“We want our customers to aspire and take pride that their company have attempted to take on the biggest challenge there ever is – the Dakar,” said Dr. Markus Braunsperger, CTO of Hero MotoCorp; as we had a chance to have a small conversation at the bivouac in La Paz. It was a rather relaxed day for the team, and when I say relaxed means not waking up in pitch darkness and heading out for the day but rather get the two Speedbrain 450s in prime condition for the forthcoming marathon stage that their riders Joaquim Rodrigues and C S Santosh would be taking on. There were some nerves in the tent as their entry into the city was welcomed by a horrendous hail-storm at the previous bivouac at Ururo, where the participants were covered in knee-deep muck.
Sitting next to him was the team director, Wolfgang Fischer, the man responsible of setting up the current HRC Dakar outfit and the erst-while BMW Motorrad Dakar operations where Markus too was a part of. I enquired as to what would be the realistic finishing positions now that the battle was half won. He maintained their early claim that this Dakar was just getting past the finish line. But he added, with a twinkle in his eye might I add, that he wouldn’t be too disappointed if they could crack into the top ten with J-Rod and hope that Santosh make up a ton of places. Joaquim was then eleventh and our Fast Indian had climbed up to 62nd from an early lowly position of 77th, courtesy of an hour and a half of penalty on missing a way-point.
Come Buenos Aires six days later and the team pulled out a stunner as Rodrigues had finally broken into the coveted tenth spot on his maiden attempt! He was ecstatic at the finish line as he couldn’t have hoped for a better start to his cross-country rallying career. There were some hairy moments as he had slipped down to 14th but a calculated ride in the penultimate stage he made up the required time gap to end his first Dakar in tenth.
To add to the celebrations, Santosh had cut his way through the pack and made up fifteen places over the course of the following six days. 2016 was a bit of a let-down after his Suzuki had broken down in the fourth stage itself, but to finish his second Dakar was a mighty relief. “It’s always a pleasure to reach the finish podium in the Dakar. It’s an incredible feeling. I am satisfied with my performance, though I would have loved to finish much higher up in the rankings. But this is the Dakar. I have learnt a lot working with this team and they delivered a very strong and a fast bike. I think we have some interesting days ahead of us,” said Santosh.
We will bring you an in-depth insight of the 2017 Dakar from Santosh’s perspective once he arrives back from his well-deserved break to the country.