Dakar 2018

A low­down on the 2018 edi­tion of the Dakar

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Ever since my child­hood, I have been in awe of the mag­nif­i­cent race that Dakar is. De­spite many op­por­tu­ni­ties to cover it dur­ing my 20-plus years as an au­to­mo­tive jour­nal­ist, the Dakar re­mained elu­sive and has been beck­on­ing for a while now. This year, I fi­nally got onto a plane for a 24-hour jour­ney to ful­fil one of my ev­er­green child­hood dreams. The Dakar is by far the big­gest mo­tor sport event in the world and one only re­alises the mag­ni­tude when you ac­tu­ally wit­nesses the scale and the chal­lenge it poses, both to the man (or woman) and the ma­chine. It is an iconic event by it­self; so much so that the or­gan­is­ers did not change its name when they moved it from its orig­i­nal run­ning in Paris, Europe and Africa to South Amer­ica this year. To get an idea of its scale, pic­ture this. The cer­e­mo­nial start saw 335 com­peti­tors in five cat­e­gories be­ing flagged off and that alone took the bet­ter part of the day. As for the chal­lenge it poses, this can be gauged by the fact that only 55 per cent of the starters fin­ished the race. Over­all less than half of the cars and trucks crossed the fin­ish line—15 days, 9,000km and three coun­tries later.

What made Dakar 2018 spe­cial though was the In­dian con­nec­tion with the Sherco TVS Fac­tory Rally Team and Hero Mo­to­sports Team Rally par­tic­i­pat­ing this year with KP Aravind and CS San­tosh. The In­dian duo were 53 and 49 re­spec­tively, with San­tosh seeded a mere four places higher than Aravind. See­ing them on the start­ing grid was a proud mo­ment of all In­dian gath­ered to­gether on a hot blus­tery day in the mid­dle of the South Amer­i­can sum­mer in Lima.

The race got off to a rous­ing start at Lima, the cap­i­tal of Peru as thou­sands lined up the streets to wit­ness the spec­ta­cle. How­ever, it was a mixed day for Hero Mo­to­sports as its top rider JRod had an un­for­tu­nate crash and went fly­ing over a dune and crashed on the face of the next one. He was ul­ti­mately air­lifted to the hos­pi­tal. With the Dakar 2018 end­ing for JRod on day one, CS San­tosh on the other hand had his best day at Dakar pe-

riod; fin­ish­ing 13th over­all. San­tosh had his good days and then some un­lucky ones as well. In Stage 3, thanks to a loose fuel tank cap, he ran out of fuel some 30km from the fin­ish line. As a re­sult, he ended up in 101st place. But the worst was yet to come as the rally me­an­dered from the deserts of Peru to the high­lands of Bo­livia.

We met the rid­ers al­most ev­ery­day at the bivouac for the first few days. There's al­ways an in­ter­est­ing mix of sto­ries that come out of these bivouacs. Like the hard­ships, the ar­du­ous rid­ing, the treach­ery of the dunes in Peru and even of the sap­ping cold in the high al­ti­tude ter­rains of Bo­livia.

After the ac­ci­dent (which is de­tailed in the in­ter­view) were the cold and wet days which were San­tosh's least favourite. The flat­lands of Ar­gentina pro­vided the much-needed re­lief as he clawed back place after place to fin­ish a cred­itable 34th out of 85 fin­ish­ers. He also be­came the only In­dian to com­plete the tough­est mo­tor­sport event for the third time over.

Com­pa­triot KP Aravind was not as lucky. De­spite a good show he suf­fered an an­kle in­jury in Stage 5 and had to be flown to a hos­pi­tal in Lima where doc­tors ad­vised him to un­dergo an an­kle surgery. That put an end to his Dakar 2018 ride.

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