Dakar 2021 | Hero MotoSports Team Rally final report
Hero MotoSports Team Rally, like most other teams, didn’t have an easy year. Due to the pandemic, pre-season testing of their new Dakar-spec bike was affected. Testing was done in haste and they hardly got a chance to bash it across the dunes, which would be an ideal testing ground ahead of an event that mostly takes place in the desert. Naturally, the team wasn't 100 per cent ready, but that didn’t hamper their spirit and they went on to compete in the world’s most gruelling rally.
Despite the complications leading up to the Dakar 2021 start, the team and the riders — Joaquim Rodrigues, Sebastian Buhler and CS Santosh faced every challenge thrown at them during the rally like seasoned champions. The new Hero 450 Rally proved to be a great machine to complement their riding skills and helped them finish the season in top 15 overall. They had some brilliant stages, some slow ones, some painful ones and some heroic ones too. Let’s take a quick look at how the team lived through it all.
Joaquim Rodrigues was clearly the one leading the charge for the team and how! In Stage 4, JRod started in P19 and made tremendous progress and reeled many riders in. He went on to finish in P6, his best ever Dakar stage finish till date. By then, JRod had moved up from P22 to P16 in the overall standings. The P6 finish was the first of his five top ten finishes of the season. In terms of overall ranking, JRod ended the season in P11, his second best Dakar record behind his P10 finish in 2017.
Sebastian Buher on the other hand had a very cautious approach this year. He finished in the top ten twice in 12 stages, and on both occasions, he crossed the line at P10. We witnessed his best finish in Stage 8 where he started in P21 and crossed the line after 375km in P10. That finish put him in top 20 in the overall rankings at P19. Another remarkable stat for Seb is that he slipped down rankings on the overall leaderboard only once (Stage 6) throughout the season. Otherwise, he always made up time and moved ahead in the rankings right from his P29 Stage 1 finish. In his third Dakar appearance and second Dakar finish, Sebastian Buhler came in at P14, his best ever performance.
Then there was the bike. After Stage 11, JRod said that he never expected to finish so high and that the bike had made it all possible. The bike gave absolutely no issues whatsoever. It was nimble and reliable enough to give both the riders a top 15 finish. Sebastian Buhler was of the same opinion too. On multiple occasions, he said that he owes his performance to the Hero 450 Rally.
Between the two, JRod seemed to have a tougher year due to his different, aggressive approach towards each stage. In Stage 8, half-way through the day, JRod hit a rock and hurt his arm. He had started the stage in P9 and was making cracking progress but the crash meant that he had to slow down just so he could finish the stage safely. He could’ve gone on with a better pace despite his aching shoulder and discomfort but then, he wasn’t sure if the bike had suffered any damage. To be on the safer side, he slowed down and finished in P26 Luckily for him, the crash hadn’t affected the bike and more importantly, he wasn’t seriously injured either.
In Stage 11, JRod was within grasp of another top ten finish but with just 20km to go for the finish line, he made an error while navigating. Adding to that, he had to cross the line without passing the last waypoint as he was running low on fuel too. The error and the added time penalty meant that he crossed the line at P27. This pushed him down from P11 to P12 in the overall rankings too.
Stage 4 of the rally shook the entire team. Bengaluru’s CS Santosh had a massive crash and was out of the rally. Santosh had moved up from P43 to P36 since Stage 1 and was progressively picking up pace on every stage. Although he suffered an impact on his head during the crash, CS Santosh was said to be stable when the medics arrived. He was rushed to a hospital in Riyadh for further treatment. An update followed, quoting that he was in an induced coma for the clot in the brain to heal faster. Apart from the head trauma, the rider had a dislocated shoulder too.
This was especially traumatising for the team as this happened around a year after they lost their rider, Paulo Gonçalves in a crash. Despite this hurdle, Seb and JRod kept posting good times everyday. This meant the riders were emotional as well, as JRod said, “When I went to the start today, I didn't really know if I even wanted to start the race. I had tears in my eyes and all I could think of was what happened a year ago. But then, I had to do it.” He went on to finish P13 that day without losing his composure.
The team flew CS Santosh back to his hometown in Bengaluru and he is now reportedly out of induced coma and is recovering fast. We can’t wait to hear from him soon!