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Images of Nani Roma on Stage four of the Rally Dakar

Ready to rumble: Roma targets 2018 Dakar title

Jan 032018

They say the best is yet to come; and in the case of Dakar legend Nani Roma, that could certainly be true. After a year’s hiatus with Overdrive Toyota, the 45 year-old has returned to the X-Raid Mini squad for the 2018 Dakar with whom he raced with between 2012-2016. Now with a re-designed version of the MINI All4 Racing Countryman underneath him Roma could be set for a repeat of his 2014 victory.

Contesting the events 10th rally in South America – which simultaneously marks 40 editions of the famous Dakar Rally world wide will be no easy task though. A shake up of both the route and rules will see competitors take redesigned machinery on unfamiliar terrain in Peru – as the rally begins its first of 14 stages on the 6th January.

Most recently Roma finished fourth in the 2017 Dakar as the best of the rest behind three dominant Peugeots. However after 12 months of training, including long stints in a hyperbaric chamber to prepare for the extreme altitudes and temperatures which lay in wait, not to mention an extensive test programme in Morocco, Roma is more ready than ever to add to his two existing titles in the worlds most grueling off road race…

"The closer the start line gets the tougher it gets; there is a lot of pressure. And if you don’t have the motivation, then you can’t drive."

Hi Nani, how’s it going?

My body is in Spain, but my head is in Lima if you know what I mean. Especially in the last few weeks before flying to South America. Christmas time can be quite challenging also. Every year I feel a little bit apprehensive because of the size of the challenge ahead. After 22 years of racing the Dakar I know what’s coming!

Is it also a challenge to stay motivated for the Dakar – with it only being once a year?

I think the day I lose my motivation is the day I will stop racing. You prepare for this event for months and months. The closer the start line gets the tougher it gets; there is a lot of pressure. And if you don’t have the motivation, then you can’t drive. It’s hard enough on the rally to wake up in the morning and start the stages, because of how physically and mentally tough it is. My motivation is also different from the first year I competed. Then it was a case of expectations – not knowing the stages or what was ahead. Now it’s about fighting and using my experience to try to win.

What makes this year different for you? 

Every Dakar is special for sure, but this one even more so. When the Dakar started in South America in 2009 it was a big challenge and it’s very exciting to see the race grow. To think a crazy guy like Thierry Sabine created something that has continued for 40 years and kept the spirit of adventure – which is something not many events achieve is amazing. So just on that alone it’s very exciting and special. But also you have to be excited from a respect point of view – the route, the organisers, the fans – it’s always special to be a part of the Dakar.

You’re back in a MINI again too…

Yes, we started the project with Toyota, with a great car and team, but in the middle of the year (2017) I started to talk with my former team boss (Sven Quandt) about the possibility of coming back. At first I wasn’t sure, because of the good relationship I had started with Toyota. But then Mr. Quandt showed me the development they have been doing and the new buggy the team are building. With the rule changes coming up – I am also looking at the long-term future. The team at X-Raid are very enthusiastic to work hard and invest in the future to keep their cars competitive. If the rule changes lean towards either the Buggy or 4x4 categories then I have options at X-Raid. I'd also like to say thank you to Toyota for all their efforts and recognize their hard work to keep me in the team. It’s never easy when you have two really strong teams to choose between, but in the end I made a decision with the future in mind.

" We’ve done a lot of preparation and testing for this edition of the Dakar. We stayed in Morocco for just over 20 days of driving, covering more than 5000km."

Five Dakar rallies contested and one win; the MINI is new car but very familiar, correct?

Yes very much. The car is redesigned to match the new rules this year obviously. There was a 100kg reduction in the weight limit; we have three centimeters more suspension travel also. The guys at BMW have been working very hard on the engine package, and we have great tyres from BF Goodrich. The whole package has come together very well and is really nice. We’ve done a lot of preparation and testing for this edition of the Dakar. We stayed in Morocco for just over 20 days of driving, covering more than 5000km. Of course, the Dakar is the Dakar, so you cant predict everything; but as a minimum everyone will work hard – starting with the boss, Mr. Quandt, through to the last guy in the team. Everyone is ready to fight for victory, and this gives you a great feeling.

Do you think you can fight the Peugeots this year? 

Of course. Like I always say; the goal is always the same – and that is to win. But there are eight other drivers at the top with the same goal also! When you break it down to the daily stages we will be pushing to the maximum of course, and for sure it will be nice to beat Peugeot. They are a full factory team with excellent drivers and co-pilots so naturally everyone wants to beat them too. It’s not easy to do, but we are ready!
I always insist that it is important to believe you can win, even before you start the race. This year we arrive with a lot of confidence – I know the team is strong, the car is great and my co-pilot Alex Haro has been working hard to prepare also. We are really ready to fight.

Talk to us about the route - it starts in Lima and ends in Argentina. What will the key challenges be for you? 

Normally at the start of the Dakar, the early stages are a little easier and that helps as a type of warm-up. But this year we are straight into the action in Lima. It’s almost the equivalent of starting last years Dakar in the middle of the rally. The first kilometer of this years Dakar is into the dunes already! And throughout the first five days we are racing through the sand. There is no time for a warm up, so we really need to take extra care at the start. After that we cross into Bolivia, with some very long stages at high altitude; over 4,000 meters (13,100+ feet) which is very tough on the car and us. The weather is also very unpredictable in Bolivia. Areas like Belén and Fiambalá can be constantly at over 50 °C (122 Fahrenheit) even overnight. Every stage is hard this year and we will have to concentrate to the absolute maximum all the time.

Tell us a little about your training regime - what do you do to cope with the altitude?  

I’ve been training a lot this year, and I’ve been pretty lucky because I’ve managed to not pick up any injuries either. Sometimes when you are training so hard, you get muscle pain, or you are sick; so you have to stop for a week. I’ve been training inside ‘the box’ which simulates the temperature and altitude we will experience on the Dakar – on average it’s been set to 40°C and 5,000meters (104 Fahrenheit / 16,400 feet). Consistency is the most important thing; I have been training all year without big interruptions, so I’m feeling really well and fit.

Do you ever hold any ambition to switch back to two wheels at the Dakar?

Ha-ha… Sometimes when I see the riders at the end of the stages, I say to my co-pilot Alex; ‘I can’t believe I did that’. I’m proud to have done the Dakar on a motorcycle, but I don’t feel any motivation to do it again. Like I said before, the Dakar is about managing the risks. I have capacity now in a car to know where I can push hard and take risks, and where I can’t. In a motorcycle, when you are pushing to the maximum the risks are much higher. The speed the guys are reaching now - even on the smaller bikes - is amazing. I really enjoyed it when I raced on a motorcycle, and was very lucky to have fast big bikes with great teams, but now I’m pleased to close the book on that part of my career!

Awesome: thank you very much Nani, we can’t wait to see you on the start line on the 6th January!

Thank you guys, and thank you for the support!