You will see me racing in May: CS Santosh
India’s most accomplished rallyist was laid low after a high-speed crash in 2021 but now, he's almost ready to make his comeback.
There was a glint in the eye of CS Santosh as he watched 450cc bikes leap into the air at the Indian Supercross Racing League (ISRL) debut in the last weekend of January in Pune. But at the same time, his tone was despondent. “It is difficult... being put in a race environment like this because this is who I was. I want myself back,” said the 40-year-old.
India’s most accomplished rallyist, Santosh suffered a life-threatening, high-speed crash at the 2021 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia that left him with brain trauma, vision issues, loss of motor skills, partial memory loss and depression. After waking up from a medically induced coma, the rally rider withdrew from public life and started a long rehabilitation process.
From trying to join the dots of his memory to regaining gross motor skills by coordinating his hands and legs to work together, Santosh has come a long way in his recovery, which is still continuing. But most importantly, he is more or less back to his normal self.
Back in public life and also around motorbikes, Santosh has ventured into entrepreneurship by co-owning BigRock Motorsport – one of the six teams of ISRL. So when his team led the standings after the conclusion of the first leg in Pune, Santosh couldn’t hold back.
“This shows me who I was. I need to basically come back (to racing) to get rid of these emotions. I should feel happy that I am doing this, but the fact is I am still wanting to be out there," said Santosh, who is the first Indian to compete and complete the dangerous yet celebrated Dakar Rally.
In his pursuit to return to Dakar 2025, Santosh will be returning to the dirt track as soon as May, taking part in what will be his first rally since his crash at Dakar 2021. “I am going to be back to racing this year. You will see me racing in May in my first rally (since the crash). It will be in Greece (Hellas Rally Raid). I will have confirmation at the end of February," said Santosh, a multiple time national supercross and motocross champion.
When asked why he is heading to the international stage directly, Santosh said: “Greece is a five-day rally and isn't highly competitive. That is why I am going there. It is a qualifier for Dakar.” Santosh, whose 34th place finish in 2018 was his best at the Dakar, needs to finish three rallies to qualify for Dakar 2025 for which he is planning to also take part in Baja Aragon in Spain and Rallye du Maroc (Morocco) later in the year. “I want to go the Dakar for which I just need to finish three races which will make me eligible,” said Santosh.
Santosh’s decision isn’t based on zest or overestimation of his abilities but on data and numbers. For his recovery, Santosh had gone to the Isokinetic sports medicine and orthopaedic rehabilitation centre in Bologna before heading to the Swiss Concussion Center in Zurich and the Red Bull Athlete Performance Centre (APC) in Salzburg multiple times in the last three years to assess his condition and compare the readings.
“I wanted to go racing two years back but APC said there’s no way we can give you an approval. I was devastated. But now it's been three years. I paid my dues in this manner (by waiting). I will go back again to Red Bull APC (this month) and they will see the gains I have made. In my perspective, I am healed. I have the opportunity now to say that I can go back. I didn’t have that before,” said Santosh, who first competed at the Dakar in 2015.
"Usually when you have crashes, you have injuries which take away certain movements from your body. You feel a restriction. For me, it was the CPU (brain). Some of the chemicals that secreted, some of the enzymes went missing. Now it is back again."
If he is given the go ahead, Santosh will be heading to Europe to train while he continues to ride his bike at BigRock Dirt Park – an off-road facility Santosh owns in Kolar – where he also followed Harith Noah’s exploits at Dakar 2024. The 31-year-old, in January, earned an incredible 11th place finish in Saudi Arabia, breaking his own record of 20th which was the previous best finish by an Indian.
“First of all, it was a dream for Harith to finish in the top 20 (in 2021) and then to finish 11th…I have no words. For me, it is like winning the Dakar. It was incredible he was able to do that. I knew that he had this potential. I knew the guy had that kind of talent and the fact that he is putting it into use in this manner, it’s beyond words. I didn’t even dream that he would be able to do it so early,” concluded Santosh.