CS Santosh’s second attempt at conquering Dakar was short-lived, as he retired after problems on his bike. But the Indian is determined to complete unfinished business, as he reveals to Motorsport.com's Rachit Thukral.
In 2015, Santosh became the first Indian rider to take part in the gruelling Dakar rally, propelling his Dakar-spec KTM bike to a respectable 36th place finish.
After an extensive training regime in Spain, Santosh returned to Argentina this year astride a Suzuki 450 Rally.
However, his outing was plagued with mechanical issues and on the fourth day, a broken navigation tower, followed by a short-circuit, caused terminal stalling of his bike.
While India’s highest prolific cross-country rider returned empty handed from Dakar, his troubles haven’t dampened his spirits. In fact, he’s even more determined to realize his full potential.
How did testing go astride the Suzuki rally bike?
CS SANTOSH: To be honest I never really had a [proper] test with the rally bike. So that hampered my preparations for Dakar. I had a lot of surprises when the rally kicked-off and the lack of run on the bike meant I developed a lot of problems.
You made a slight mistake in the prologue. But since then you were recovering and gaining positions everyday. Take us through your Dakar outing.
CS: Last year I made a cautious start and got pushed all the way back. So this year I was really aggressive from the first day.
In the briefing, [five-time Dakar winner and sporting director] Marc Coma himself said that there is a water crossing but the water is not very deep in the prologue.
But when I came across the water crossing, the water seemed very deep and I remembered what Coma said. Me and a few other top guys did what Coma said and got caught out.
Thereafter, it took a lot of time to get going. I had to use tools to open the bike, whereas on the KTM I could do it with hands. So I lost a lot of time on the first day itself. But I realized that it was not the end of Dakar, but the beginning.
In the next couple of days, I realized that the bike wasn’t performing at the level I was expecting. It was lacking in top speed etc. I was struggling every day and I think I only had one good day. But I guess that’s how Dakar is.
On the fourth day, you had problems from the very beginning, and it culminated in an unfortunate retirement…
CS: The Suzuki was underpowered, but rain negated the power difference. I started the stage and in the first 10 km someone crashed very hard. I stopped, called for a helicopter and spent 25m waiting. By that time everyone I had passed during the previous two-three days passed me back.
Then the navigation tower broke. I blew my exhaust and also encountered problems with the electrical systems and the wiring.
During the whole stage, the bike kept breaking down, before stopping completely towards the end of the stage, some 500 metres away. I spent an hour fixing it. Finally, I pushed it across and completed the stage.
Had the problem with the navigation tower and subsequently the electricals not occurred in the marathon stage, was there a chance that it could be fixed?
CS: I think if it didn’t happen in the marathon stage, there was some hope. This time in the marathon stage, you are allowed only half an hour.
What did the team say and your other teammates considering none of the Suzuki riders made it to the chequered flag?
CS: We all encountered some problem or the other. The expectations I had weren’t met.
In hindsight, was it the right decision to move to Suzuki, given a lacklustre showing from the Japanese manufacturer?
CS: I think it was the right decision. It’s a small team, but a good one. The standard bike is good, but the rally bike needs to be developed further, which requires a bit more of investment.
There is a feeling that this year’s Dakar was simply not tough enough for the participants. What’s your take on this?
CS: This time the Dakar didn’t really feel like Dakar. The four-five days I was there it didn’t feel like Dakar at all. The stages were really easy. Dakar is supposed to be the toughest rally, but there was a general consensus among all the riders that it wasn’t enough. The stages weren’t challenging enough and many of them were cancelled or cut-shortened.
For next season would you like to stick with Suzuki, or look for other manufacturers? KTM we understand is expensive, but what about Honda?
CS: We’ll see what happens for Dakar next year. I have a burning desire to go back to Dakar now and realize my potential. I want to be a top rallying rider. Maybe next year we can get a good result.
What other rallies will you take part in this year, both in India and abroad?
CS: This year I’m doing the India Baja. Then there’s the Desert Storm in Rajasthan. Internationally, I’m planning to do Rally Morocco to better prepare for Dakar.