CS Santosh, after winning the National Supercross Championship and the Raid de Himalaya is preparing to compete in a 4,000 km cross-coutry rally in Qatar in March. HT file photo
It's perhaps a testament to the significantly improved chances of earning a living through motorsport that the winner of the motorcycle category of last year's Raid de Himalaya feels he can one day compete on the toughest endurance rally of them all; the Dakar Rally.
Twenty-nine-year-old Bangalore native CS Santosh's chosen motorsport discipline of motocross is literally off the beaten track as compared to circuit racing and Formula 1.
However, his Raid victory, on his first attempt, over a rider who had previously finished the Dakar has prompted Santosh to seriously take up off-road cross-country rallying. "You see a lot of the riders who are in motocross and supercross starting out very early at around ten years of age and be done by the time they hit their thirties," Santosh told HT. "However in cross-country events, experience helps a lot"
The victory has allowed Santosh to use his position as a TVS-Suzuki factory rider and get international exposure too. He previously competed in the Asian Motocross Championship and is preparing for March's 4,000km long (twice the length of the Raid) Qatar Desert Challenge.
International exposure has also led to the emergence of India's two potential racing stars of the future. Neither one of whom are currently eligible for a driver's license in India!
Fourteen-year-old Jehan Daruvala and 17-year-old Shahaan Engineer produced eye-catching performances in karting and single-seat racing, respectively. Daruvala won the season-ending Asia-Pacific title in the KF3 category during the Karting World Championships in Macau after dominating the final weekend of the British National Championship.
Engineer managed to hold his own against, and occasionally beat highly-rated drivers in the Formula Renault 2.0 North European Cup. En route to finishing sixth out of 48 drivers in the points standings, he scored a pole position and two podium finishes at the former F1 venue of Zandvoort in Holland. The two differ in terms of the support they receive to pursue their racing career. While Engineer is largely left to his own devices to search for sponsorship, Daruvala is part of Sahara Force India's (SFI) search for an F1 calibre driver trained by their academy program.
"The program developed by SFI is very comprehensive and focuses on a number of important factors," Daruvala told HT. "This year I will do a total of 22 races with 16 in Europe and 6 in the UK."
Stepping up to compete in Europe is crucial due to the increased competition according to Daruvala. "In top European championships there are 40 to 50 very good drivers out of around 70," said Daruvala. "In the UK this is around 15 out of a total of 25."
Rather than shying away from such competition; the trio have readily embraced it with an eye on a bigger prize.
"My aim is to get to F1 as soon as possible," Engineer, an ardent fan of the late Ayrton Senna, told HT. "I intend to finish my studies first, however, as I know there are things beyond racing in this world."
With school well behind him, Santosh has an even clearer goal. "I definitely need to think about the Dakar," said Santosh. "You can't help but want to aim for an event like that!"
What's up in 2013
From popular events to new ones at home and also what some known faces in Indian motorsport will do to kill time next year.
World Superbike Championship
Also referred to as WSBK, it's called the two-wheel equivalent of touring/sportscars. Racing bikes based on their road-going counterparts unlike the prototype monsters of MotoGP. India is scheduled to host a round on March 8, with cricket star M. S. Dhoni taking ownership of a team in one of its support categories. WSBK has its own history full of star riders, but has lost a lot of its sheen following the end of the 2002 season.
Toyota Etios Cup
The Japanese manufacturer will modify its Etios road car for racing and aim the series towards complete newcomers at motorsport, provided they are under the age of 24. Rounds featuring the 88 horsepower saloons are expected to be held at the BIC, Kari Motor Speedway in Coimbatore and Sriperumbudur near Chennai. The manufacturer's motorsport arm, Toyota Racing Development will prepare all the cars equally to create a level playing field.