“The Kalahari Ferrari”: An Interview with Ross Branch, Dakar Rally Sensation

Winnie Motswagae
By Winnie Motswagae 420 Views 11 Min Read
11 Min Read

Meet Ross Branch, affectionately known as the Kalahari Ferrari, a motorcycle racing sensation hailing from Botswana. Ross has captured the hearts of motorsport enthusiasts worldwide with his fearless riding and impressive track record.

From becoming the first Dakar stage winner from Botswana to clinching podium finishes in prestigious races, including his recent historic second-place finish in the 2024 Dakar Rally, Ross has solidified his status as a formidable force in the world of rally racing.

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In this exclusive interview, we sit down with Ross to delve into his remarkable journey, his passion for the sport, and his aspirations for the future.

BRANCH Ross (bwa), Hero Motorsports Team Rally, Hero, Motul, Moto, FIM W2RC, BRABEC Ricky (usa), Monster Energy Honda Team, Honda, Motul, Moto, FIM W2RC, VAN BEVEREN Adrien (fra), Monster Energy Honda Team, Honda, Moto, Motul, FIM W2RC, portrait during the Final Podium of the Dakar 2024 on January 19, 2024 in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia - Photo Florent Gooden / DPPI
BRANCH Ross (bwa), Hero Motorsports Team Rally, Hero, Motul, Moto, FIM W2RC, BRABEC Ricky (usa), Monster Energy Honda Team, Honda, Motul, Moto, FIM W2RC, VAN BEVEREN Adrien (fra), Monster Energy Honda Team, Honda, Moto, Motul, FIM W2RC, portrait during the Final Podium of the Dakar 2024 on January 19, 2024 in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia – Photo Florent Gooden / DPPI
  • Congratulations on your outstanding achievements in the Dakar Rally and other competitions! How does it feel to represent Botswana on such a global stage and achieve historic victories for your country and continent?
    • Thank you very much. The feeling is incredible, I have waited a long time for this moment, and it is an immense honor makes to fly our flag and represent our nation. It comes with a great sense of pride and realization that you are not only competing for yourself, but also carrying the expectations and also the support of your entire nation.
  • Your journey in motorsport began at a young age, inspired by witnessing the Dakar Rally as a child. Can you share more about your early experiences with motorcycles and what drew you to pursue a career in racing?
    • My dad got me a bike at the age of 3 and we rode bikes every weekend. It was very much a family outing every weekend with our bikes. I knew I always wanted to do this as a career but as you know it’s so expensive and it was going to be a long hard journey to reach the goal.
  • In The 2024 Dakar Rally, there was a stage where you lost the front brakes? Can you explain what was going through your mind when that happened? Did You believe that was something you could recover from?
    • It was such a scary moment you know. All the hard work and dedication and endless hours of hard work I thought the race was over for me, but I changed my mind set and just focused on the positives and tried to make the best of a bad situation. I lost some time, but I didn’t lose the podium.
  • As the first Dakar stage winner from Botswana and the first African to podium in the Rally GP class, you’ve undoubtedly inspired many aspiring riders. How do you hope your achievements inspire the next generation of motorsport enthusiasts, particularly in Botswana and across Africa?
    • I really hope that I have inspired the youth of our sport as it’s so important for youngsters to take over and carry the flag across the globe in motorsport. I hope I have showed them that it is possible to reach dreams and goals and that you can do it if you never give up.
  • Competing in events like the Dakar Rally requires immense physical and mental endurance. Can you describe the training and preparation that goes into tackling such grueling competitions, both on and off the bike?
    • It’s a lifetime of commitments you know. It takes the whole year to physically prepare for an event like this. I have been working really hard in 2023 on my mental fitness and that was a huge change in my race craft
  • Motorsport is often seen as an individual pursuit, but it also requires a strong support system. How important has the support of your family, team, sponsors, and fans been throughout your career?
    • This support is what got me to the finish line of every race I have entered, Its not all about winning its about giving it your best shot, I have such an amazing support system behind me that support me through thick and thin and that is the most important thing you could ask for as an athlete
  • The Dakar Rally is known for its challenging terrain and unpredictable conditions. Can you share some memorable experiences or challenges you’ve faced during your Dakar Rally campaigns, and how you’ve overcome them?
    • I think the most amazing feeling of Dakar is riding over the start podium holding the Botswana flag, But I have always wanted to be on the finish podium in the top 3 and holding my flag, that happened this year and was the best feeling ever. I had a few days that I thought the rally was slipping through my fingers, but I think every rider has this feeling at one point in the race
  • Returning to Botswana after your recent second-place finish in the 2024 Dakar Rally, how does it feel to be back home and celebrated by your fellow Batswana? Can you share any special moments or interactions with fans since your return?
    • To tell you the truth every day I have been home has been absolutely incredible I have been congratulated by so many people, Lucara Botswana put on one of the most special arrival shows I have ever had, I got to have dinner with the minister of sport, I was in a huge motorcade with the mayor of Gaborone. These events I will remember for the rest of my life.
Photo credit: hero motosport
  • Ross, you made a transition from the Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team to now racing for the Hero MotoSports International Rally team. Can you share with us how this transition came about and what prompted your decision to join the Hero MotoSports team?
    • I had a great time with Monster energy Yamaha team, and they treated me well. Hero approached me at the beginning of 2022 and asked me if I would like to join the team, they are a really young team but they put so much effort and hard work into racing I was really happy to join the team. We did a lot of development on the bike and prepared it just the way I liked it which suited me perfectly for Dakar conditions.  
  • Ross, as a trailblazer in motorsport representing Botswana on the global stage, where do you envision the growth of motorsport in your home country in the coming years?
    • We as Botswana have such a bright future for racing and have so many potential champions, I really hope we can grow the sport here and we can host world class events such as the desert race in the future
  • Beyond your competitive achievements, you’ve also been involved in community initiatives and charitable work. Can you tell us about some of the projects you’re passionate about and how you use your platform to make a positive impact?
    • I have been involved in the Khawa training project and that was another dream come true for me. I got to work with the community of Khawa and teach kids that had never riding motorbikes before to ride safely and hopefully open some doors for them in the future.
  • With your extensive experience in various racing disciplines, including cross country, desert racing, and motocross, how do you adapt your skills and approach to different types of competitions and terrains?
    • I think all the different facets of the sport I have riding have helped me out when it comes to Dakar, you need all the skills of riding all the different terrains
  • Looking ahead, what are your goals and aspirations for the future of your motorsport career? Are there any specific challenges or events you’re targeting next?
    • We have the world championship to look forward too. We have round 2 coming up in Abu Dhabi soon and I would really like to be the best in the world at the final round in October
  • As a role model and ambassador for motorsport in Botswana, what advice would you give to young aspiring riders who dream of following in your footsteps and competing at the highest level?
    • Never give up on your dreams
  • Finally, reflecting on your journey so far, what has been the most rewarding aspect of your career in motorsport, and what legacy do you hope to leave behind in the sport?
    • Definitely teaching the kids of khawa to ride was such an amazing feeling and I hope I can give back to our beautiful country and sport
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