NEW DELHI: CS Santosh, the only Indian to participate in the Dakar Rally, finished 17th in Stage 1 of the Afriquia Merzouga Rally 2016. His Hero Motorsports teammate Joaquim Rodrigues of Portugal — a rally rookie — finished 10th. Santosh is 23rd in the overall standings.
Santosh was the first rider to enter the special test after Sunday’s 40km prologue in Morocco. However, navigational issues meant he made “small mistakes”, but kept calm to finish in 56 minutes 25 seconds behind leader Stefan Svitko of Slovakia, who finished with a time of 2 hours 48 minutes 42 seconds.
“I was a bit nervous opening the track. But the team told me to go ahead and be confident. I had a good feeling, then I started to make some small mistakes,” said Santosh, who won praise for the 36th place in Dakar 2015.
“I finally found someone who handled the navigation well, that helped and I brought it home,” he added.
This was Santosh’s first race since joining the Red Bull Desert Wings squad. Fellow Red Bull racer Helder Rodrigues — a former winner of the rally — finished second in Stage 1, 2 minutes 4 seconds behind Svitko.
“It’s going to be a tough event but I feel we’ve progressed a lot during the last few months and this gives me the added confidence to fight for the best possible result,” said Rodrigues, who is aiming for a win.
Tuesday´s Stage 2 will see the special test split into two parts. The race will move to the west of Merzouga and there will be some mountainous sections to master.