The trio of Sebastian Buhler, Joaquim Rodrigues (JRod) and C S Santosh will take on the Dakar 2021 as part of the Hero Motosports Team Rally. All three will be astride the new for 2021 Hero 450 Rally Bike, which will sport a redesigned livery for the 43rd edition of the gruelling race, set to kick off on January 3, 2021. This will be the second official appearance for Sebastian in Hero colours at the Dakar, while it will be the fifth appearance for both JRod (who was the 2019 Pan Africa Rally winner) and three-time Dakar finisher and multiple-time Indian supercross and motocross champion Santosh.
The story so far
Hero Motosports Team Rally has had a roller-coaster of a year, starting with the crushing loss of Paulo ‘Speedy’ Goncalves during the Dakar 2020 in January. Subsequently, the global lockdown lay waste what would undoubtedly have been a massive quantum of training as well as competitive spirit. And, it was not until the 2020 Andalucia Rally, which concluded on October 10, that the team could finally regain their bearings, with Sebastian Buhler finishing at an overall 18th spot, while CS Santosh and Joaquim Rodrigues came in at the 20th and 27th positions, respectively at the end of four stages and close to a 1000km of racing.
Close on the heels of the Andalucia Rally came the Baja Protalegre, where the team won the Rally in Spain, with Sebastian Buhler, winning both the Baja Do Pinhal and Baja Portalegre, and in the process also winning the 2020 FIM Cross-Country Bajas World Cup. Besides, Joaquim Rodrigues also came in P2, his first of the season.
Wolfgang Fischer, Team Manager, Hero MotoSports Team Rally: “This is an emotional return for us at Dakar after the tragic event earlier this year. We are determined to put on a good show. While we were away from racing for quite some time due to the pandemic, we utilised the time to develop the new bike and conduct thorough testing sessions with our riders, thus, keeping the team engaged and motivated in the most challenging times. We are excited for the next few weeks as we aim to sustain our momentum and garner good results this year. The new bike is performing well and the team looks stunning in the new livery.”
What to look out for
The Dakar 2021 will venture across the entirety of Saudi Arabia. Held between January 3 and 15, the rally will convene and culminate in the city of Jeddah. The Rally will see competitors travelling through a total of 7646km, comprising 4767km of competitive distance divided into 12 stages. The Rally also has nearly an all-new route with more slush, open desert, dunes and mountains to traverse than before. Nevertheless, there will also be a renewed view towards safety, with lesser full-throttle sections, more technical sectors, and pre-installed aural warnings for the contestants (and a 90kmph speed limit) for the designated ‘danger zones.’
As mentioned, the Hero Motosport riders will take on the Dakar challenge on the new Hero 450 Rally bike – dubbed ‘Evolution 3’ – which features a new 450cc engine and evolved chassis. Though Hero has shied away from providing exact performance figures, what we do know is that the redesigned engine offers improved top speed and acceleration. Further, the frame has been redesigned for better weight balance as well as rider ergonomics. The total fuel capacity has grown to 35 litres, contained within two front and one rear tank. This, coupled with the improved suspension and cooling system, means the new bike will undoubtedly be able to juggle the dual roles of covering long strides at a heightened pace.
Finally, the team will also be seen in a new livery, sporting a futuristic 'Barcode' inspired design aesthetic.
In their own words
Commenting upon the past year, JRod spoke about how the tragic experience of January 2020 as well as the Covid-19 shutdown taught him the importance of resilience, which paid off with the consistent performances in the Andalucia Rally and Baja Protalegre, and how the team’s testing sessions on the new bike has helped him find the momentum for the future. This was echoed by youngster Buhler, who seemed glad at the prospect of the Dakar 2021, especially after his recent strong performances. Ultimately, Indian ace Santosh expressed optimism on the new bike’s performance, capping off the trio’s excitement for the upcoming Dakar campaign.