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Dakar Challenge set to herald a new era in Indian Motorsports

“For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back.” Thus rang the famous words of Barack Obama, in his last speech as the President of the United States. The words many feel hold true for the fortunes of Indian motorsport and its legion of fans as well. So if the feats of stalwarts like Naren Karthikyean and Karun Chandok on the track and CS Santosh off it were great steps forward, the exit of the F1 bandwagon from India was certainly a step back.
However, Northern Motorsport, pioneers of such off-road Indian motorsport marquees such as the Rally Desert Storm, Summer sprint and National Autocross championship, have again decided to inject some spunk back into the motorsport space, by pulling off a coup of sorts with the second edition of the India Baja 2017.

Photo from season 1 of India Baja

The two wheeler section of the second edition of this cross-country rally, scheduled to begin against the backdrop of the exotic Jaisalmer dunes during the second April weekend, is now officially India’s first rally to be anointed as a Round of Dakar Challenge. This translates into the winner’s direct entry into the Merzouga Rally Raid in Morocco as well as the hallowed Dakar Raid in early January next year, putting India firmly back on the global motorsport map, from which it seemed to have slipped out in the interregnum.
The association with Dakar and with France’s Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), the French media giant which manages premium global sports events like the Dakar and the Tour de France among others, have already elevated the profile of the India Baja substantially with top cross-country rallyists from across the world, many of whom are among top 20 finishers at the Dakar, and from India queuing up to test their skills in Jaisalmer. For them, the Dakar and ASO association means testing themselves against the best global standards.
There will be prominent participation from Dakar Rally competitors with Hero Motorsports being represented by Portoguese Joaquim Rodrigues who finished overall 12th at the Dakar Rally 2016. He will be strongly contested by TVS racing team which has the likes of French Rider – Adrien Metge who stood overall 22nd at the Dakar Rally. Adrien will be accompanied by Arvind KP – a Dakar rookie and national rally champions in the form of R. Nataraj and Abdul Vahid Tanveer who will be looking to make the most of this opportunity to book a place in the next edition of Dakar Rally.

The competition will also be gender agnostic with the entry of Indian prodigy Sarah Kashyap who recently completed the Rally Desert Storm and she is also the only Indian woman in the 17 years of existence of the Raid – de –himalaya to complete the rally.
That is what an international sports event can do for a country. It brings in the stars, which brings in global media attention, which in turn brings tourists in by the incremental millions, attracted not only by competitive sport, but also by the beautiful and exotic virgin locales on display. The positive economic upturn of such global events can never be underestimated.
No doubt the over 630 km across two legs and six stages journey of the India Baja 2017 will be treacherous and gruelling to say the least. But the journey, towards which it will potentially take Indian motorsports towards, will no doubt be even more rewarding than the 20,000 odd-Euros that the two-wheeler winner will be reprieved off at the India Baja.
In lieu of this one of a kind event Raj Kapoor, Co Founder of Northern Motorsport said,

“Our goal, in the short term, is to create value for all stakeholders while creating an environment to engage with more and more people. People show interest while the event is on but there are not many who become genuine long term followers. Thus, the right amount of information needs to be propagated at the right time.” He added, “Individuals like CS Santosh have done a phenomenal job in helping promote the sport but one person cannot do everything. A proper ecosystem, that nurtures and develops young talent, is what is needed. We are trying to create the required spike to help generate interest and momentum, be the catalyst to achieve the required results.” 

With India increasingly playing host to top quality international sport in all disciplines, the recently held World Cup for Shooting and the Indian Open Badminton being a case in point, it is heartening for motorsport enthusiasts that their passion has once again found a place in India’s international sporting calendar at home.
Here’s hoping that at the end of the India Baja 2017, CS Santosh, the brand ambassador of the competition, who had won the India Baja crown last year. The 33-year-old and the only Indian to finish the Dakar Rally twice, which is considered to be the most challenging and toughest off-road motorsport event in the world does not just have only Arvind KP for company, but there is an Indian ‘crowd’ soon at Dakar, with a third Indian booking his tickets for Peru in January 2018.

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