Interview: Harith Noah Dakar 2024 preparation, goals and more

Ahead of Dakar 2024, we caught up with Harith Noah to discuss his recovery after two major injuries, training with Red Bull and more.

It’s been a year of rebuilding from the ground up for Harith Noah. He had to overcome not one but two major injuries, and is now gearing up for his fifth crack at the gruelling Dakar Rally.

We caught up with the Indian cross-country rally racer to discuss the year gone by, how he’s preparing for Dakar 2024, what result he’s targeting and more.

Bouncing back… twice

In January this year, Noah was forced to pull out of the 2023 Dakar Rally after a crash in Stage 4. He admits that he initially wanted to continue racing, and that it was a fellow competitor who came to his aid and called for the rescue helicopter. Scans revealed that he had fractured the fifth thoracic vertebrae (T5) of his spine.

While he didn’t require any surgery, the road to recovery was long. “For almost one month I was on bed, which was really hard because I was not supposed to walk,” he shares. “For sure I lost some muscle mass.”

Anyone who’s part of the two-wheeler rally scene will tell you that there’s no practice better than time on the bike. And when it comes to an event like the Dakar Rally – widely regarded as one of the most challenging races in the world – preparations begin several months in advance. Naturally, Noah wanted to get back to his training regime as soon as possible. “As soon as I could start getting up, I started cycling indoors,” he says. And just around three months after his Dakar crash, he was back training on a bike.

Unfortunately, he suffered another injury shortly after; a crash during one of his training sessions left him with a broken right wrist. The injury required two separate surgeries, and Noah reveals he even competed in Spain’s Baja Aragon in between surgeries.

“After that [second] surgery my wrist became much better. So now it’s like 95 percent there. But in the beginning it was really difficult because you question, why me?” Noah adds.

During breaks in between rallies, Noah has been travelling to the USA where he’s been visiting the Red Bull Athlete Performance Centre – something that he credits for playing a pivotal role in his recovery. “When I went there the first time, our goal was to gain weight in the form of muscle and we achieved that,” he says. “Even the mental aspect, seeing those results that you got better on paper, it helped me a lot.”

Preparing for Dakar 2024

Given that he’s studied sports science, Noah is also well aware of just what areas he needs to work on to be Dakar ready. “You need to have good endurance,” he says. “So now I’m trying to do long sessions on the bicycle, like three hours and more, to get the body used to working when tired because that’s what happens at the Dakar. And obviously, you need some strength; that bike is not super light.”

In the past few months, Noah has competed at the TransAnatolia Rally in Turkey (where he topped the B1 category for motorcycles up to 450cc) and the Morocco Rally (where he finished P15 overall and P11 in the RallyGP class). Morocco, of course, proved to be very useful preparation for Dakar, given the similar desert terrain.

“Maybe Morocco is a little bit more dangerous because there are a lot of rocks and a lot of broken terrain,” Noah adds. “It’s definitely a good place to race, especially two to three months before the Dakar. It’s perfect to finetune the final things that you want to change or work on.”

When asked if he feels confident heading into the upcoming Dakar Rally, the TVS-backed rider replies, “I look at the bad side of the year – I broke my back, then I broke my wrist, I didn’t ride for a few months. But I also won a race in my category and I finished P15 in Morocco – all of those are my best results.”

Noah also points out that “after COVID-19, this was the first year where I had more than two races, excluding Dakar.”

Dakar 2024 goals

The 2021 edition of the Dakar Rally saw Noah make history, with his 20th place result being the best-ever ranking achieved by an Indian at the event. Naturally, you’d want to improve upon your personal best; but given what sort of year he’s had – and just the gruelling nature of the Dakar Rally – simply reaching the finish line would be a pretty acceptable goal.

“I would say [it’s] a mixture of both,” Noah admits. “Obviously the finish line is the most important. For anyone who goes for the Dakar, I think it’s one of their main goals to finish because it’s so difficult. But then going to the results, yes, I finished 20th. As an athlete I’m competitive, so I want to get better than that.”

“15 is a nice number, I like it,” he chimes.

The upcoming 2024 edition of the Dakar Rally will continue to be held in Saudi Arabia. The event will see competitors cover over 7,800km, with 12 stages from January 5 to 19. The latest edition will also feature a few ’48 hour challenges’ requiring participants to stop at the bivouac closest to them after 4pm and set off again at 7am next day. Riders will only be able to figure out the exact workings of this once they reach Saudi Arabia, but Noah says it’s an “interesting” addition.

For now, though, he’s sticking to his mantra of taking it kilometre by kilometre. “Since I started racing, I have a goal – it’s always to try to take it kilometre by kilometre. You can’t predict the next second, you can’t change the second before. So, it’s there in the now and you just try to do your best,” he explains.

“Also during the race, one thing me and my psychologist worked on has been that we don’t look at the overall results. I never check where I am [in the standings],”

“Obviously someone from my team has a look and if there is something where I have to push a little bit or I don’t have to push because I’m already in the position and nothing is going to change it, then towards the end of the race they will tell me. But otherwise, I really prefer not to check and just focus on it day by day.”

Watch this space for all the updates from the upcoming 2024 Dakar Rally.

Also see:

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