We had an last minute interaction with The Hero Motorsports Rider and the Red Bull Athlete CS Santosh before he could proceed towards participating in his Fourth Dakar Rally. Few questions we could ask him.
1. You created history as the first Indian to finish Dakar twice. So how different is the preparation for this year, what is your target?
Feels great to finish the Dakar twice (2015 & 2017) out of three attempts. It is one of toughest motorsports events in the world and it is all off road. This 4th Dakar Rally for me will be no different than my first Dakar, the strategy will always be to take one day at a time and arriving at the finish podium will be the main goal. Where we end up, we cannot predict or expect in Dakar. We go out and do the best we can every day and be thankful that we have this opportunity to race rally bikes for a factory team. This is my approach to the Dakar. Being result oriented takes away the joy of the process. I intend to enjoy every second of being alive and having this opportunity racing rally bikes around the most beautiful locations on planet earth. It will be great though if I finish in the top 20.
2. What techniques, training did you learn afresh for better navigation this year?
This Dakar will have many stages in the dunes in Peru and physically it will be harder for sure. I am excited at this prospect and not worried. Look forward to covering a total distance of 9,000km, the 14-day rally which will begin in Lima (Peru) on January 6, travel through La Paz (Bolivia) before finishing in Cordoba (Argentina). Working with experts like Invictus performance Lab, PHD Nutrution and training with Jordi Grau in Spain for my navigation has played a key role in my preparation for this Dakar. It is now just about training, staying healthy and getting ready for the Dakar. There’s no more racing, but there has been a lot of work that I have put in to be ready for the mother of all rallies. The most important goal is to enjoy competing at the Dakar and making the finish will be the first priority.
3. For more than 10 years you won everything in India and needed more challenging avenues! But when did you realise that you had the skill, the toughness, and the wherewithal to compete in Dakar, what was needed for the shift? How did you achieve it?
I feel I moved up the ladder in the Indian racing scene in the Dirt Biking, Motocross and Supercross circuit. Won a few trophies in the Indian motorsport including the legendary Raid de Himalaya. In 2013, I stepped up to the plate and participated in the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. From my crash at Abu Dhabi in 2014, which left me third degree burns, to participating in the first Dakar in 2015 and now, it's been an amazing journey. I've had to climb great peaks to get to where I am today and things only look exciting from here, because I feel the real journey started with Dakar Rally! I believe it is an Adventure of a lifetime. Stories for a lifetime. As a kid, while growing up, I remember being fascinated by adventure, and that fascination continues to this day. Whether it’s on my motorcycle or in my everyday life, I’m always trying to address my fears and step outside my comfort zone.
4. You had some disastrous accidents, encounters with fire, dreadful injuries, even for a moment did you ever think of stopping.... then what made you resilient in your comebacks, what changes you did in your preparations, training, lifestyle?
I wasn’t ready for the first Dakar. The rally is so big I didn’t know how to prepare for it. I broke my nose, and then crashed and bike landed on my leg. I was riding behind couple of other riders. Since I was riding in the dust clouds, I decided to get ahead of them so I could get a clear track. The roads on that segment were washed away; and in the road book, they had mentioned that section as “Triple Caution.” I missed reading it and went too fast; I ended up on the floor with my toe getting crushed under the bike. This happened fairly early in the stage around 15 km. mark, and hence, I had to ride the next 300 km. with a broken toe. I feel I was destined to finished the first Dakar. Those who race the Dakar are crazy. I ask myself the same question why do I want to come back and do this every year. It’s a platform to compete with the best in in the world and prove myself.
5. What is that magic between you and your motorcycle, what does it mean to you?
Riding a motor cycle is really unique and to be able to bond with the machine and to be able to ride to your limit is something special and it puts everything into perspective. We have the Hero 450 RR which is a huge improvement to my last year’s bike. Its more agile and smaller making for a very good handling bike. The new bike is an evolution of our old one. It has its weight more central and also has a lower centre of gravity to help with better handling. It makes going fast safer with the new suspension setup and brand new shock. We have also improved our power delivery for more torque. The bike overall feels small, nimble and light and it has been continuously evolved going into the 2018 Dakar and beyond.
6. How important is mental strength and how do you train for it?
There is only so much that your body can take. So you need to prep your body to be able to handle those 14 days of endurance. The first instinct when you crash is to get back up and race that motorcycle. When you go racing you know that there is probability that you might get hurt but at Dakar it’s much more. It demands all of your focus and attention. You are not just trying to ride the motorcycle really fast but you are also trying to concentrate on the road book and all the information is in that piece of paper. For any top athlete, it’s all in your head. You can go out and follow a training regimen and let your body through what it is demanded of but your mind also needs to be in a place which is conducive. We spend many hours just by ourselves. All you hear is the wind and the exhaust sound. You need to be comfortable in a space where you don’t see any people, you don’t talk to anyone. Need to have faith in God and the road book. Consuming Red Bull while training and before racing pushes me effectively physically and mentally and keeps me going through the sport.
7. Training, skill and doing the toughest events is something and sponsorship is something else, how are you faring on that front? What do you need?
I am fortunate to have Hero back my aspirations to race Rally bikes around the world and I also have partners like Red Bull and Sidvin that help me as an athlete to be ready to go racing! There's so much work that goes on behind the scenes that competing at races is only one side of the coin and this is where my personal sponsors and partners play a huge role.