Only three Indian racers have been part of the Dakar Rally since its inception in December 1978, and next year’s edition will see a fourth Indian daring to participate in it. Meet Ashish Raorane– a privateer from Pune who will be competing in the Malle Moto category of the prestigious rally raid event, which is set to run from January 3 to 15, 2021.
The Dakar Rally formerly known as the “Paris–Dakar Rally is an annual rally raid organised by the Amaury Sport Organisation. The rally is open to amateur and professional entries, amateurs typically making up about eighty per cent of the participants.
The rally is an off-road endurance event. The terrain that the competitors’ traverse is much tougher than that used in conventional rallying and the vehicles used are typically true off-road vehicles and motorcycles, rather than modified on-road vehicles.
Most of the competitive special sections are off-road, crossing dunes, mud, camel grass, rocks, and erg among others. The distances of each stage covered vary from short distances up to 800–900 kilometres (500–560 mi) per day. This rally is considered to be the world’s toughest rally to participate in and it also requires an exclusive invite.
The 2021 Dakar participants will be covering a total distance of 7,646KM, out of which about 4,767KM will be the special section. The total race distance has been divided into 12 stages. The upcoming edition of the Dakar Rally will start on January 3, 2021, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The rally race will conclude in the same city on January 15, 2021, after passing through various areas including the capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh. The entire race will be resting for a day during the racing season in Ha’il on January 9, 2021.
A total of 295 vehicles is entering the 2021 Dakar Rally competition across all classes. The upcoming rally edition will see a total of 501 participants competing in the race, which includes 16 women. The number of women participants has increased by three in the 2021 edition of the Dakar Rally.
Ashish Raorane has always been involved with sports through school, He has played state level cricket along with district-level table tennis. His love for sports runs deep. “Oh, the journey has been interesting, I have always loved sports but when I started sailing, I lost touch with the same.” He added.
But, his passion for motorcycles was far superior as he has always wanted to get where he stands today, “I love motorcycles and this sport is a perfect marriage of my passions. It’s difficult to fund anything when you’re young and when I started this, I was already doing well with my career and I had the time and funds to do this. So, the question wasn’t why but it was why not!”
He was also thrilled that his family had always been supportive of his choices, “Well, it’s a risky sport and it took my parents a while to understand but they did understand my passion. Also, my wife rides motorcycles and she too understands and supports my decision.”
Ashish believes that “This is something that I want to do and I want to pursue this, it drives me.”
This is probably the reason why a marine engineer by profession decided to this upon himself, “With my work and passion, it’s like having two lives and they coexist in the most appropriate manner. I sail for three months and then I have my leave. That’s when I spend the entire time focusing on my passion. It works out well for me!” he added.
There has been a lot of hard work and sweat involved in this journey too, “I think like with everyone and everything that you do which is new, you need to work hard to get anywhere.”
This is especially harder with a sport where India barely has information. “I did two rallies in India and then, due to the lack of information here, I started training in Spain with Jordi Grau- he is the go-to person for training for these rallies!”
For the past three years, he has been going to Spain and Jordi has been helping him to train along with getting all the information required along the way.
This turned out to be the right decision because the eco-system of Spain is perfect for any motorsports, they have a lot of tracks and motorcycles.
The sport is also, so inherently built in the lifestyle itself there especially in Catalonia- The biggest tracks and the best guys in the rallies are living there. People come down to watch all the rallies and the kids accompany their families to watch the event and tailgate. It’s a tradition now.
“You need to make that choice of training at the right place because that is where you will get the right guidance to do this.” Said Ashish.
Ashish has done international rallies for the past 3 years. His first rally was in 2018 which was the Pan-Africa rally. He also came 12th in the world in FIM Baja rallies. He also participated in the Africa Eco Race in January 2020- this was a marathon rally from France all the way to Senegal
However, his main aim has always been to be able to qualify for the Dakar since it takes a lot of experience to do so. After all, it’s the toughest rally in the world. “I’m competing in the Dakar 2021 which is the toughest race in the world. This has always been the plan and it feels good to see it panning out.” He added.
He wanted to do something different and therefore, he decided to participate in a category called the originals’ or Malle Moto. In this category, they transport a trunk for you (tools and parts) with your bag (clothes) and you are supposed to do everything yourself including the maintenance and care of your ride.
Ashish said, “I am participating in the toughest rally in the world and that too, in the toughest class that one can compete in. I will have to do everything myself and this is very exciting. "
When it comes to sponsors, Ashish is extremely thankful, “There have been external sponsorships right from the beginning, even before I went international and it means a lot to me but. The entire cost is so huge that it doesn’t cover it all that is where self-funding kicks in for me.”
“When I talk to people, they ask me what it costs you to do the race and while there’s always a finite cost it doesn’t include everything that leads you to the race including the training and the lead-up races. In fact, I allocate the most to training itself. It matters.” He added.
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