The Rise of Hero MotoSports and India on the International Rally Arena
The Genesis of Hero MotoSports
Since its inception in 2016, Hero MotoSports Team Rally has been winning accolades as India’s leading motorsport team and a manufacturer to watch out for on the basis of its world class performances in the global rally arena.
Hero, a household name in India along with being the world’s largest two-wheeler manufacturer, is synonymous with robustness, quality and unmatched reliability. Motorsports was then only a natural progression for Hero MotoCorp as it presented an opportunity for technology development and testing their bikes in the harshest terrains and environments.
The Hero MotoSports Team Rally was born after a strategic alliance with Speedbrain GmbH, the German off-road specialist with over ten years of bespoke racing development experience. Speedbrain brings to the table its extensive technical prowess in making Rally bikes and more importantly, their winning experience as the Rally World Champion
2013 and the former factory team of BMW, Husqvarna and Honda Racing. When it came to rider choices, there was no other alternative than picking riders who complemented the team’s aspirations.
CS Santosh, India’s very own motorsports prodigy after winning everything across motocross, dirt and rally events in India for 9 years has been steadily carving his name on the international rally scene ever since.
With 9 participations and maiden victories at the Baja India, Raid de Himalaya and Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm, he is the first Indian rider ever to compete and successfully complete the Dakar Rally having done so in 2016 and 2017. CS Santosh really is India’s favourite son when it comes to motorsports and is paving the way for others to follow in his footsteps.
In 2017, to have an Indian manufacturer and rider at the finish line of the world’s toughest race, the Dakar rally truly put India on the world rally map and made every Indian proud.
The other half, Joaquim Rodrigues or ‘JRod’ as he is more commonly known, enhances the Hero team with his diverse professional experience having won titles across the motocross, supercross and enduro categories world over. Despite being a rally rookie, Rodrigues has adapted well to rally sports and has not looked out of place one bit since joining Hero MotoSports.
With an impressive 12th place finish at the Dakar 2017 and a win at the recent Baja India 2017 along with notable finishes at other international rallies, he has proven that he could be a force to reckon with in the future.
The Heroic journey so far
As a rookie team, Hero Motosports made their debut in 2016 at the Merzouga Rally also known as the ‘Mini Dakar’. Complementing an excellent overall effort by the team in their first ever race, both riders finished in respectful 9th ( Joaquim Rodrigues ) and 12th ( CS Santosh ) places respectively . The Merzouga Rally provided the first feedback on the bikes, the riders and the overall team operations, which to say the least, was a highly encouraging one.
Not one to shy away from a challenge, the team proceeded to take part in the 2016 Oilibya Rally. For its similarity with Dakar in regulations and being the last preparatory race before the Dakar, the Oilibya Rally attracts a high level of the competition and participation from all the top factory teams and riders. J-Rod finished a creditable 14th and C S Santosh rounded up 32nd in the overall rankings but not without making an impression on all accounts.
Then came the mighty Dakar. It was truly a dream debut for the Hero Motosports team. Rodrigues, who finished the Dakar in the 12th place, tackled the dunes, the fesh-fesh, the fast racing lines and everything else that the Dakar threw at him with great poise and skill. India’s finest off-road rider, C S Santosh, also finished the Dakar in the 47th place in the overall rankings, becoming the only Indian rider to do so twice.
By finishing the Dakar in great style, Hero MotoSports Team Rally earned the distinction of being the first and the only Indian Factory team to finish the Dakar with 100% arrival. More significantly, in the 2017 edition, they were the only factory team to do so i.e. both the bikes and riders crossed the finishing line at Buenos Aires, among some of their much more celebrated and experienced peers.
Considering that this was the toughest Dakar so far, this rookie rally team from India turned more than a few heads and came into the limelight. The newest team and manufacturer in the Dakar paddock not only proved to others but also to themselves that they have the resolve, grit and the talent to succeed at the world’s toughest race.
Heroes at home
The team ended the 2016 – 17 season in style back on home turf at the Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm 2017. Fielding only their ace Indian rider, CS Santosh with 3 prior Desert storm victories to his name, the team kept up its momentum just two weeks after the Dakar Rally still reeling from the immense fatigue and toll from the world’s toughest race.
With a dramatic series of up and downs in the 4 day event, CS Santosh led 6 of the 9 stages but unfortunately crashed due to an unmarked barbed wire on the 2nd day. Despite excruciating pain and injuries to the hands and spine, he finished the day leading the overall rally.
With the odds stacked against him and having to dig deep, he rode to an overall 3rd place and in the process brought home the first ever podium finish in the world of rally sport for Hero MotoSports.
What lies ahead?
The 2017 -18 season now looms ahead for the team as they seek to better the benchmarks set by their highly successful rookie season. April 2017 has already seen the team off to an amazing start with JRod taking his first ever rally win at the Baja India 2017, a Dakar series event.
Now, as the team approaches the one year mark and as they proceed onwards to Merzouga 2017, it is the opportune time to look back at Merzouga Rally 2016. It is where the dream run started a year ago and the team can now acknowledge the big strides it has made since on this promising journey. It is safe to say that it has been nothing short of a grand opening year.
Not one to be content with the laurels of their past accomplishments, the team continues to work relentlessly with a vision of cementing its position as a manufacturer and top rally team on the global rally stage.