Africa Eco Race 2020 Ashish Raorane caught in the vicious cycle of cross-country rallying

India’s top non-factory rally rider can’t help but get caught up in the stress of preparing for rallying, only to love the experience and keep coming back for more




  • Raorane will be taking part in the 2020 Africa Eco Race, a cross-country rally that runs from Monaco to Dakar in Senegal.
  • He has had to recover from a hairline fracture in his right ankle in order to be ready for ‘The real race to Dakar.’
  • Raorane is self-funded and balances working as a marine engineer, which has him on the high seas for a large part of the year.
  • Despite being less expensive than the Dakar Rally, Raorane’s budget for the Africa Eco Race stands at around Rs. 30 lakhs.




It was an obvious question that I just had to ask him. After hearing so much about costs, injuries, preparation time for rallies being compromised by having to balance a full-time job; why does Ashish Raorane – a non-factory rider on top of it all – put up with all this stress?


“It’s a vicious cycle man,” Raorane told Zighweels. “It’s the same thing after every event. There is so much stress leading up to it and then you totally forget about it once you do it.”


Since he isn’t a factory rider, he doesn’t have any help when it comes to dealing with passport issues, which is something most of us can relate to as the Indian passport allows visa free, visa on arrival or e-visas for just 58 countries. In the list of those 58 countries Mauritania and Senegal, two of the countries that the Africa Eco Race’s 6,500km route goes through.


However, Morocco – the African country that the rally will visit first – isn’t on that list. “Ideally I should be training in Dubai right now,” said Raorane. “But my damn passport is not yet ready as I need a visa for Morocco.”




The grind behind the scenes


The frustration in Raorane’s voice was palpable over the phone, as was his reservations in making any kind of prediction about how he might be able to perform at the event that has been running since 2009, which is when the Dakar Rally started being held in South America (will move to Saudi Arabia from next year).


That centers mainly around the kind of bike he will be using for the grueling cross-country rally. The KTM 450 Rally Replica is the bike of choice for privateer riders on international cross-country events. CS Santosh rode one when he first took part in the Dakar Rally in 2015. Along with the use of the bike came service from a KTM crew as well.


Raorane, already on a tight budget, was not able to find the 30,000 euros (Rs. 23.5 lakhs) required to use the 450 Rally Replica for the Africa Eco Race. He will have to make do with a KTM 450 EXC instead, which is a bike used for enduro events.



Enduro events like the Roof of Africa and Red Bull Romaniacs last for around eight hours and tend to feature uneven and technical terrain that doesn’t necessarily call for a lot of power from a bike. Rally raids like the Dakar or the Africa Eco Race will have stretches of open terrain (piste, to use the rallying term) where bikes will need to go flat out to cover ground.


Putting those demands on an endure bike can get tricky, to say the least.


“It’s going to be really tricky,” said Raorane. “I can’t just twist the throttle and keep it pinned as this bike isn’t really built for that.


“I already know I am going to have a straightline disadvantage even if I go flat out, as a modified enduro bike will hit 160kmph on open pistes that are 20 to 30 kilometers long.


“A rally replica will hit much higher speeds and since its engine has been built to go flat out on open pistes, it will sustain those speeds for much longer.”




Come a long way


At least Raorane is better prepared for the Africa Eco Race as he was when he first got involved with rallying in India. That story involves India’s second of two riders to have competed in and finished the Dakar Rally so far; Aravind KP.


Even before he competed in cross-country rallying curiosity took him to an Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) round in Nasik with a friend in 2015. That was when he saw the TVS Racing factory team riders including Aravind KP.


“During the rally I was even staying in the hotel room right next to Aravind,” said Raorane. “Except I had no idea who he was!


But seeing the way the factory riders competed and the team operated got Raorane interested enough to take on the Raid de Himalaya that year. As in the INRC round in Nasik, Raorane was on board a Triumph Tiger 800s. A 12th overall finish gave him the confidence to continue but then came the realization that he needed to upgrade his ride.


“I remember the first India Baja event in 2016 when I realized the real difference between an off-road competition bike and the adventure bike I had,” said Raorane. “I saw CS Santosh take to the dunes in practice like they were nothing on board his Suzuki RMX 450Z.


“Then I remember the opening stage of that rally was a night stage and the Tiger lasted all of 13km. The first 10km were hard packed sand and I remember I fell at least eight or nine times.”


Managing to find a 2005 Yamaha WR450 allowed Raorane to recover and finish in the overall top ten in the Desert Storm later that year. Then just ten days before the 2017 edition of the Desert Storm, he was able to get his hands on the KTM 450 EXC. That allowed him to finish fifth overall. He was on course to finish fourth overall at the 2018 edition until a mechanical failure struck barely 10km from the finish of the final stage.





Onwards and upwards


By that point, however, Raorane had gained the confidence to go international and did so by participating in the 2018 PanAfrica Rally and finishing 18th overall.


His 2019 plans got compromised by his right ankle injury in late August this year while training on a motocross bike.


“The hairline fracture didn’t show up until we got an MRI done,” said Raorane. “It was just three to four weeks ahead of this year’s PanAfrica and if I didn’t have to go back to work, I would have ridden through the pain as it hurt only in certain angles.


“But I had to think long term and being healthy for the Africa Eco Race was important for my long-term goal of doing the 2021 Dakar Rally.”



That prompted Raorane to rest and then get back to riding in time to participate in events in the FIM Bajas World Cup where he finished 12th in the points standings.




A ‘private’ party


Now, Raorane will be tackling an event that stays true to both the original location and spirit of the Dakar Rally, in that the participants are all privateers. With the exception of the Kamaz truck team, there has been no factory involvement in the Africa Eco Race.


That includes the team with which Raorane will be riding, the Switzerland based Nomadas Adventure Racing Team.


Raorane expects it to be a learning experience. “Taking part in such a long rally with 12 stages will be the biggest test for me so far,” said Raorane. “I just want to finish and get as much info about cross-country rallying as possible.


“More so than the factory riders, one gets the meat of the information from privateer riders.”



And you can bet that despite all the stress in the build-up to the event, Raorane will be ready for more.


“I am really looking forward to riding in Mauritania,” said Raorane. “And I know that vicious cycle is going to start again.


“My parents keep asking me why I do it, but my wife is encouraging and always backs me.


“It’s a shame she won’t be with me for the whole event because the registration for a single crew member is 9,000 euros (Rs. 7 lakh), but I hope if I make it to the finish, she can make it to Dakar.”


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