The latest tough test of dune racing has arrived for the world’s most fearless bikers with the six-day Merzouga Rally contested in Morocco this week as part of the 2016 Dakar Series. Only the bravest and best riders need apply for a route that encompasses nearly 1,000km of timed racing through the notorious Sahara Desert. Representing the Red Bull Desert Wings in North Africa are former Merzouga winner Hélder Rodrigues of Portugal and CS Santosh, India’s outstanding rally-raid talent.
As well as winning the inaugural edition of the Merzouga Rally in 2010 Hélder has shown impressive pace this season as he parked on the podium at this year’s Sealine Cross Country Rally in Qatar. The Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team rider is determined to get as much racing in as possible this year as he targets success at the 2017 Dakar Rally. Hélder knows exactly what it takes to succeed in the harsh terrain of the Erg Chebbi Dunes that characterise this race and will be satisfied with nothing less than a podium finish.
CS Santosh rides in Morocco in his first race since joining the Red Bull Desert Wings squad, it’s also the first event for his Hero MotoSports Team Rally. Santosh is widely regarded as the finest offroad racer India has ever produced and he has dominated the domestic racing scene in his homeland for the past decade. He announced himself on the international stage with his remarkable Dakar Rally debut in 2015. During that race Santosh broke his toe and injured his shoulder. Other riders would have called it a day there and then but he battled on to become the first Indian to complete the Dakar, and do so in a very respectable 36th place. Positive signs that there’s plenty still to come from the man from the subcontinent.
Last night’s 40km Prologue Stage sees both Hélder and Santosh well placed to attack on the first of five long stages that will define this year’s Merzouga Rally. With a gruelling marathon stage to come as well as a spectacular Le Mans-style start to the final day there’s still plenty of challenges ahead for both man and machine.
In addition to a fascinating duel at the front of the race we’ll also have our eyes open for fresh talent emerging as Dakar Rally organisers ASO provide a springboard to South America for the next generation of riders. Marc Coma, the Dakar’s own Sporting Director, is in attendance giving seminars to bikers on everything from riding dunes to mental preparation. Advice from a five-time Dakar winner is worth its weight in gold to aspiring young riders!
Hélder Rodrigues: « Last time out in Qatar we managed to earn a podium result so obviously the next step for us would be to fight for victory. This is what the team wants and that’s also where my mind will be during the next few days. 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. »
CS Santosh: « I’m really happy to be here at the Merzouga. I’m delighted to see we are progressing nicely, obviously working towards the Dakar. It’s good to do some training with the roadbook. I’m trying to have a good result. »
Marc Coma: « A tyre track gives a lot of information such as the height of the dunes and the kind of sand. The wider is the trace, the softer is the sand, so that you can predict in advance the reaction of the bike. »
Press Release Red Bull,