At Dakar, this Noah hopes to expand his racing arc
At 5’ 10” and lean, Noah hasn’t really built the muscles the Dakar rally will demand. Most of his career, he has looped on tight and short dirt tracks, evading obstacles with steep jumps as a supercross and motocross specialist.Updated: Jan 05, 2020, 09:00 IST
It was December 2009. Harith Noah came home in the riverside Kerala town of Shoranur from his Sholai boarding school in Kodaikanal to find a new motorcycle wait as his Christmas present.
An off-road race was being held at the same in the paddy fields near his house. The 16-year-old entered with his new toy. Though he finished last, the racing bug bit him, and he tore through the paddy fields for the next couple of years.
The adrenaline rush from speed stayed with him. A decade on, Noah will realise a huge dream on Sunday when he makes his debut in the toughest off-road race of them all—the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia.
“It was a super feeling when I got to know I’ll be starting the Dakar. It’s the pinnacle of the sport. I am a little nervous and excited,” says Noah, who will be the third Indian, after CS Santosh and KP Aravind, to take part in the 42nd edition of the Dakar, to be run from Jan 5-17.
At 5’ 10” and lean, Noah hasn’t really built the muscles the Dakar rally will demand. Most of his career, he has looped on tight and short dirt tracks, evading obstacles with steep jumps as a supercross and motocross specialist.
In 2011, Noah got his first motocross bike, a gift on his 18th birthday, when he decided to take part in his first national race. “Amazingly and much to my surprise, I won the championship,” he says. TVS saw his talent and hired him. “Here I was a young racer with big dreams and I had a manufacturer knocking on my door. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity,” he adds.
Noah’s performance improved every year, and with it his stature on the domestic off-roading circuit. He won the national supercross championship seven times, in multiple categories. “I’d achieved all I wanted at the national level so I set my sights on Europe. The level of competition is much higher, and racing there, I felt, would help me take the next step.”
But the move backfired. Moving to Europe in 2015 without a back-up plan, he ended up racing bicycles for a year. “After 2016, I realised how difficult it was going to be to find a ride there. I was studying as well. So, I decided to return.”
On his return, TVS took Noah on board and he again started winning domestic off-road events. In 2017, he won all but one event he entered. “The one I didn’t win, I finished second. It was one of the best years of my career,” says the Kerala rider.
The performances earned him a shot at his maiden international rally—the 2018 Rally of Morocco. “I completed, but tore my ACL and (other) ligaments in my knee. I didn’t know at the time, and I only got to know after finishing the national supercross championship later,” says Noah.
Noah underwent surgery in December 2018 and was out of action for six months. But he made a strong comeback, finishing in the top-eight at the 2019 Baja Aragon in Spain.
His new target is the Dakar. In the absence due to injury of Aravind, who completed the Dakar last year in his third attempt, Noah will join his Sherco TVS Rally teammates, Frenchmen Michael Metge and Johnny Aubert, and Spaniard Lorenzo Santolino.
After 11 seasons in South America, the longest rally in the world has signed a five-year contract with Saudi Arabia. The rally will be run over 7,500km, 2,000km longer than last year. The competitive stages will comprise 5,000km with 75 percent sand dunes, in addition to unknown landscapes and unexpected challenges. The rally will start at Jeddah and end at Al Qiddiya.
“The closest I have come to the Dakar was the 2018 Rally of Morocco. It was six days with one marathon stage. Dakar is double the distance, the hardest race there is,” says Noah. “I’ve discussed it a lot with Aravind, who told me to be careful the first week because Dakar is long. He asked me to save energy in the first week to emerge stronger in the second.”
For Dakar, Noah had to drastically change his training and nutritional plan, and undergo a new fitness regime.
“We’ve trained in France, Andorra (principality between France and Spain) and Morocco. Our training consisted of a lot of work like running, cycling, mountain biking, strength training, working on braking and things like arm strengthening,” says Noah. “Fitness-wise, I’ve had to train longer but with low intensity. Rallying has less intensity compared to supercross. For supercross, I used to do half-an-hour to one hour of high intensity training compared to four-and-a-half hours for rallying. Plus we used to ride 125km in a loop in Andorra and Spain. You also have to take care of your nutrition because you burn a lot of calories during the rally.”
Noah believes it is his fitness regime and love for dunes that will help him. “My goal is to finish the Dakar. I like riding in the dunes. I and my teammates have trained for weeks in Morocco. I feel strong riding in the dunes and my speed is also improving. I feel fitness is my strongest point.”