They may be discussing fierce strategy in the other camps but the powwow in CS Santosh's corner is far removed from bikes or the humongous task that awaits him over the next 11 days. The boys aren't talking about race strategy or any such intricate stuff. Given the hoots and jeers, it's definitely something passionate but this one isn't about bike riding.
One of Santosh's support guys has recently installed the hookup app 'Tinder'. With his dark complexion, he has been a major hit with the ladies in the capital of Argentina. No one in the group believes him. There are jeers at his claims. The hoots follow when he pulls out the pictures. As Santosh digs into his meat spaghetti, cackling at the fellow's good fortune, it's apparent that the attempt to take his mind away from the most gruelling off-road event of the world has worked rather splendidly.
Lone questSantosh, from India, is the newest exhibit in the greatest off-road circus on earth. The Dakar has 164 bikers in the fray this year and apart from the top guys like Marc Coma and ilk, a major point of interest in the press has been this 31-year-old from a country where there is hardly any motorsport culture.
Santosh's budget for this event hovers in the vicinity of a crore and without the help of rich friends this quest would not have been possible. All the so-called backers of motorsport in the country ran away when presented with a sponsorship proposal for the Dakar. You see, an Indian in the Dakar, that too astride a motorcycle, was believed to be too fantastic to actuate. But sometimes fantasy too can concretise, it just takes strength of belief and a display of ability on the stage that matters.
Santosh has got backing from the Dakar organisers as well as the Red Bull team on account of his fine showing in the world cross-country rally championship, where he was placed overall ninth this year. This man is certainly not just here as the promise of the Indian market beckons interest from the West.
And it shows. There is immense goodwill for him as Dakar veteran after veteran comes up and offers advice. There was a genial guy who looked to introduce himself to our group of Indians as he zeroed in on Santosh and asked him to nurse himself to last. He turned out to be Honda rider Helder Rodrigues - here for his ninth Dakar and twice third finisher.
Qatari Mohammed Abu-Isa, fourth in Quads last year, speaks to him for close to 15 minutes about how important it is to hold back on the throttle and look to make finishing a priority. Looking at last year's second-placed biker KTM rider Jordi Viladoms mingling with the crowd, it really strikes hard just how sad many of India's top sportsmen are as human beings. These are some of the bravest men in sport as they compete in categories that can extract a severe price for one mistake. But off their machines they become regular guys. It's this level-headedness, one presumes, that leads to their greatness.
Pretense and ego, after all can't make one go faster out on dirt.
The race distance facing the man from Bangalore on Sunday is just 175km, though there are long transports involved. It's essential he maintains his cool and lets his head decide his speed. Santosh can't afford a mistake at this level. After all, India aside, there's the motorsport world watching.