11 Months ago
Heromotosports - CS Santosh

Visualise this. You are the only Indian racing at the world’s toughest race, riding through sand dunes, river beds and salt flats. The inhospitable weather with temperature ranging from sub-zero to 45 degrees Celsius doesn’t help either. And, you go on this road for 14 days. This was CS Santosh in 2015 when he took on the Dakar Rally for the first time, a feat unheard of in a country of billions.

CS Santosh is a lot of things, but most importantly he is a provocateur. He will be participating at the Dakar 2019 for the fifth time, a record on its own for an Indian. "The Dakar takes an element of lunacy,” as he would say. But how much do you really know about this Bangalore-based rider?

Here are 7 things that you may or may not know about CS Santosh:

(i) His 34th finish earlier in 2018 was not only his best outing at Dakar, but it also made him the first Indian to have finished the infamous race three times. To give you a big picture idea of what it means to finish at Dakar – 2018 saw 139 riders take on the challenge in the moto category with only 85 of them making past the finish line.

(ii) Going back in time, it was Sabeer Bhatia, the founder of Hotmail and an alumni of Santosh's school in Bangalore, who inspired the latter to pave an uncharted course for himself in life. “When I was in school, I wanted to be the next Sabeer Bhatia. I used to think, 'Wow, this guy is really cool.' I knew I wanted to do something adventurous in life and when I got a motorcycle to go to college it was just pure freedom for me,” he told ESPN.

Heromotosports - Rally Bike

Santosh says he can't remember what stage he was riding when it happened. The crash. The one that left him with a blood-streaked face, and swollen lips. Since he says it was the same stage on which Adrien van Beveren crashed I conclude it was Stage 10. He'd had a pretty good run as the rally progressed from Salta to Belen even passing a few riders, like Olivier Pain who would finish the Dakar 29th, along the way. At one point, Santosh says he looked down at his roadbook and saw a double caution marked out along a 4km piste section. But then he made the mistake of reading the terrain with his eyes, and not relying on the roadbook. After all there was just 15km to go before the neutralisation. The memories are then a little hazy.

(iii) It wasn’t until he was 17 when Santosh got the first taste of off-roading. Always an adventure seeker, he got a second-hand TVS Shaolin when in college. Riding that bike on empty grounds and dry lake beds is when he discovered his love for the sport.

“When you are riding, you are often in that zone, when you are in control, then out of control, then in control, and then out of control... to be flirting with that edge, I really liked that, and it kind of stuck with me,” recalls Santosh. The rest is history.

(iv) In 2013, Santosh suffered an unfortunate fatal fire accident which almost cost him his life. With third degree burns, it took Santosh a long recovery period that kept him out for the whole year. “It was a big reality check. I thought it was all over. I had second thoughts of whether to continue or not,” he would recall.

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However, being the pathbreaker that he is, he wasn’t going to give up. He came back stronger with more grit and confidence the following year, winning the Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm in his maiden attempt. “But I love this sport and the motorcycle. It’s the stuff that infuses life in me. How can I even think of leaving it all behind?” said Santosh. The scars from the incident on his neck are still prominent and deep.

(v) As many would often say, while the Dakar is unforgiving on its own, making it to the startling line is perhaps tougher than the finishing line. Especially for a privateer who was going to be the first from his country to be doing so.

“From the visas to motorcycle registration to insurance to flight tickets, I had to take care of everything,” he recalls. “And when you invest that kind of money, it is extremely important that you go there and at least finish the race.”

Participation at the Dakar cost Santosh about €100,000 (Rs75 lakh now) which he raised with the help of his friends and family.. Santosh finished the race in the 36th position and that too in his maiden attempt. It can’t get bigger than this for lone Indian at the toughest race on the planet!

(vi) As far as racing rituals are concerned, Santosh makes sure he is always carrying his mother’s watch. He finds it to be bringing him good luck. The other ritual that he maintains before he goes out for a long day of racing is that he starts gearing up from the right boot, and then everything else follows.

(vii) From being the only Indian rider at Dakar, Santosh has not only inspired his countrymen to level up the off-roading competitions at home, he has always paved a path for other riders to follow his trail.

“When I did my first Dakar, I was the only Indian guy. But when you're the only person in something, you're sort of an endangered species and it's not good for the ecosystem. Now, there's Aravind K P, who will also be participating in his 3rd Dakar and the only other Indian to take the start this year. I hope there're more of us because there's lot of space for me, him and everybody else."

Follow C S Santosh’s journey with Hero Motosports Team Rally as we prepare to #RaceTheLimits in Peru.