Privateer Ashish Raorane set to make his debut at the Dakar Rally, says “the dream started five years ago”
As told to Sirish Chandran
Ashish Raorane will be the third Indian rider after CS Santosh and Harith Noah to participate in the 2021 Dakar Rally that’s set to take place in Saudi Arabia for the second straight year. Ashish began rallying much later than most aspirants would, at the age of 35. His first single day rally was at the INMRC but “The 2016 Desert Storm was a real eye-opener for me”, says Ashish.
This year however has been tough for most of us. Marine engineer by profession, Ashish followed a disciplined physical training schedule, even while sailing on the ship. “We always focus on stability, endurance and strength”, quotes Ashish as he is set to enter the world’s most gruelling and physically demanding rally.
He also takes us through his steed for Dakar which is the KTM 450 Rally Replica. “It’s the motorcycle that most privateers want” thanks to its brilliant chassis that lends the motorcycle with excellent straight line stability and its “cornering capabilities are phenomenal”. That said, the KTM has been designed in a way that you can stick plenty of tools on the motorcycle itself.
Here’s the full interview:
Sirish Chandran: How was your preparation like for the Dakar 2021?
Ashish Raorane: I would have meant to prepare a lot more and have a lot more time with the motorcycle but this year has been crazy. The first six months I spent on the ship because I couldn't get back. There were no flight options. I returned in August, then I started exploring some options to get to Europe because I got the bike in Spain and that was done in May, hoping I would get back on the bike in a month or so. But that didn't work out. Eventually, when I got back in August, I started checking and there were no embassies open and after a lot of communications with the French Embassy and ASO, on 30th October I was handed a travel permit. The first week of November, I was in Spain and I trained for about two weeks on the bike. That was the first time I was riding a Rally Replica, so far I have only competed on my Enduro bike. Then we had room to rush to get the bike ready and I had two days left to get to France on December 1 to drop the bike in Marseille. I could only make it on December 3 which was the last day of dropping the bikes. We pretty much spent November 30, December 1 and 2 working late night in the workshop, getting the bike prepared. Because I was delayed, I missed the truck that was gonna take my bike to Marseille. So I had to drive 700km back to France and then I drove back again to Spain. So the adventure began quite a long time ago for me
SC: Who all are the guys who are supporting you in Europe?
A: I have Bigbadbikes supporting me. They have been with me for a very long time. Then we have got Leatt and Garene. Dosmoto design has been doing all the groundwork for me as well. Slipstreamperformance takes care of motorcycles in India.
SC: In Europe do you have any on-ground support, in terms of technical and training?
A: I am training with Jordi Grau, who is also part of Hero MotoSports. He runs the Big Rock team, so Santosh was there as well. We were kind of training together. I was using his workshop. Jordi is very experienced when it comes to Dakar. He is himself a mechanic. So he helped me build the bike and also train on working on the bike. Also, being an engineer myself it helps. It is easier to understand things and work on machines.
SC: What does Jordi think of you attempting the Malle Moto class?
A: He thinks it's quite a good way to go. Also, in terms of budgets and hiring a service team at a cost, I think for a privateer it's also a good way to go. If you manage the race properly, it's not all that hard. But of course if something goes wrong then it can be tough for anyone, even the ones who have the best service support
SC: For the Malle Moto class, I suspect your fitness levels have to be even better than the guys who were doing it with factory support? What have you been doing for your fitness and getting ready physically?
A: Whenever I am on the ship, I obviously don't have access to motorcycles and that’s when I spend most of my time completing my fitness training. I have been working towards it for a few years now. We always focus on stability, endurance and strength. So these are the three aspects we split into the week. On the weekends we do like 100km of cycling or three hours of cardio and then some stability training that I do pretty much everyday. When I was in Spain, Santosh and I were training on endurance trying to keep the heart rate really high for an hour. So we were training for hours on the motocross tracks.
SC: Training with Santosh, where do you reckon your paces with regards to him?
A: I have a long way to go before I catch up with him. We are both evolving in rallies. If I compare myself now to what Santosh did last year, it's different from where I am today and where Santosh is today because he is also constantly evolving. There is still a big gap, I need to catch up and also I think apart from that it is the way we approach the race. Because Santosh, in the end, is a factory rider and he is able to take different risks. I can't afford that, especially in the Malle Moto class. For me it’s more of managing the race and not taking big risks.
SC: In terms of events that you've done leading up to this, what were the highlights?
A: The Baja Championship last year was very good for me in terms of getting comfortable with the race environment because that was four rounds in different countries and each race was very different. And definitely the Africa Eco Race that I did in January 2020 opened my eyes to marathon rally kind of throws at you. For the Dakar, I am hoping it's not gonna be like a punch on the face even though it's my first Dakar, I know what to expect and what level it's gonna be in terms of handling the time and handling the race by itself. That was a good decision to do the Africa Eco Race. It also gives an insight on where I need to improve to get to the Dakar this year.
SC: On a level of one to ten, where are you in terms of your prep?
A: I would say 8.
SC: Which is not bad!
A: Which is not bad, yeah. I wouldn't say it's bad but there is always scope for improvement and if I had a month more, I would have been able to achieve more. But in the end, I think, I am satisfied with what I have done, given the circumstances and that is why I am in a good mental state going into the race. Given everything that has happened through the year and the challenges and all the restrictions with travel, just to be here now, I am knowing what I have been able to achieve in terms of prep and I am going in with a good mindset that way.
SC: This dream, where did it start?
A: It started five years ago. I already started off-roading six years ago on an adventure motorcycle and the first single day rally were the INMRC rounds that I did which was basically where I was taken there by a friend because they wanted to form a class of adventure bikes. But I think something clicked at that event and after that started researching and started rallying. It took me about a year and a half , I did the Raid de Himalaya, the India Baja event first edition and then the Desert Storm following that two-months later. I think the Desert Storm is where I started thinking of doing international rallies but also the realization that I have to really work hard to be able to do that, in terms of both fitness as well as my skill levels. The 2016 Desert Storm was really the eye-opener for me.
SC: How has the journey been to where you are right now? If somebody else wants to follow in your footsteps, what should he/she look out for and is there a path that everybody else can follow now?
A: I wouldn't say it's difficult, I think you just need to be consistent and chalk out your path. In terms of how you're going to manage that to get to the Dakar, instead of saying that next year I am going to go to the Dakar. It's better to chalk out your races and set yearly goals in what races you want to do and how you want to perform in them. I started on a dirt bike at 35, if I can make it here in five years I am sure anybody else can do it. It is definitely a financially demanding sport, anyone who is starting at this point of time and is settled in life can understand the finances behind it. I think if you stay consistent, stay true to what you are doing, people and brands will also respond to you.
SC: Talk us through your motorcycle for this year.
A: I am rallying on the 2019 KTM 450 Rally Replica. I bought it second hand.. I have worked on it to renew the parts that we thought were necessary to renew before the rally. It's a motorcycle that most privateers want, for the very fact that KTM probably is the only company that gives you the Rally Replica, sold to the third party. Basically, it is easy to buy and additionally KTM has a parts truck at the Dakar. You pay your access fee for the truck and you can then go and buy the parts that you don't have on you or you break during the rally.. It offers a lot of those advantages and it's also proven to be very reliable over the years.. It's a natural choice for most privateers and if you just look at how many KTMs out of those 130 motorcycles that are there. It is usually 80-90 KTMs out of those 130.
SC: In terms of working on the bike, you have learned to do everything yourself. What can you not do?
A: I think leaving the engine and working on it in terms of changing engine parts, everything else I can pretty much tackle. In any case I registered in the Malle Moto where the engine swap is not allowed. Whatever would be needed and would be allowed within rules, I can do on the motorcycle.
SC: What can you do in this class?
A: Leaving out the engine, you can pretty much work on the entire bike. Only that you cannot get any external help, so basically a competitor is allowed to help you. Someone within the Malle Moto , any of the 34 competitors can assist me. No one from outside. Leaving working out on the engine or swapping the engine, you can pretty much work on everything else. They also offer you support in terms of tyre changes. There is a Michelin, BF Goodrich tyre centre setup. Essentially, you just need to take your wheel and mousse and they would swap it for you.
SC: Do they carry the tyres for you?
A: We have three sets, one which is on the motorcycle brand new now, a set of wheels with the tyres on and another set of tyres. So basically we have six tyres that we would carry and most Malle Moto Competitors instead of going with three sets would go with two fronts and four rears.
SC: Do you know any of the other Malle Moto competitors?
A: I know at least five to eight of them because in the last few years I have raced with them at different rallies and met them at the Baja’s, most of them did the Baja championship last year so there are quite a few familiar faces there.
SC: So, you are all out there to help each other out?
A: Yes, everybody is running their own races, so people help within reason. Within camp, if someone asked me for my help and I did have time for it, if I am standing next to them I would definitely do that. But it is generally something you can't do by yourself because the things are heavy or you are struggling with putting the tire on or getting the chain onto the tire or changing a wheel. You know that kind of help, but again if you have a major problem, you can't expect other competitors to stay awake with me till six in the morning.
SC: What all are you allowed to carry on the bike with you?
A: You are allowed to carry spare parts and tools. There is no restriction on tools in what you can carry on the bike. It comes down to managing weight and you just don't want to carry the whole tool box. The Rally Replica comes with a very smart toolbox that fits under the seat. You carry spares generally you might need like handbrake lever or clutch lever. Most people carry one fibre disc for the clutch because if the clutch blows, you just add an additional disc and then you can get to the end of the stage. you also carry the master links for the drive chain. Generally, you try to stick these things on the various places on the motorcycle itself so you are not carrying them on you and it doesn't weigh you down. It's very strategically placed on the bike with cable ties and then you carry an injector as well.
SC: Riding this bike, how different is it from the enduro bikes that you rode before?
A: Yes. It's a day and night difference. It's a heavier bike than the enduro bike, but it is so stable because it is built for speeds. And, given the size and weight of the bike, it still corners and handles better than the enduros. So, that is something KTM has really nailed. When I rode it, the first few days, every time I dropped the bike in a corner, I just said wow to myself because I couldn't believe what the bike was able to do. How she corners and how low you can actually drop the bike in a corner and it's phenomenal. Straight line stability is also incredible. Normally, once you start hitting 140kmph on an enduro bike and it's very unsettling and it's very clear that the chassis is not built for that kind of speed. But with the rally bike you can just do 165kmph and you just sit there and it's like sitting on a sofa. It's so stable.