An Indian can finish on podium at Dakar Rally in two years: Aravind

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Indian cricket team’s tour of Australia has been historic in more ways than the maiden Test series win for an Asian team Down Under and the first triumph for the Men in Blue in a bilateral series against the Kangaroos on their soil.

The tour that involved three T20 internationals, four Tests and three-match one-day international series has created a digital viewership record for Indian cricket team’s overseas tours. The LIVE streaming of the matches on SonyLiv has accumulated over 300% more viewers than India’s tour of England last year, and over 350% higher than the Kohli & Co.’s tour of South Africa.

“Digital is becoming first choice for the young audience as nearly half of the viewers were 24 years. But more gratifying fact is that because of better connectivity, millennials across tier II and III are also able to watch the matches,” Sony Pictures Network India digital business head Uday Sodhi told business daily Economic Times.

According to data published by Economic Times, SonyLIV has recorded 50 million audience for the live streaming of the India-Australia ODI, Test and T20I series. The numbers were 30 million for India’s tour of England and 25 million when India played in South Africa earlier last year. There is a close to three fold rise in the gross “watch time” over the previous two overseas tours of India.aAravind KP, the only second rider from the country to complete the gruelling Dakar Rally, believes an Indian can secure a podium finish in two years time.

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“May be it will take two more years for us to get into the podium,” a confident Aravind told PTI when asked how long it will take for an Indian rider to finish at the top at Dakar.

“Give me two years and we will see some good results,” said the 34-year-old Sherco TVS Racing rider, who ended his campaign this year at 37th place in his third attempt after two unsuccessful efforts in 2017 and 2018.

Considered as the world’s most gruelling off-road rally, this year’s Dakar Rally was held in Peru from January 6-17.

C S Santosh is the first Indian rider to have completed the Dakar Rally. He has done so thrice — in 2015, 2017 and 2018. He, however, could not complete the rally this year.

A 17-time winner in National Championships in dirt track, rallies and motocross race formats, Aravind is already eyeing a top 10 finish in the 2020 edition but said finishing the rally would be the prime target.

“My next goal is also to finish well in the 2020 edition. If I am healthy and in good shape next year we will have good results. I need to find a better rhythm. Finishing in top 10 is of course the goal, but primary target is to finish,” he said.

It turned out to be a race against time for Aravind ahead of the 2019 Dakar Rally as he had to regain fitness quickly after suffering a wrist injury at the PanAfrica Rally last September.

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“I had injured my left wrist during PanAfrica rally. It is a critical bone and initially the diagnosis was that it takes usually six months to recover. It happened in September, so there was no way to make it for Dakar,” he said.

“Then I got in touch with a doctor in France and after a lot of things, it was said that I can do Dakar, though not 100 per cent, and that was when the announcement was made. It is still not 100 percent but I am happy I could do it,” he said.

The 2019 Dakar Rally has been touted as the toughest with only 55 per cent of the bikes completing the 11-day gruesome rally this year.

“It was the toughest in the history of Dakar. It was different for me as I finished it. It was dangerous and never-ending. We were riding almost six hours a day. Even the weather was different,” Aravind said.

“The tough part was the fesh-fesh (finer than dust), so when you are caught up behind someone, the visibility is around 20m and there were stones, so it is dangerous, we had 60-70 km of fesh-fesh so that was the most dangerous part and riders got into trouble.”

Aravind, who began racing at the age of 19, said Indian racers pick up the sport late in their career and stressed on the need to start early.

“The big time gap in picking up the sports is the main difference between the indian riders and international ones,” he said.

“People start at 3-4 years. By the time I started, in America, someone who is 19 years old is already a champion. So they already have a 15 year of experience. So it is easier when you are younger.”

He was happy with the recognition that the sport is getting now and hoped for better infrastructure and practice facilities for Indian riders.

“The momentum has grown a lot, we now have a Dakar series happening in India which is not a joke. Going ahead we need to implement what is happening abroad.

“We need infrastructure, we don’t have a place to practice, we can’t replicate the terrains that we face in Dakar, so we have to training outside India. But we are not far from that and it will be done soon and we will have some good results.”

So what’s next for him?

“I just need to rest for sometime, may be after I meet my family the feeling will sink in. By the end of this month we will have a meeting with TVS and a call will be taken about the schedule ahead, nothing is finalised yet, so right now nothing is planned,” he signed off.