India at the Dakar Rally


CS Santosh – that’s probably the first name that comes to the mind of most Indians when somebody mentions the Dakar Rally. After all, Santosh was the one who put India on the Dakar map. But, what is the Dakar Rally all about? Simply put, it is an off-road endurance event that sees competitors traverse 800-900 kilometres each day through terrains that are much more difficult than that in conventional rallies. The Dakar rally has been in existence since 1977 but it was only in 2015, after almost four decades, that India made a mark at the rally. This is courtesy of CS Santosh who became the first Indian to complete the race in the 36th position. And that is nothing short of a big win for a rookie considering how ardous the rally really is. But, this was only the beginning. Let’s take a look at all the feathers on India’s cap since then.

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Photo Credit: Hero MotoCorp

In 2015, the same year as Santosh breaking new grounds, Chennai-based TVS tied up with Sherco Racing, a French and Spanish bike manufacturer. At the rally, Sherco-TVS representatives, Alain Duclos and Fabien Planet, finished 25th and 29th, respectively.           

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Photo Credit: TVS

2016 is when things started shaping up for the Bangalore-lad CS Santosh.  Suzuki Europe decided to back the budding rally rider for the Dakar that year. Unfortunately, he had to retire early from the race due to a major technical issue in his motorcycle. Sherco-TVS riders, however, managed to finish 23rd and 27th, saving the day for India.

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Photo Credit: Hero MotoCorp

2017 was a big year for India. The first Indian manufacturer and rider came together as a team to take on the unforgiving Dakar Rally. Hero MotoCorp partnered with Speedbrain GmbH, a German off-road racing specialist responsible for developing the BMW G 450 and the Husqvarna TE 449 RR. Post the tie-up, the Hero MotoSports team was born along with the Hero 450RR, which is essentially a refreshed version of the Speedbrian 450 Rally. With a brilliant bike at Hero’s disposal, the company handed the baton to three ace riders – Oriol Mena Valdearcos, Joaquim Rodrigues (JRod) and CS Santosh. It’s no surprise then that all three riders, along with their respective bikes, made it to the finish line in one piece. Of the trio, JRod finished the race with a commendable 10th place finish. CS Santosh finished in 47th spot and became the only Indian rider that year to finish the Dakar Rally, which is an achievement by itself. At the TVS camp, Joan Pedero and Adrien Metge finished 13th and 22nd, respectively. The same year, Aravind KP of the TVS Racing fame signed up with the team and made his debut. However, he had to retire early due to injuries.

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Photo Credit: Hero MotoCorp

Come 2018, Hero MotoCorp riders Oriol Mena and CS Santosh crossed the finish line in respectable 7th and 34th positions. Meanwhile, Sherco TVS rider Juan Pedrero too bagged the 11th position.

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Photo Credit: TVS

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The world took a nasty pause soon after and the Dakar rally couldn’t be held for two years. Fast forward to 2021, fans could feel their knees knocking when CS Santosh had a near-fatal crash at Stage 4. But, that didn’t stop India from making a mark at the campaign. Harith Noah, at just his second Dakar outing, managed to finish 20th at the end of Stage 12. This has made him the only Indian to complete the race in the season.

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