After Santosh’s Dakar high, India’s Baja seeks to be a feeder event | other sports | Hindustan Times
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After Santosh’s Dakar high, India’s Baja seeks to be a feeder event

Indian rider CS Santosh’s twin Dakar appearances are having welcome ripple effects – latest of which is the India Baja, a cross-country rally event set to tap into the growing traction for off-road biking in the country.

other sports Updated: Feb 11, 2016 16:21 IST
Gaurav Bhatt
Santosh
CS Santosh in action during the 2015 Dakar Rally, his maiden appearance was a first for an Indian rider at the event.(AFP Photo)

Indian rider CS Santosh’s twin Dakar appearances are having welcome ripple effects – latest of which is the India Baja, a cross-country rally event set to tap into the growing traction for off-road biking in the country.

The Baja -- which will see bikes, cars and quads cover 598km in 20 hours on the shifting dunes of Bikaner on February 13 and 14 -- is organised by Northern Motorsport, a Noida-based club which has been putting together the Desert Storm for the past 14 years.

“The Desert Storm has always been more about the cars, while this would give chance to Indian riders,” says Jayesh Desai, president of Northern Motorsport.

The idea is to build the Baja into a Dakar Challenge event which would facilitate Indian talent to take part in Morocco’s Merzouga Rally, which in turn is a feeder route to the Dakar rally. The organisers, however, are taking one step at a time.

“The talks are definitely on but a lot depends on the reception of this first edition,” said Desai, who has kept 2017 as the target time-frame to get Dakar association. “It is a slow process and firstly we want to build the Baja to a non-stop, 24-hour event.”

Sand races, by disposition, lend themselves to a menacing, ‘Mad Max’ vibe. And although not exactly a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Rajasthan’s treacherous landscape makes night rallying a dangerous proposition; more so for two-wheelers. The Desert Storm has been criticised for its safety procedures in the past. It will thus be the biggest concern at the Baja, which kicks off well after dusk.

While there are no heli-evacs -- “getting permission to fly above Bikaner is proving to be very difficult” -- measures in place include 4–wheel drive MIVs (Medical Intervention Vehicle) complete with doctors and spineboards. Furthermore, each participating vehicle will be fitted with a tracker and an SOS switch and monitored by the control centre.

The first edition, however, will be held without major sponsorship. “We have an open-cheque offer from both Mahindra and Maruti-Suzuki, but we want a non-manufacturer sponsor,” said Desai, who added that they will need sponsorship in future to “provide some subsidy to attract foreign competitors and financially support the local talent.”

Thanks to a lowly entry fee of R5,000 and free transportation facilities for those coming in from Chennai, the initial response from riders has been encouraging. Putting on a show worthy of the Dakar label is the next challenge for the Baja.