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Nani Roma start at the Dakar

Nani Roma: Are You Tough Enough For The Dakar Rally?

Jan 142020

Dakar is wild. It pits man and machine against the environment. Joan “Nani” Roma has spent half his life contesting what is widely regarded as the world’s toughest rally and is one its most experienced competitors. The 47-year-old Spaniard won the motorcycle class in 2004 in Africa on a KTM and repeated on four wheels in South America in 2014 with Mini. This past year, he was fighting for victory but ultimately had to settle for second. For the 2020 edition—a challenging 12-stage event in Saudi Arabia—Roma began a new project with German automobile manufacturer Borgward. We spoke with him about the mental tests competitors face chasing success.


My first Dakar was in 1996; I was 23 years old. At that time, the main motivation was to discover the world. (Dakar Rally founder) Thierry Sabine was my inspiration, and it was a dream come true to take the start.


The first time you tackle the Sahara, you feel so small and alone in the immensity of the desert. It was the scariest moment of my first Dakar, more of a “Wow!” filled with the highest respect.


When I was racing in the bike category, 20 minutes before the start I was scared. It was fear, not panic. I knew how tough and life-challenging this rally can be.


Be ready to suffer. Racing in the Dakar in Africa meant riding from 11 to 12 hours every day. In South America or Saudi Arabia it can be from 6 to 8 hours, but if something goes wrong, be prepared to spend the night on the freezing desert.

Being Lost

In 2002, I lost the race because I lost my way. It happened two days before the stage finish in Tichit (Mauritania). I was freaking out, but I learned afterwards that this is also part of the game, and you have to accept that you may lose a race for a navigational mistake.


My mental approach has changed throughout the years, and you learn to manage the stress. Many factors—the navigation, the speed—cause stress. Preparation helps keep stress under control. I have my daily routine: I prepare my racing gear before going to bed. And the following day, I have my wake-up system and check list. It reduces stress.


Concentration is crucial. This is what Dakar is all about. The mind can think one thing at a time, but while you are driving you need to focus and monitor many things. In a 400 kilometers of a special stage, you have inputs all the time, some more important than the others. You need to focus on the most important ones. Prioritizing is key, the most important thing you need to learn. Every kilometer, the priority may change and you need to be smart, flexible, and adapt.


It’s important to accept mistakes. They are part of the game.

Ups And Downs

Even when everything is perfect and you are fighting for the win, you have a lot of ups and downs. This is also true when you start a new project like Borgward. We knew from the start that we are here to contribute to the development of the machine so we needed to temporarily postpone the ambitions for results. They will come, but it will take some time.


It changes every year according to what you are doing, but you need motivation. This is what keeps you going. This year, for example, my fuel is to contribute to the development of the Borgward project. I know the car needs some time to get where we want to be, but I decided to be part of the team. This decision means taking responsibility; you look at the overall classification in a different way.

Giving Up

I never thought to give up. Not even when I had bad crashes like Peru in 2018. I enjoy what I do; this is my life. When I don’t have this feeling, I will change job.


You will be surprised, but the number-one rule for the Dakar when you are not on a special stage is simple: If you have one minute off, eat and sleep. Rest whenever possible.