Sherco TVS rider Aravind KP became the only Indian to complete the 2019 edition of the world’s toughest rally raid and the second Indian to complete the Dakar Rally. This was his third Dakar outing and he finished the rally in 37th place overall. Ed Sirish Chandran caught up with Aravind to chat about the latter’s Dakar experience this year, his training, the bike and more.
Sirish Chandran: Before going for the Dakar you must have set certain targets for yourself right? What were they?
Aravind KP: The target, just like previous years, was to finish the rally. I did not have any particular finish in mind, I was ready to finish anywhere in the line.
SC: You must have been under a lot of pressure, since you have taken part before, you have had crashes, you have injured yourself and there must have been pressure from the team also, how do you deal with all of that?
KP: I am very lucky to be a part of TVS Racing because I had no pressures in the previous years also and as well as this year. My boss made sure that I was under no pressure. He asked me not to see the standing and just see as to what I could do to make it to the finish line safely. So I went in with a clear mind and was simply interested in doing the best that I could do.
SC: How did you prepare differently this year?
KP: Preparation was the same, but we had more of mental preparation and training. But other than that the physical training includes a lot of cycling, gym, swimming, and physio. Other than that, we have many focus exercises which trains us mentally so that you are 100 per cent focused all the time and put your mind at ease while out there at the rally.
SC: Can you tell us more about the mental training aspect?
KP: It’s all about concentration exercises. We started with a one-minute concentration on whatever you see at your left or your right hand side. When you’re going through a normal day, you need to stop everything and focus on certain key things. You have to visualise yourself doing the rally and reading the roadbook.
SC: Talk us through the bike, what are the changes that it has gone through from the previous years?
KP: The tank is a little bigger, we can carry two extra litres of fuel. The engine produced more power, almost 60bhp while the gearbox was tweaked with shorter gear ratios. The overall weight of the bike has gone down. We were also given new tyres from Michelin with a softer compound and different pattern which was better suited for the dunes and the rest of the terrain.
SC: How was this years Dakar for you? Did the sand make it better for you and lesser places where you can hurt yourself?
KP: Because it was all sand, the Dakar was very demanding, more demanding than any other time. Just to keep the bike moving you need to have a lot of energy, and to keep the bike straight in soft sand is not an easy task. There are lot of places where it accentuates, in sections with huge boulders. It was very physically demanding. We had a few issues with the visibility which came down to less than 5 metres because of the fog which made navigation a lot more difficult.
SC: You’ve never had a problem with navigation right? Why is that? A lot of riders keep saying that they find navigation difficult. How have you been able to navigate so easy?
KP: I picked up navigation very fast. It’s all about having your confidence on the roadbook, there are places where you don’t really see the track and go, but if you follow the route, you may just make it to the next waypoint. I have more confidence on the roadbook, which is what keeps me navigating better.
SC: At the start of the first couple of days, you dropped quite a few places. What happened there?
KP: On the first day I had a malfunction in my brake system. I had to ride 250km without rear brakes which took a lot of time and I lost quite a few positions. The next day I couldn’t do much, because I was behind a few slow riders and there was lot of fesh-fesh. The dust would just stay there because there was no wind, making the visibility a problem. The fifth day I had a good run, but on the sixth day I had a problem with my roadbook. The switch of the roadbook stopped working, and I had to manually go through the roadbook which is where I lost time. 170kms into the ninth stage I had a small problem with the regulator which wasn’t charging the battery. The bike went off, and I had to put in a new one which we do carry as a spare. I had to find a jumper, restart the bike and get to the finish.
SC: How much time did you lose there?
KP: I lost close to 30-35 minutes trying to fix and change what was wrong. The problem was that I was stuck on top of the dune and had to bring the bike down to start working on it.
SC: Your training obviously involves being able to strip down and put the whole bike back together right?
KP: Yes, there are many things that we can fix by ourselves and we are given training for the same. Only the major issues such as the engines and such, we cannot do much about it. Other than that, a lot of small things such as the levers, the chain etc we can fix ourselves.
SC: Which were the best and worst stages for you at the Dakar?
KP: The fifth stage was the best stage, and the ninth was the worst since my regulator stopped working. The fifth stage I made close to 40 passes and I started really picking up some pace and riding faster. The ninth stage, apart from the regulator malfunction we could have made up pace to be inside the top 40 in that stage. The worst however, was the third were I lost my rear brake and made it very tiring.
SC: Entering the last stage, you were in the top 40, how did you feel when you got off the saddle finishing your first Dakar?
KP: Until you cross the finish line it’s not over. The last stage I was counting every kilometre. I was very happy to have gotten to this stage. Mixed emotions, I was happy, I started to feel light.
SC: What’s next on the list for you?
KP: We are planning to do a lot more races than last year but nothing is official yet. I am yet to have a meeting with TVS Racing and decide the calendar.
SC: Do you do a lot of training for riding in sand and where do you do such training to prepare for Dakar?
KP: For the sand, this year we went to Morocco and had our training there. Morocco is the best place, having all types of terrains which the Dakar can put you through.
SC: Do you any plans of taking part in events in India this year?
KP: I am yet to have a word with the team to know what all events are in the list.
SC: You have got experience of three Dakar races, you finished one Dakar successfully. How difficult is it for an Indian to break into the Dakar, just the sheer skill and level the Indian riders are at the moment?
KP: Indians start riding really late, but in foreign countries the kids start riding at the age of 4-5 and by the time we are 20 years old they already have a lot of experience. But we do have a lot of young kids who are into off-road racing, like supercross, motocross which is a very good sign. At the moment if a rider wants to come to an event like the Dakar, he/she should train for like 2-3 years and then try and get in. It’s not easy to prepare for what Dakar throws at you, it’s not easy.
SC: When you went to the Dakar for the first time, were you underprepared?
KP: I was prepared for it but the magnitude of the rally, I was not really aware that it would add on to that number of days. It is just lack of experience. Physically I was ready for I was still an amateur.
SC: You were not 100 per cent fit for this years Dakar, how did you overcome the wrist problem?
KP: It was in September that I broke my wrist, October and November I had another surgery. It was three weeks before Dakar that I started riding. I wore a special brace on my wrist, it was painful but sometimes you have to get through it. Once you are in that zone, you tend to stop thinking of it.
SC: From the first time you went to the Dakar and now, your strength, your endurance and riding ability has gone up by how much percent?
KP: This year I am among the strongest in the last ten years. Though, due to my injury, I did not have much time on the bike. I am with the right kind of programme and the right trainer, and its working well with us.
SC: How has TVS’ support been over the years?
KP: They have been supportive in all possible ways, it think they have gone out f the way to make sure I had the best trainer, best assessment, and was a in the best state of mind which played a very big role to stay calm and focused.