CS Santosh is a bit of an oddball. You can't really tell from his buttoned-down black shirt or neat side-swept hairstyle, but he carries the itch to do what few have before in ways not usually ordinary. It is what made him the first Indian to race in the world's most dangerous off-road race, the Dakar, two years ago and has him persevering like a maniac in the 14-stage, 9000km path he has created for himself.
Apart from finishing the race, chief among Santosh's goals for the January 6-20 event is one that most athletes secretly wish for but rarely admit: To be on TV.
"From being the first guy to go to Dakar to being the guy that performs, are two different things. Often it doesn't happen in the same generation. I'm not going to sit here and say that I'm going to win the Dakar. That's not going to happen. I want to finish in the first 20," he says. "Actually my real goal is to first finish and then to come on the TV highlights. I want one of the clips to say that 'this is the fastest Indian'. I need to be in the top 20 in one of the days to achieve that. It'll be a really cool thing to take back home."
This year, the rally returns to Peru for the first time since 2013. It's a country Santosh has never raced in before and a sea of sand dunes await him over a series of looped stages. He calls it "another animal". To prepare for the unknown, Santosh has delved into his mind and challenged his own non-conformist ways. For instance, on Wednesday, he tells us, the mind conditioning team he works with led by Nimrod Brokman, put him through a session that 'really pissed him off'.
"They put me on a bicycle and I had to achieve a heart rate of 170 which requires a fair amount of effort at the same time there were images and road book instructions given to me that I need to remember and then repeat back to them. They give me a couple of shapes and lots of dots and I had to figure the shapes in the dots, so that teaches me how to have a system. I'm the kind of guy who doesn't like the system. I don't like to train at a certain time, eat a certain food. I'm a rebel. For me to conform and listen to people is a huge task and their job is to mess with me the whole time."
The Dakar Rally next year will also have former Chelsea and Tottenham manager Andre Villas Boas, who quit his job at the Chinese side Shanghai SIPG for the race, driving a Toyota Hilux pick-up. This, after he was dissuaded from navigating the punishing terrain on a motorbike.
Admittedly not a football fan himself (apart from maybe when he's playing FIFA), Santosh, who will be racing for team Hero MotoSports, says the most fun part of the race is when they're passing through Argentina. This year, the 40th edition of the rally being staged in South America, will set out from the Peruvian capital of Lima, head through to Bolivia before riding into the finish line in Cordoba, Argentina.
"Argentina is the best. All the people are on a holiday, they're barbecuing and everything looks festive. There're beautiful women everywhere and that helps take your mind off the race and the suffering you're going through," he says.
"I like to be on a bike only if I'm racing" CS Santosh
In the previous edition of the Dakar, Santosh finished 47th, the second time in three appearances that he'd finished the race. So this time he has thrown in all the experience he has gathered so far for a race, that has got him "excited for the first time".
"All the earlier ones I was either vary, nervous or not prepared. I usually ride within my comfort zone that's why I've been fairly consistent. But this year I've pushed it and tried to come out of my shell and find speed which I know I have. I've been trying to simulate the kind of energy that I would put out the whole day at Dakar. I train, eat a bit, again train so it's not like I train and then go and rest."
He has also got his machine, the Hero RR 450, designed in a way that would minimise manouevering efforts and maximise results. "Before you could really feel the weight of the bike because there was lot of fuel we carried in the back and there was only one fuel tank. Now we have two at the sides and one at the back so we don't feel the weight that much."
For someone who races for a living and is pretty much the poster boy for endurance racing in India, you would think he owns a fleet of his own. The truth is he doesn't even possess a single one. The only bikes Santosh says he has ever had were a TVS Suzuki Shaolin and a KTM 200 as a teen.
He offers a perfectly freakish explanation that you'd only expect from someone who lives life on the edge. "I like to be on a bike only if I'm racing. Otherwise, it makes no sense."