Dakar organisers look for stronger India connect

  • Vivek Mukherji, Hindustan Times, La Rioja, Argentina
  • Updated: Jan 19, 2016 14:09 IST
Toby Price of Australia rides his KTM during the seventh stage in the Dakar Rally 2016. (Reuters Photo)

One of the key ingredients of Dakar’s success is its global appeal built on the back of an impressive television and media package.

According to the figures given out by organisers the world’s toughest race is broadcast in 190 countries in some form or the other. It’s covered by over 195 journalists of various nationalities.

However, for the Indian press and sports fans, barring a small bunch of motorsports fanatics, the Dakar had very low traction. At least till last year.

But it all changed in January 2015 with the participation of Indian rider, CS Santosh, in the two-week endurance race for the first time in the history of Indian motorsports. That the Bangalore-based rider finished 36 only added to the buzz. This year, his progress in the rally came to a halt after short-circuiting of the bike’s electrical in the fourth stage.

Extensive coverage by this paper during the rally last year along with follow-up reporting on various television channels brought the race closer to the average sports fan. According to a valuation report put together by one of Santosh’s key sponsors, the total value of media exposure was pegged at Rs. 12 crore.

This eye-popping number seems to have got the Dakar top brass a lot keener about India. “One option could be to link an Indian event to become a Dakar Challenge event and that could possibly become a feeder to the Merzouga Rally for Indian moto pilots.

The organisers of the India Baja have exchanged mails with us in this regard, but nothing is certain yet,” said Xavier Gavory, Competition and Competitors’ Relation Director. On the eve of the 2016 Dakar, the ASO announced that the Merzouga Rally that is held in Morocco has become part of the Dakar Series. This series serves as a feeder route for new talent for the Dakar rally.

The Indian Baja, organised by Delhi-based Northern Motorsports, will be held in Bikaner on February 13-14. The club has been organising the Desert Storm Rally for the last 14 years.

But for Northern Motorsports to get the prestigious Dakar association, they need to significantly up their game; most notably in the competitors’ safety department. For example, the Desert Storm, despite being around for 14 years, doesn’t have 4-wheel drive ambulances that can enter the rally stages in the desert. And that’s just the start.

Another area in which Indian promoters need to significantly get their act together is television packaging. The two biggest endurance rallies in India, the Desert Storm and the Raid-de-Himalaya, don’t have any television packaging worth talking about.

At best, TV production is outsourced to news channels, making it completely unappealing to the layman and motorsports fans alike. For Dakar, the best way forward to link up with an Indian event would be to send their observers to a couple of Indian endurance rallies before the prestigious “Dakar” tag is handed out lest it lose its shine.

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