do not prepare a rider for participation in international events.
In private conversation with him, he has stated frustration over how events are run here. In particular, the regularity and organization. Not to mention the terrain in India is a far cry from what participants experience in the toughest international rallies too.
While nothing can be done about the last point, the manufacturers who are using the exposure they get from Dakar participation could help out with the first two, to their own benefit. The two-wheel Indian Rally Championship is currently in cost-saving mode – much like its four-wheel counterpart – with rallies held over an extremely short distance that doesn’t even amount to 100km over a weekend.
While TVS has long since been a supporter of domestic motorsport, Hero with its bursting coffers could also pitch in and benefit through not only exposure but also product R&D too. Racing improves the breed, is the long standing motorsport saying and TVS are proof of it as they have fully immersed themselves in rallying and circuit racing too.
After all, regardless of the branding, the Dakar bike that both TVS and Hero riders pilot are not Indian bikes at all. But those in the lower production-based classes in Indian events most certainly are. Imagine if someday Hero and possibly even Mahindra with its Mojo decides to join the fray and help out on the organizational front too.
Then at least there would be a start to a straighter road to international racing from the dusty trails at home. An idea not without merit or precedence, as is apparent with TVS. At the very least it is worth thinking about given that we officially have the largest two-wheeler market in the world.