MAK­ING CHAM­PI­ONS

Over 37 years, TVS Rac­ing have been iden­ti­fy­ing tal­ent from the grass­roots and turn­ing out cham­pi­ons ca­pa­ble of tak­ing on the best in the world. Harith Noah who made his Dakar de­but this year is one of them!

Evo India - - BAJAJ CHETAK - WORDS by SIRISH CHAN­DRAN

THE DAKAR IS THE TOUGH­EST MO­TOR­SPORT event in the world — a sen­tence we’ve writ­ten, maybe, a mil­lion times. Any­body who has even the re­motest in­ter­est in mo­tor­sport knows the Dakar is hard as nails. But, just get­ting to the Dakar, is harder than you can imag­ine.

First, of course, you dream and dream and dream of the day you’ll get to the Dakar. That route, as Drake spat out in his verses, starts at the bot­tom. You ride your damn­d­est and hard­est on a pri­vate bike hop­ing to get the at­ten­tion of a fac­tory be­fore you run out of your own cash. Your stars align, a fac­tory signs you up but you, be­ing the runt of the lit­ter, get the hand-me-downs and that makes it near im­pos­si­ble to make an im­pres­sion against the es­tab­lished fac­tory rid­ers. You in­vari­ably over-ride and crash and break your bones and bust your balls. As they nurse you back to health in the hos­pi­tal, the fam­ily won­ders why you didn’t just do an MBA and get a nor­mal job. But you per­se­vere. You train. You work on your fit­ness. You ride and ride and ride. You learn to fall with­out break­ing your bones. You learn to race with bro­ken bones. Your pain thresh­old goes up. You can barely walk but on the bike you learn to fly. You win races. You get bet­ter fac­tory bikes. You please your fac­tory bosses. You get more op­por­tu­ni­ties. You rage against the world when your team­mate goes in­ter­na­tional and you go to, err, Bhopal. But, by now, you have some­body sen­si­ble in your camp who tells you to calm the heck down be­cause your time will come. You stop smok­ing. Stop drink­ing. You train like a ma­niac. You fall, you win, you train, you keep your head down and… your time comes.

Paraguay, 2017. A life-long TVS Rac­ing rider, Aravind KP fi­nally got his shot at the big stage, rid­ing down the start ramp in Asun­ción and go­ing into his­tory books as only the sec­ond In­dian rider to make it to the most iconic rally raid in the world. Stage 1. He makes a solid im­pres­sion with his speed. Day 2. He crashes and breaks his left wrist. Day 3. He rides with the bro­ken wrist and the ex­cru­ci­at­ing pain but with­out the strength to con­trol the huge ma­chine he crashes heav­ily, breaks his an­kle and the med­i­cal chop­per is sent to evac­u­ate him. No cov­eted fin­ish­ing medal, not much ex­pe­ri­ence un­der his belt, just pain, a bro­ken hand and a shat­tered dream. To para­phrase Eminem, he had shot, one op­por­tu­nity, to seize every­thing, and he let it slip.

HARITH MAN­AGED TO TIE THE BRO­KEN CA­BLE ON HIS BIKE AND GET TO THE FIN­ISH

And that’s where I want to talk about TVS Rac­ing. In­dian mo­tor­sport owes TVS Rac­ing a mas­sive debt of grat­i­tude. Ever since they started mak­ing mopeds, TVS Rac­ing have been com­pet­ing and they haven’t stopped com­pet­ing. Other teams, other man­u­fac­tur­ers, they’ve come and gone but TVS Rac­ing has been the only — I mean ONLY — con­stant in In­dian mo­tor­sport. Rac­ing, ral­ly­ing, su­per­cross, mo­tocross; TVS Rac­ing com­petes in every­thing and with every­thing they make — mopeds, scoot­ers and bikes. They have their own rac­ing de­part­ment that does mo­tor­sport R&D which trans­lates into bet­ter road bikes. They’re the ones to have sup­ported grass­roots mo­tor­sport at ev­ery pos­si­ble level.

And they take care of their rid­ers.

Many years ago when Aravind KP had a huge crash, when he wasn’t even sure of be­ing able to com­pete again, the team re­newed his con­tract. At the hos­pi­tal! And when he crashed at the 2017 Dakar, his team bosses told me that Aravind will come back next year. There was of course dis­ap­point­ment that he didn’t fin­ish but there was also com­mit­ment to­wards one of their own.

They sent him to France to re­cu­per­ate, get phys­io­ther­apy from the best sports doc­tors in the world, train with the Sherco-TVS team and then gave him a fac­tory bike for the 2018 Dakar. He re­paid the faith by set­ting quick times at the start, by not get­ting lost, by fol­low­ing the road book, by be­ing a team player, and then on stage 5 he crashed and broke his an­kle.

Again, back to France to heal, re­cu­per­ate, train. As part of the Dakar train­ing he was en­tered in the Pan Africa rally in Septem­ber and on the very first stage he crashed break­ing his wrist. More re­cu­per­a­tion, more physio, four surg­eries and yet — in­cred­i­bly — he not only made the start of the 2019 Dakar but also rode with the in­jured wrist to fin­ish the rally, be­com­ing only the sec­ond In­dian to fin­ish the… well, you know, world’s tough­est mo­tor­sport event.

As is to be ex­pected, much was ex­pected of him this year. I called him some­time in Oc­to­ber to talk about an­other story we were do­ing, on fit­ness, on learn­ing how to fall with­out break­ing too many bones. He an­swered the call in hos­pi­tal. He had just crashed in train­ing, in­jured him­self, and doc­tors had ruled him out of Dakar 2020. All year he had kept him­self in­jury free, was look­ing in the best shape of his life, was rid­ing bet­ter than he ever had, only to be in­jured in train­ing! How can some­body be so un­lucky?

For TVS Rac­ing that was a dou­ble whammy. As the Dakar drew near, not only was Aravind out but so too was their lead rider, Michael Metge, with a knee in­jury sus­tained in train­ing. Brother Adrien was drafted a week be­fore the start in Saudi Ara­bia to re­place Michael and given the oner­ous task of bring­ing the bike to the fin­ish and bet­ter­ing his 22nd place fin­ish the pre­vi­ous year.

Which he did, bring­ing the fac­tory Sherco-TVS home in 12th place — a fan­tas­tic re­sult for the team that had a re­ally, re­ally tough out­ing with Adrien be­ing the only fin­isher of the four en­tries. What I want to talk about though is Sherco-TVS’ debu­tant — Harith Noah who stepped into Aravind’s shoes.

Harith has been wait­ing in the wings for a while now, train­ing in France and Dakar, but this would have come out of the blue. Also, com­pared to the rid­ers on the Dakar he’s small, skinny and tiny; quite un­like the man moun­tains astride their mas­sive machines. But what he has is speed and, more im­por­tantly, grit.

His start num­ber meant he be­gan way down the or­der in 83rd po­si­tion and on day one it­self he crashed. “I was rid­ing a lit­tle bit too fast and I crashed be­cause I didn’t read a note on the next page,” he told me when I caught up with him on the penul­ti­mate day of the rally, out­side of Riyadh. “It was a mis­take from my side, I got back up, fixed the bike, and lost around 20 min­utes.”

He made it to the fin­ish which wouldn’t have been so re­mark­able had you not seen his face when he came into the bivouac — an eye bal­looned up like a foot­ball. He had gone face first into the nav­i­ga­tion tower and it would have been im­pos­si­ble to see through that eye for the re­main­der of the stage. When I asked him about it he shrugged it off, “Noth­ing was bro­ken or any­thing, so it’s all good”. Hard as nails, th­ese boys are.

The fear was he would not be able to con­tinue but the doc­tors fixed him up and he was back on the bike, mak­ing up places on day two. But on day 3 a tech­ni­cal is­sue with the bike meant he couldn’t even take the start and was out of the rally. For­tu­nately this year, there’s a Dakar Ex­pe­ri­ence class for just such an even­tu­al­ity — par­tic­i­pants are al­lowed to con­tinue in the rally to get ex­pe­ri­ence but aren’t classified as finishers and that’s how Harith con­tin­ued to ride, gain­ing in ex­pe­ri­ence and in speed. “Af­ter that day, I again had to start from be­hind, dead last. It’s very dif­fi­cult to ride be­cause it’s very dusty es­pe­cially as the quads have four wheels it’s dif­fi­cult to pass them. And once the cars, start to pass it gets worse. I fought my way to a bet­ter placed.”

For Sherco-TVS it was dou­bly im­por­tant that Harith con­tinue to ride and pro­vide as­sis­tance to Johnny Au­bert and make sure at least one bike gets to the fin­ish. And he proved his worth on Stage 6 when Johnny snapped the throt­tle ca­ble and Harith gave him the ca­ble from his bike. Harith man­aged to tie the bro­ken ca­ble on his bike and make it to the fin­ish but again dropped down the or­der and again had to fight his way up.

But he did not give up. He did not crash (heav­ily) again. He did not hurt him­self. And he fin­ished the Dakar, al­beit in the Ex­pe­ri­ence class. Had he not had the me­chan­i­cal is­sue he would have been of­fi­cially classified as a fin­isher, on his first out­ing.

I wouldn’t go so far as call­ing his per­for­mance heroic but, to get to the fin­ish on his first at­tempt, def­i­nitely qual­i­fies as an in­cred­i­ble ride. As for speed, when every­thing was go­ing right, he was up there in the top 30. On the penul­ti­mate and fi­nal stage, in fact, Harith fin­ished 25th and 27th which, more than any­thing, is a re­flec­tion of the strength that runs deep within the TVS Rac­ing pro­gram — that a rider drafted in at the very end can run right up there with the fastest rally rid­ers and tough­est mo­tor­sport event in the world. ⌧

The tyres we race are the tyres you buy “[Mo­tor­sport] is young, it’s en­er­getic, it’s fun, there’s high en­ergy in it and it’s been in our blood. We’ve been do­ing this for more than 3035 years and it’s been a long jour­ney."

We’ve been do­ing For­mula 2000 for the past eight years

“The first time we started this, we didn’t know what to ex­pect. First we thought we will have it only in In­dia, then we thought we will take it abroad — it was a choice whether to take it to Asia or the Mid­dle East. Then we de­cided Mid­dle East would be a bet­ter des­ti­na­tion be­cause it had more For­mula 1 tracks and most of th­ese young drivers want to test and get an ex­pe­ri­ence of driv­ing on a For­mula 1 track. That’s why we went to Bahrain, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and some of those tracks are fan­tas­tic — the fa­cil­i­ties are good, they have night rac­ing. So they are world class fa­cil­i­ties and it’s a great op­por­tu­nity for the drivers to ex­pe­ri­ence such a fa­cil­ity. The drivers all are knock­ing on the doors of get­ting into big­ger cham­pi­onships and we’ve had some big names go­ing through our cham­pi­onships — Adrian Newey’s son, Mick Schu­macher — most of them in a cou­ple of years would be knock­ing on For­mula 1."

We’ve been work­ing on tyre devel­op­ment in motorsport­s for a long time,

“We have done so much devel­op­ment. It looks all black on the out­side but there’s so much tech­nol­ogy in­volved re­gard­ing com­pounds, con­struc­tion and every­thing. It’s been chang­ing and in each cat­e­gory we need to make an­other set of prod­ucts, an­other set of tyres, so it’s been quite a chal­lenge but it has been a big learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for us."

Top: Mo­tor­sport is a great way to en­ter new mar­kets says Arun Mam­men. Above: MRF’s ice rally tyres will be used in Scan­di­navia. Right: Xevi Pons com­pet­ing on MRF tyres in the Span­ish National Cham­pi­onship

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