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!
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