Rider KP Aravind had one of the toughest initiations into the world of international cross country rallies in the first week of October at the OiLibya Rally Morocco. “It is one of the hardest rallies in the FIM Cross Country Rally World Championship,” says Aravind, “and probably the second toughest after Dakar.”
Besides the tough nature of Rally Morocco, the final round of the world championship, Aravind also had other pressures to deal with. Riding for the Sherco-TVS rally team, Aravind’s debut at the world championship had to be perfect. He had to finish to ensure he earns eligibility for the Dakar Rally next year, joining CS Santosh (Hero MotoSports) as the second Indian there.
The Bengaluru-based rider’s 26th place finish in the rally, after consistently ending in the top-30 in all five legs (October 3-7), earned him the Dakar entry as well as a reputation that he belongs on the international stage.
The former Raid de Himalaya and multiple national motocross champion was never overawed, though, among other regular challenges that a rally at this level throws at a rider, he was practically riding an unknown machine too.
“I didn’t get a chance to ride the Sherco-TVS motorbike till a day before the rally after I arrived in Morocco,” says Aravind. “I got the hang of it soon, but the first two days was a learning experience. The bike is bigger and heavier than the enduro bikes I have been riding so far. So that needed a bit getting used to.”
Perhaps that’s why he had a relatively slow start to the rally and was way down the order (41st) in the prologue stage that determined the starting order.
“No, that was because I was a little unaware of the rules,” says Aravind. “Generally, when a rider approaches you during a stage, the GPS buzzer goes off giving you a warning. One of the riders had gone off and when I neared him the GPS alarm went off. I wasn’t sure what was happening so I stopped and lost time there. That, in fact, created problems for me throughout the rally as I would start the day down the order and catch up with nine or 10 riders slower than me. With dust hitting your face, it was creating a lot of difficulties.”
But, overall, Aravind is happy with his performance on debut and credits the good show to Sherco-TVS team manager, David Casteu, a former cross country world champion, and his senior teammates for guiding him through the stages, keeping his nerves and natural aggression at check. “I also used to talk a lot to Santosh as well, who is my senior and a dear friend,” says Aravind. “He gave some valuable inputs too. I trust him a lot and I am glad he will be around at Dakar as well.”
But before Dakar (January next year) Aravind has a lot of work to do. He will shift base to France in November, and will prepare for the ride — this time on the Sherco-TVS machines — in France and Spain.
“The Spain part is important as that is where I would be doing the roadbook training,” says Aravind. “In rallies in India, including the Raid de Himalaya, things are rather spoonfed to us, the route and the stages are well defined trails or roads. But in international rallies, we follow the roadbook and in most places, there are no set trails. It is just open terrain and we have to find our own way using the roadbook. That’s a fine art I have to learn with a lot of practice. So before Dakar, the focus will be on that.”