Motocross, cross-country rallying, dirt track races are forms of off-road motor racing the Indian biking community is familiar with but enduro racing that combines various forms of off-roading disciplines together? That's a first!
Big Rock Dirtpark, Bengaluru’s home hero, CS Santosh’s training facility played host to Red Bull India’s inaugural Ace Of Dirt event that followed an elimination format to get to one worthy winner who’d win the chance to hone his off-road riding skills with Hero Motosports factory rider, CS Santosh.
This inaugural event was the fruit of the collaboration between Red Bull India, Hero Motosports & CS Santosh with the blessings of the FMSCI & the Karnataka Motor Sports Club (KMSC). This first edition was invite based only, with 32 professional off-road riders coming together to navigate a track that was riddled with multiple man-made obstacles the riders had never tackled in a racing scenario before.
The track is designed by CS Santosh himself and he said,
“We used a bit of creativity and a lot of influences from the races that have been happening around the world. We've tried to make obstacles that are fun but not too difficult because we have to take into consideration the guys have never raced a course like this and the motorcycles also have a huge limitation because it’s a standard bike that you can buy from a showroom, it's a commuter bike. So all these guys are using commuter bikes to compete in an event like this. So with these in mind we built a few bridges, we had wood logs, tire mines, seesaws, a gravity cavity which basically is a huge hole in which the riders go in and come out & we also have this obstacle called the mud pie which is really exciting for me because all the guys need to go through a patch of water which is now chocolatey so it's very difficult to maneuver this.”
The day started with qualifiers for all 32 riders and based on the results they were slotted in groups of 4 for the first heat race of the day of which only the top two from the 8 groups in total would make it to the semi-final round. With a high level of anticipation and excitement the riders set off on their own stock bikes which were mostly Hero Impulse motorcycles to tackle the various obstacles as quickly and carefully as they could. Mind you this was a course designed to test the ultimate grit of both man and machine! One wrong move & the machine would fall apart taking the riders hope of training with India's first Dakar rally rider, CS Santosh, along with it.
Talking about the race format Santosh said, “The race is not about corner speed or how fast you can go down a straight which means in racing basically horsepower is expensive so any track bike or track car is exponentially more expensive than a dirt bike because with dirt bikes horsepower is not the most important thing. On a track like this, it is important to understand the limitations you have with the motorcycle and have a sound technique to get over obstacles.”
Through certain zones of the course, spectator assistance was allowed and it was something that lead to more spectator involvement. Given this enduro event was new to the riders, fatigue happened to creep in pretty soon. The need to be fast, at all times, was seeming to get the best of many riders while the calculative yet fast riders were the ones who seemed to be steadily making their way into the semi-finals.
Yuva Kumar, a national-level motocross rider from Bengaluru said, “Experience doesn't count in enduro racing since we haven't ridden in this type of terrain before. This terrain isn’t one where you can ride fast everywhere, there are some places you can ride fast but some you have to use your brain. You can ease off and make smart moves. So if you're in a hurry you'll definitely crash. If you're slower, you'll be faster.”
One such obstacle that seemed to be getting the better of most riders was called the Mud Pie. A steep drop into a water patch leading up to a steep hill climb, a patch that could get water into the electricals if the rider happened to go way too fast and full throttle across it.
Sanjay Kumar, a national-level off-road rally rider from Bengaluru said, “We are rally riders and haven't experienced wooden logs and water patches, so this was a first of a kind experience for us.”
As the heat races wore on many stock motorcycles broke down and the slower riders of the lot were eliminated. It was now time for the semi-finals where the 8 riders would be competing on brand new Hero Xpulse 200 motorcycles.
CS Santosh, “You see on the track some are using carburated bikes, some have fuel injected bikes, some have larger travel, some smaller travel, some are heavier, some lighter so all of these play differently on different parts of the track so when they switch on to an Xpulse in semi-finals everyone pretty much has the same bike, the same travel, the same horsepower and it's a capable machine and since we neutralized the motorcycle then it's just the rider to be able to go out and do what he wants to do and not really think about the limitations of the motorcycle.”
Once the semi-final round was flagged off the riders on identical Xpulse 200 motorcycles were tested on purely their individual riding skills and the ability to read and tackle the obstacles in their unique riding styles. Through the course of all the action Bengaluru's Yuva Kumar quickly became the crowd favourite having fended off tough competition from fellow competitor Amal Varghese. If anyone could beat Yuva though, it was Naresh VS who seemed to be flying over the obstacles effortlessly.
CS Santosh, “A track is always changing that's why there's a racing line but the racing line is always moving in and around, sometimes the fastest line is not the fastest line anymore. Like at the Mudpie, the fastest line is always to go through it straight but since there's so much water you need to go around it. All these things they have to factor in and always be switched on mentally and not go into that habit of racing and finding the fast line.”
Finally after a hard day of battling the toughest competition on the roughest track the four finalists ( Naresh VS, Yuva Kumar, A. Sathyaraj, Devaraj Venkatesh) took to the start line for one last time to win Red Bull India’s Ace of Dirt title.
The final round was a total of four laps of the track which was being led by Yuva Kumar right from the start but it wasn't meant to be an easy win. Yuva was soon overtaken by Naresh VS who was leading the second lap comfortably until a cruel hand of fate intervened and his motorcycle started facing chain issues, robbing him of victory. It then paved the way for Yuva to steadily inch towards a much-deserved victory, 13 seconds clear of Naresh who managed to complete the race in the second position.
After the win with a key to a new Hero Xpulse 200, an elated Yuva Kumar said, "I still can't believe it, it's like a dream come true. I am thankful to Red Bull for creating platforms like these to help us unleash our potential. I am very excited to learn from my childhood idol CS Santosh!"
Speaking about the event himself CS Santosh said, “The federation is looking for different avenues where they can promote motorsports. With this the pilot project all of us are talking about it and we have brought in the best people that we could find to compete and this in a way is going to see the idea across the nation that there is an event like this and then we showcase this event and give people an idea of what's in store for them if they do take part. Also being able to train with me, I'm going to be able to help him a lot because it’s a new format of racing, I think with a few things here and there could definitely help them a long way.”