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The first time I went to the Dakar rally there were two brown-skinned people – Qatari champ Nasser Al-Attiyah driving for the then all-conquering VW team and I, the only Indian journo to report on the event. There were plenty of Chinese, the Russians were the team to beat in the trucks, but our country had zero representation; India was as far-flung as it could get.
Fast forward six years and we had two Indians riding for two Indian-backed teams in this year’s Dakar! Hero, astonishingly for it is only their debut year, finished in the top ten and even though Santosh finished in the low forties he still finished what was the toughest ever Dakar to be held in South America. Over at TVS, for the third year of their Dakar partnership with Sherco, the engagement was ramped up with a third bike for Aravind, that too spannered by an Indian mechanic. India might be very, very far away from South America – it took me 36 hours to get there! – but interest levels on both sides are on the rev limiter.
The Dakar wants more participation from India and putting their money where their mouths are, the ASO are going to offer a free entry to the winner of the India Baja rally (organised by Northern Motorsport this April in Rajasthan). This is not only for the 2018 Dakar but the preceding Merzouga rally in Morocco. If you needed any incentive to dust off that old Gypsy and hit the desert I can’t think of anything better. In fact, watching all the action at the Dakar has got me infected with the Rally Raid bug and I have sent in my entry form and have hunted for a rally-prepped Gypsy. Even my rally buddies think I’m mad to hit the ’Storm with zero experience of how to rally a Gypsy, but they also say the Gypsy never, ever breaks down. Time to find out!