The 41st edition of the Dakar Rally concluded on January 2019 and witnessed a lot of lot edge of the seat action. Hero MotoSports’ rider Oriol Mena finished the last stage of the rally at 17th position and landed up at the 9th position in the general standing in the world’s toughest rally bringing the team in the top 10 ranking this year. His teammate Joaquim Rodrigues completed the stage at the 12th position putting him 17th in the overall ranking. This is a really proud moment for Motorsport scene in India which still doesn’t get the limelight it deserves.
Flashback to January 6, the ceremonial flag-off of the rally from Lima, Peru was a great start for Hero MotoSports with CS Santosh finishing the stage at 20th position. His teammates Oriol Mena and Joaquim Rodrigues finished in 14th and 23rd positions respectively. Rodrigues was second to tackle the stage which was the same stage where he had crashed last year, while Oriol was the last to start for the team. After a long liaison of 247km, the short first special stage of 84 km was kicked off in reverse order from Lima to Pisco.
Oriol Mena had a small incident during the first stage, but he recovered soon. “Good day, today overall except for a small incident where I overlooked a small hole on the other side of the first dune and had a touchdown. Well, that’s how this Dakar has started for me, but I am safely back at the bivouac and that’s what matters. Tomorrow will be another day.”
The second stage was a bit tough on the team with CS Santosh dropping down to 37th position after facing some issues with the clutch. JRod too lost time due to some fuelling issue and finished the stage at 34th position. Oriol Mena maintained a good pace and ended the stage at 16th position.
On his second stage experience, CS Santosh said: “Day 2 for me started really well and I had a good rhythm going for the first 80-90 kms. Then on I started sensing some trouble with my clutch, and decided to ease off to make it to the finish line safely. Had a good stage today and now we fix the glitch and go racing again tomorrow.”
The 3rd stage of the Dakar Rally 2019 witnessed the riders battling fog, extreme terrain with intense heat and dry conditions covering a 798km mix of fast stretches and dunes with 331km of special stage. It was a day of mixed feelings for Hero MotoSports with Oriol Mena finishing the stage at an impressive eighth position while CS Santosh finished the stage at the 64th position owing to a wrong lens which cost him time as well as a few crashes. JRod lost some time at the beginning of the stage and then at a tricky waypoint that made him lose more time.
On losing his way and his experience in the third stage, JRod said: I spent most of the stage today at the back of the pack in the dust. I developed a decent rhythm soon and passed a lot of guys but then I got lost and had to find my way back. I recovered from that to again end up spending almost an hour in finding a tricky waypoint. Many guys lost time around that waypoint too. I think it was a hard day but the important thing is that I made it back to the end with my bike. Tomorrow will be a new start of a new day.”
The fourth stage was a 511km long marathon route from Mequegua to Arequipa. The ever-changing terrain and riding condition made the stage a challenge for the riders. The first half of the Marathon stage promised the competitors a mix of 70% soft terrain, fesh-fesh and about 30% of gravel and stony terrain. The enduro and cross-country skills helped Mena complete the fourth stage at the 11th position. Meanwhile J-Rod and CS Santosh treaded cautiously since there was no assistance from their team in case of a breakdown and ended the fourth stage at 30th and 51st position respectively.
Joaquim Rodrigues: “It was not easy for me to catch up in the first part today as I was riding mostly in the dust from the guys in front of me. So I decided to stay out of the risks and just tried to avoid the dust. After the neutralization, I got into a good stride in the technical sections and managed to gain some ground. I feel good to have reached the marathon bivouac with me and the bike in good condition.”
Stage five was tough on the Hero MotoSports team with CS Santosh crashing and suffering injuries between the waypoints 4 and 5, rendering him incapable of continuing the competition further. The blazing fast stage had Mena and J-Rod crash as well but they managed to complete the stage at 16th and 18th position respectively. While Mena’s crash cost him his bearings, J-Rod suffered injuries to his shoulders.
With CS Santosh out of the rally, Oriol Mena and J-Rod were the team’s only hope to make it to the top spot in the charts. Even after a big crash, Mena was determined and finished the sixth stage at 20th position and J-Rod concluded the stage at 30th position.
The seventh stage witnessed a commendable performance from the Hero MotoSports team with Oriol Mena finishing the stage at the 12th position following J-Rod at the 11th position. The stage comprised of gruelling sand dune sections and fesh-fesh making it a tough stage to dart through.
The eighth stage had the riders battle it out over a stretch of 575km. Battling a back injury along with all the fog and dust the stage had to offer, J-Rod made an impressive 12th position finish with Mena having a flawless ride through the stage and ending it at the 11th position. This also got Mena in the 10th overall ranking.
The Ninth stage of the rally commenced with a mass start in waves of 10 riders each. With a special 313km run, the stage had a 50-50 mix of dunes and soft gravel laden terrain. J-rod, still battling the back pain, also suffered a crash and managed to finish at the 19th position while Mena continued his streak and finished the stage at the 11th position, giving him a bump to the 9th position in the overall standing.
Catch all the action from the planet’s toughest rally here.
Words by Manaal Mahatme