How Ross Branch is trying to help put a new bike manufacturer on the World Rally-Raid map
Hero MotoSports Team Rally is the name of the motorsports effort organized by the world’s largest manufacturer of motorcycles and scooters – Hero MotoCorp – and the team for which rider Ross Branch competes for in the FIM World Rally-Raid Championship.
Seventh overall on a Hero 450 Rally machine at the recent 2,300 kilometer Sonora Rally in Mexico, the Batswana is now poised to make a run at the 2023 World Raid-Raid Championship.
Q: You’re competing in the 2023 FIM World Rally-Raid Championship and you recently participated in the Sonora Rally 2023 where you placed seventh overall. Can you tell us about the event?
ROSS BRANCH: We were in Mexico for round three of the World Rally-Raid Championship. We started in Hermosillo and we raced all the way up to the American border, which was incredible. It was round three. It was a big one. In Rally-Raid we only have five rounds of the World Championship, one of them being the famous Dakar Rally. Round three was good for us. We went out and we were top five and top 10 every day, which was good.
Obviously, I wanted to win the event, but unfortunately with Rally-Raid racing, you make one small mistake with the navigation and it puts you back a long way. I made a mistake on day one and lost a lot of time, so it was hard to catch up. Everybody is so on it now in Rally-Raid racing. It’s all like a 200-mile or 300-mile motocross race at the moment. Everybody is going so fast! All the guys are super-strong at the moment. It’s really good to be a part of that lead group, but it’s also really difficult to win races. The top 10 or top 20 guys can all win the races. We finished seventh overall, but I wanted to be on the top step, that’s for sure.
Q: Between all of the competing manufacturers – Honda, KTM, Husqvarna, Gas Gas and Hero – and all of the competing world class riders, the FIM World Rally-Raid Championship makes for a fiercely competitive battlefield, doesn’t it?
RB: For sure. It’s a huge war now, especially because of the Dakar Rally. if you’re a manufacturer and you come out of the Dakar Rally on top, it shows that your bike can go for 10,000 miles with no issues and is really strong. All of the manufacturers are putting everything they have into it. There are more manufacturers coming to the table as we speak. There are new manufacturers coming every day and I’m really proud to be a part of a semi-young team. It’s a new team to Rally-Raid racing and a new team to Dakar. The team I ride for is Hero Motorsports. It is a team from India. Yeah, I’m really proud and like I say, all of the manufacturers are putting everything they have into it and working really hard to be at the top of the Dakar Rally, as well as the World Championship.
Q: The Hero MotoCorp., Hero Motosports Rally Team that you’re now a part of is an absolutely fascinating effort. There is a masterplan at play with Hero and where they ultimately want to go in both the sport and the motorcycle industry, isn’t there?
RB: Yeah, they are huge. It’s really, really good for us as a sport. To get these new manufacturers and these new guys that are coming into the sport with a lot of passion and with a lot of enthusiasm is just awesome. Hero themselves have sold one hundred million motorcycles, which is incredible. They are the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. They’ve just recently joined the off-road racing scene and they’ve done extremely well. They’re developing every day and putting everything they have and all of their resources into rally racing and that’s awesome for us as a sport and it is awesome for us as athletes.
Nobody has really heard of the Hero brand on this side of the world, so going into rally is incredible for us. They are definitely one of the strongest manufacturers and a force to be reckoned with. We are going up against the big names like Honda and KTM and we are doing extremely well. We managed to win a couple of stages at the Dakar Rally this year, which is an incredible feat for the brand and it obviously shows that we are a force to be reckoned with and it’s going to be exciting. The next couple of years are going to be super-exciting. Hero is all in and putting everything they have into it and developing the bike and team day-by-day. It’s exciting times for us.
Q: It all adds up to a world class racing research and development racing effort, doesn’t it?
RB: They are doing everything they can to make us win. They are developing the engine and they’re developing the suspension. They’re changing the frame and they’re changing the chassis. They’re changing everything all of the time just to be better at every race. They use the World Championship to develop the bike, and obviously their big goal is to win the Dakar Rally.
And to be honest, I think we are at a point now where we can win the Dakar Rally. We’ve shown that we can win races and we’ve shown that we can win stages, so I think now the next thing is definitely the Dakar Rally. We’re really strong and it is a huge project for India, as well. India is putting everything they have towards rally racing. They’ve also got a national team of five riders in India, which is incredible. That’s beautiful for our sport now because we are taking the five guys and we’ll try and teach them how to ride rally. Hopefully, we’ll see some Indians coming out of India and into the World Rally-Raid Championship. Riding and representing the Hero brand globally is going to be incredible for them.
Q: How did you end up with hero MotoSports? Did they come looking for you? And did you even know who they were at the time?
RB: I was lucky enough to be friends with the team manager of Hero for many years. I started my rally career in 2019. I did the first Dakar Rally in 2019 in Peru. Then in 2021 I was lucky enough and fortunate enough to sign with the Monster Energy Yamaha World Rally-Raid Championship team.
When Yamaha decided to leave Rally-Raid for a while, I was lucky enough to sign with Hero. For me, it was a new step and a new opening. I was not knowing what to expect. They were from India and we’ve never seen them in off-road racing or motocross or anything like that, so it was a huge step for me, as well. It’s part of the family now. We’re all together and we have such a good vibe going on in the team. I’m so lucky to be able to put back a little bit of information that I’ve gained from my short rally career and give it to them to try and help them develop the bike and to help them try and win.
I also have Joaquim Rodrigues as a teammate. Joaquim is coming from being a former U.S. supercross rider and is a supercross and motocross legend here, as well. He’s also got so much experience and so much to give back to the team. At the moment, we’re moving big steps in the right direction. It’s a new brand and a new team and we’ve got a bright future.