The 2017 Merzouga Rally marks one year since CS Santosh started riding for the Hero MotoSports Team Rally outfit. We caught up with team manager, Wolfgang Fischer, to see how the Indian rider has progressed and what the way forward is.
On CS Santosh's progress thus far
WF: Well, before we started one year ago with Hero MotoSports together, I know him [CS Santosh] from his very first rally that he was doing. I think it was 2013 in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. He came there like a complete rally rookie, and standing on the side of our former team, asking questions. And it was nice to see a new face and a new countryman from a new continent. It was nice to answer his questions, get him introduced in the sport and help him a little bit, giving him hints. But he had a hard time in the first race and also the accident. From that point on we have been in contact and met from time to time when he was doing other races, then his first Dakar also. Finally, when we started to plan in the team, beginning of the last season, he was the first guy to call and ask if he want to come to our new team. We have seen his will and his ambition to go through this part and also his toughness to survive this hard moments you have there. Also, finishing his first Dakar was a good reference for us to give him the call. It was a logical step to start this project together.
On their faith in Santosh's ability to learn
WF: Yes, the main thing is that as a rider you can learn fast and don't repeat mistakes. Because everything is about avoiding mistakes. You can be a fast rider but if you are not having the package together, and the navigation, it's not good. You need to not always keep going to the ground, not crashing, and keeping your mind always alert and concentrated - that makes a good rally rider. It's much more than riding a fast motorbike. This is the point that we believe in him and what we see in him from when we have started working together. From last year he still has the will to learn and to improve, to train and to show that he can still make steps forward. And this is important.
On the areas that Santosh needed to focus on
WF: In general, it's doing races what is needed the most. Doing more races, doing more international races. Only when you race, you get more experience and confidence in doing your navigation, navigating just by yourself is something very important. Doing a good training programme and good physical training, to keep the concentration, is something he was working himself quite a bit last year which was important. He was also spending a few months in Europe training last year, and come back this year, so these are all elements together helping him come forward.
On how quickly Santosh has grown as a rider
WF: If you see, also here in the Merzouga Rally, which is having a lot of riders in the top 20, Santosh's top 15 level, which is a really good level. And if you see compared to his fellow country mates, he is a level above them.
On the goalposts and targets they have set Santosh
WF: The first is always arriving safe because if you make mistakes, or trying to push too hard, you are losing the safety and you crash, that is what we don't want. The injury that he had in the Desert Storm was not his mistake; it was just an unlucky situation. You over push your limits or you are getting tired too early because you are not physically in good shape, these are the things that you really want to avoid. And he has achieved that he is getting more fit, more concentrated, making less mistakes. And automatically with this, comes better results. Because with less mistakes, you don't lose time with navigation, by searching for way points, getting penalties. And doing that all together, when we saw now in Dakar, there is a level of 30-40 riders who are in a high level, and to be in top 20-30, you really need to be very good rider and this is the goal to continue and achieve and maybe to be in top 20 in the future.
On Santosh's training regimen
WF: We give him advice on how to train, and we give him the instruments to train. Training on Hero's bike and training on his bicycle are important. There is also the different handling of the instruments and doing a lot of road book training, trying to stay with your mind always in race, and into your road book, and to repeat this and to get good results. Good feeling, good experience and also the distance, so that you don't need to look all the time (at the road book). Just occasionally, you look to see that in the first 3km comes the first turn, and then I can concentrate on accelerating and riding the bike faster before I need to have the next reference. These are the things that come just by experience and kilometres on a bike when navigating.
On the selection of Joaquim Rodrigues as the team's other rider
WF: I am always looking for riders who have a high level of rider skills, and intelligence to turn into rally and learn fast navigation. This was what the decision to let him try and give a chance last year as a rookie not having done any races. And I knew him many years before. We have been talking a few years already when he wants to stop his motocross career, he should tell us. So we have been in contact and talks for few years, and now it was the right time to try it. And so far as we see, he is a very mature rider, riding fast and we can expect good things from him.
On the new motorcycle
WF: We are working on an evolution, but in motorsport it's always going to be an evolution.
OD: On when they will introduce it
WF: By Dakar 2018. I can't give you more information because it is work in progress, and only when things are going in right way to go for race is when we can introduce it.