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TG chats to CS Santosh, first Indian in Dakar
Obsession is a tricky customer. To be wholly besotted with something can either be a very good thing, or the exact opposite. It can spur one on to do the unthinkable - which, by nature, can be constructive, or decidedly destructive. In the case of Bangalore boy and Indian motocross supremo Chunchunguppe Shivashankar Santosh - also CS Santosh for the sake of my fingers - obsession can also take you to the Dakar. Yes, it's finally official: he's headed to the wildly-varying climes and terrifyingly inhospitable terrain of Argentina, Chile and Bolivia at the beginning of 2015.
Santosh has been around for quite some time now. He started racking up titles almost a decade ago, and on his enduro motorcycle, won pretty much everything there was to win on the off-road moto scene, not just in India, but also in Sri Lanka. 2012 was the year when Santosh decided to participate in the Raid de Himalaya. To prove that he's an ace rider, he also decided to win it in his maiden outing. The only way from there, quite clearly, was the one that would put him on the international stage.
A year later, CS was in a hospital, being treated for third-degree burns. Things went a bit wrong with his Suzuki at the 2013 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, and he was running in 15th, not too far from the finish line when his bike set him alight.
Cut to 2014. In the final standings of the 2014 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, there's a familiar name in tenth. CS Santosh, it reads. Obsession's quite something, see.
Returning to professional racing from an accident of that sort wouldn't have been an easy thing, surely?
'To be honest, it wasn't tough for me at all. The injuries are more mental than they are physical. These are just cosmetic', says Santosh, pointing at the gruesome scars on the side of his neck. 'But, even when I was in that hospital bed, I don't think I ever doubted the fact that I'd come back and do it. It was a freak accident, one of those things that'll never happen again.'
'Hopefully', adds the tall, athletically-built Bangalore boy, mindful of not jinxing himself.
It's been a successful return for the lad: he finished ninth overall in the 2014 FIM Cross-Country World Championship, and these outings have prepped him for a shot at the most treacherous, gruelling, and frankly frightening rally raid known to man.
After years of toil, CS has made it. On January 4, 2015, he will write himself into the history books as the first Indian to participate in the Dakar. To get there, he had to address the elephant in his room - sponsors. A crore and a half rupees is what he needed to just be able to be a part of the rally. Did that, at any point, make him doubt his chances of making it to South America?
'I knew it would happen this year, it's just that it took me a full year to collect all the required funds. Signing up with PB Racing India means I don't have to worry about money for the next one year, and teaming up with Red Bull gives me access to the sort of infrastructure that I needed. For the last two years, I've been trying to raise money and ride at the same time, which wasn't working out too well, but now, I can concentrate on being an athlete', is CS' reply.
The good news is that CS will be riding for the KTM Factory B-team, and, as a result, will pilot the 450 Rallye Replica, the same bike that's won Marc Coma multiple Dakar titles.
Not too long ago, TVS Racing announced its decision to enter the Dakar with Sherco Motorcycles, but CS was not in its scheme of things. I mention that to him, and he smiles and says 'You should've asked them about it.'
'TVS and I severed ties three years ago. My aspirations were different from theirs - I wanted to do something on the international level. From the time I left TVS, I wanted to be at the Dakar eventually, and obviously wanted to do it with the best bike', he adds rather bluntly. Quite concise and clear with his reasons, is CS.
What are his expectations from his first Dakar, then?
'The Dakar throws the unexpected at you. I'm hoping it's not too different from what I've encountered in cross-country racing, but it's a lot longer, and a lot of things can go wrong. The first time's very important, you gain as much experience as you can, and then utilise it the next time you go there. To finish the Dakar in your first attempt is an achievement in itself, so I just want to bring the bike back in one piece.'
A lot longer really is a lot. A ride spanning 9,295km over 13 days is what awaits CS in South America. And, he's right. Things can go wrong. Last year, 196 riders started the Dakar. Only 78 finished it. That's half the grid failing to finish.
Fitness is key to him making it to the finish line. 'I'm doing a lot of endurance training, riding the bike for prolonged periods, cycling and just trying to be as fit as I can. You don't want to feel tired or fatigued when you're in the thick of it. Staying fit means one less thing to worry about.'
CS leaves for the most daunting challenge of his life (yet) on the 27th of this month. I ask him when does he return from the Dakar, which ends on January 17. 'Hopefully on the 18th or 19th. I just want to finish it. I don't want to come back midway through the Dakar.'
For the sake of his obsession, undying spirit and sheer bloody-mindedness, I hope so, too.