“I still want to be the top guy in the world” says CS Santosh after Dakar 2019

“I still want to be the top guy in the world” says CS Santosh after Dakar 2019

CS Santosh after his crash at the Dakar 2019

The first Indian to take part in the Dakar, the first Indian to finish the Dakar, and the Indian that goaded two of India’s biggest motorcycle manufacturers to dive into the Dakar has just finished recuperating. Remember the pictures of CS Santosh, nose bloodied, face caked in mud after one of the many nasty spills on the 2018 Dakar? Remember those pictures of him still hustling his Hero MotoSports 450 rally bike despite the front end smashed to bit? Those images only cemented Santosh’s reputation for being hard as nails; yet the Dakar can bend the toughest of men.

There are no pictures to document it but the crash Santosh had on the 2019 Dakar was so heavy, so bad, that he was knocked out cold. Fellow Indian rider at the Dakar, Aravind KP was the third or fourth rider to arrive at the scene of the crash, and he didn’t mince words describing the crash. “It didn’t look pretty,” he told me. “He was lying on the ground and it didn’t look pretty. He didn’t know where he was, what was happening, which day of the race it was. He kept asking which stage is this, is this the marathon, where did we stay last night, he was going on and on and on and on.”

Though Santosh doesn’t remember the crash, he remembers Aravind helping him and he remembers asking the same questions over and over. “I have no recollection of those 40 minutes but they said I was really annoying,” says Santosh. “That I kept asking the same questions over and over again.”

I prod Santosh to piece things together. “I remember from the previous day when I was marking the roadbook, there was one place where it said for six kilometres to be cautious. I think this is where I crashed. I remember looking at it and it looked pretty flat. Before this part I remember seeing Pablo’s bike on the left hand side and I was like ‘Why has he stopped? Maybe he had a mechanical issue’. But he also had a crash. That’s the last thing I remember seeing.”

Aravind corroborates that. “When I saw him I though if it was a crash he wouldn’t be able to continue. It was on the high speed section and it was so deceptive in the sun. Everything looks flat. And immediately after the crash was a double caution, he must have jumped the gap and hit the other side.”

Santosh picks up the story, “From what I was told, there were some really big holes which could have made the desert look flat. So I think I hit something really fast and my face went into the tower and it knocked me out. I just thought that I just crashed and then the guy in the helicopter told me that I was there for about 40 minutes.”

How badly was he beaten up? “It’s strange because by back was hurt and my body wouldn’t let me use my core. It would go into a shock and all the muscles would go into spasm. It was incredibly painful and it’s something to do with the nerves. There was nothing I could do to get back on the bike.”

I have what it takes

The crash left put him in hospital in Peru for ten days and then he flew to Spain where he slowly started to walk. And it all happened after his strongest start to the Dakar. “I had a bit of speed this year, that’s very cool for me. This year, I finished the first stage in the top 20, when the field was stacked. In the second day I had problems after 100km but nobody caught me in the first 100km. Guys like Pedrero and Santolino were behind me. The whole point for me this year was to be competitive. The motorcycles today in Dakar are extremely competitive and it’s not like 2015 when I finished the Dakar. There were barely four or five guys who were extremely fast. Today, you have five factory teams and every guy is coming from a world enduro championship background. My only goal was to go up there and show the world that I am competitive and I have momentum on my side and I feel very confident. I want to push that barrier now in the next two years.”

With Speedbrain and Hero MotoSport pushing development Santosh also had a very good bike at this year’s Dakar. “I had a lot of confidence with the bike in dunes. You can jump stuff, you could hit stuff. The frame was so predictable and you just knew where the bike would go. The thing is that the bike looks same but they have used a different frame. We use a different rake, different triple clamps, different suspension setting with different linkage. The motor was also an improvement because we changed the airbox. It has a lot more power and we are able to use the added power in the dunes without going through high revs. In the low-mid range it still has torque so the bike can stay on top of the sand which is good.”

A fast bike and his own speed meant Santosh was in the top 20 finish on the first stage but technical troubles hit him almost immediately. “When I finished the first stage I had some problems with the clutch. I think I was a little aggressive with the clutch when I tried to follow Kevin [Benavides, the works Honda rider] around. The next day when I started, it felt kind of funny and I didn’t use my clutch at all as it started to slip. After 80km I couldn’t be at a full rpm because the clutch would slip. So from then on to finish the stage in 37th place was quite difficult for me.”

Mighty tough

The real trouble started on the third day. “I really fucked up. I was determined to have a good stage [but] the wrong goggle and wrong lens had set me back. When the lens is mirrored and the lens is just dark, it’s two different things. The mirror lens, what it does is, it doesn’t dissipate water. So I had a really tough time in the low light conditions especially in yellow lens. One thing led to another, I really had a bad day and then I crashed. Sand got into my goggles and the goggles was scratched up. From then on it was a stage that got bad to worse. I reached at 10pm, worked on my road book and went to sleep at midnight. The next day I started early and I was tired but I felt good in the stage and made some time up. I was tired when I reached the marathon bivouac but I slept really well, woke up next day and I was feeling good. I just felt I was doing well and the next thing I know was the race was over.”

The extent, the seriousness, of Santosh’s crash can be gauged by Aravind KP’s reaction. “I couldn’t ride after that that,” confessed Aravind. “I was scared. I went slow that whole day. That was the day I was going fast, until then I was going slow, and I asked myself did I chose the wrong day to go fast? Mentally I was in a bad state. I took the entire day to recover.”

As for Santosh he has taken almost two months to recover but he’s okay now and is waiting for his bike to get ready to start riding again. Plans for 2019? “Speed. That’s my only pursuit now. I have been working a lot now and I believe I can achieve top 20. It takes mental strength. I need to believe my own ability. The goal remains the same and I still want to be the top guy in the world.”

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