A lowdown on the 2018 edition of the Dakar
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.