Dakar 2018 was murderous but CS Santosh lived to tell the tale

CS Santosh at Dakar Rally 2018 on Hero

This year’s Dakar Rally was an overwhelming onslaught of blood, sweat and tears on the racers. CS Santosh survived it and how!


CS Santosh has been India’s best rider for quite some time.  He’s been making breakthrough and making inroads into the world of rallying for quite sometime. Winning Raid at his first attempt, finishing in top 10 in World Cross Country Rally, and becoming the first Indian to finish Dakar in a respectable 36th place have all contributed to him raising the bar. But since then, he seems to have stalled for a bit. Make no mistake, he surely was making incremental improvements but nothing that would be considered a giant leap. And it has nothing to do with him not being able to improve on his P36 Dakar finish of 2015. This year however, he broke the loop and made an Olympian-envying leap and it still has nothing to do with the fact that he secured a personal best P34 finish at Dakar 2018.


The 34-year-old started Dakar better than anyone had imagined including Rocco – his loyal PR correspondents and best friends for life. Santosh secured his best ever stage finish – P13 – during stage 1 proving to all his doubters that he can keep pace with the top guys. However, things soon went south when the Hero rider slipped down the rankings in stage 3. A faulty oil cap saw him run out of fuel 30 kilometers short of the finish line. By the time he could finish the stage after borrowing fuel from other riders, Santosh had already lost more than an hour on the clock, ending his day in 57th place. Despite this major setback, he came back strongly chipping away little by little in every subsequent stage, sometimes making up as many as 6 positions in a single day, and ended the rally in a commanding 34th position. It’s this gutsy crawl back which showed his true character. In fact, CS Santosh’s entire career is built on breathtaking comebacks post uncharacteristic setbacks.


After suffering career-threatening third degree burns during a crash at 2013 World Cross Country Rally Championship, he returned a year later to finish the championship in top 10.


During his rookie year at Dakar, he finished the rally in 36th place with a broken toe.


A year later, in 2016, he rode last 40 km of his rally with one while holding his navigation tower in the other.


And it this very indomitable spirit which saw him jump up 20-odd places and finish in 34th position despite a few crashes and a slew of bad luck costing him nearly one and half hour.


CS Santosh at Dakar Rally 2018 on Hero
(Image Credit: Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool)

We recently had a chat with the 32-year-old to know what keeps him going, here’s what CS Santosh had to say:


Thoughts on Dakar 2018…


“It was the toughest one yet. But it was my best Dakar till date. I had two of my best stages this year. There were a few highs and lows but it was very good overall.”


What went wrong during stage 3…


“Fuel cap wasn’t sitting properly so I lost a lot of fuel. It was long 330km stage so we had to be precise with the fuel we need. And hence, I ran out 30 km ahead of the stage. I had to stop several times and took fuel from several different riders who were following down the order. Once, I even took help from a locality and borrowed a bit of fuel from him to make it to the finish line.”


What if that issue wouldn’t have happened…


“Remove the 1 hour and 20 minutes that I lost because of the faulty fuel cap and there’s a possibility I could’ve been in low 20s.”


Tough stage today – starting way back at 124 and a beach mass start with waves of 15 bikes! I held it together all way until the last kms before the finish where i was charging through the fesh-fesh and I hit a hidden rock and cartwheeled! It’s safe to say that I’m really lucky to have gotten back on the bike again. These are not the results I worked for but I continue fighting another day and wait for the tide to turn in my favour. @dakarrally is tough! . @heromotosports | @inredbull | @sidvinenergyengineering | @scottmotosports | @bigrockmotopark | @dosmotodesign . #fastindian #rally #dakar2018 #heromotosports #givesyouwings #sidvin #scottmotosports #dosmotodesign #mylife #life #lifeon2wheels #traveldiaries #instapic #newyear #dakar

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“I had two big crashes, both times just 15-20 minutes from the finish line. The first time, there was hidden rock in the middle which I didn’t notice. The second time, I was going through a section of double caution; I jumped and landed in river wash and hit my head on the handlebar. I was dazed and confused for a while.”


Recovery in the rankings…


“After the crashes, I had no clue in which position I was riding, I simply kept on riding my best and kept chipping away. I just made sure I finish the stages one after the other.”


On Hero…


“It’s a fantastic bike, no reliability issues at all. I had a few crashes but the bike stayed intact, the parts didn’t feel off, it kept on going. From speed point of view, it’s right up there, quite close to the top guys. The bike is really solid, as is. And we’ll be doing a lot more testing throughout the year and we’ll keep making minor tweaks and improvements.”


CS Santosh riding Hero Motorsport at stage 2 of Dakar Rally 2018
(Image Credit: Flavien Duhamel/Red Bull Content Pool)

Rest of the riding calendar…


I’ll be a doing a lot more racing in South America to be better prepared. Last year I practiced in Morocco, this year, I want it to be closer to Dakar conditions. As far as India is concerned, I’ll be doing the Desert Storm next. In next couple of weeks, we’ll chart out the calendar for the rest of the year.


Aim for Dakar 2019…


“I’ve already learnt everything – fitness, handling, reading road book, etc.; I just need to put it all together. I no longer want to just finish, top 20 is the target now.”


With his confidence and technique at an all time high and a machine to match his ability, a top 20 ranking at next year’s rally isn’t really a distant possibility. All that remains to be seen is how Santosh pulls everything together and trains towards sub-20 ranking at Dakar 2019 – his next breakthrough – his next rainbow.