Saturday, June 19, 2021

Nani Roma: There is a real comaraderie in Dakar that you might not get in other sports

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The Dakar legend Nani Roma is trying to claim a hat-trick at the world’s toughest rally raid. The Spanish driver signed a contract with Bahrain Raid Xtreme (BRX) team and will try throw down the challenges to MINI and “Toyota” in the Dakar 2021 car class.

What is so special about the Dakar?

Nani Roma (NR): It’s such a special event – so challenging and unique. I have been competing in the Dakar Rally for over 25 years

and I keep coming back, it’s now a part of my life. Now, joining with the Prodrive team, Bahrain Raid Xtreme, is very special for me.

NR: There is a real camaraderie in the Dakar, in the bivouac all the drivers sit together in the evenings and catch up on how the day’s stage has gone. There is a real sportsmanship that you may not see in other sports, where the rivalry takes over. Here, all the teams help each other, for example, Carlos [Sainz] ran out of fuel on the road into service. When we saw him, we towed him out – I know he would have done the same for me.

What is it like, being a Dakar Rally driver?

NR: We test and work a lot ahead of the race, to ensure we are as prepared as possible. This year there was the added challenge of my previous co-driver [Daniel Oliveras] testing positive for Coronavirus right before the rally, with Alex [Winocq] only joining the team on December 24. We had to manage this added element, alongside all the other Dakar preparations. Luckily, we are working well together and improving every day, but that situation isn’t easy ahead of a big race like this. We are working on our communication together and taking more confidence from the Hunter each day.

What is it like driving the Hunter?

NR: When you see all the people and experience involved in creating this car, you feel immediately that this is one of the most high-level, professional teams. To think that this is the first time the Hunter has raced in the sand dunes is amazing. The strength and performance of the car is really very good.

What does it take to win the Dakar Rally?

NR: The limiting factor in this race, is not the performance of the car, but the human element. How far each driver is prepared to push themselves. This is an incredibly physically demanding race – across thousands of kilometres of bumpy tracks and steep dunes, with stages taking around five hours – so it becomes about how much each driver can endure. I was talking about this with Carlos [Sainz] in the bivouac and we agree it is the human side – our bodies – that make the limit, not speed or the car.

How do you manage pushing the car to extremes, without breaking it?

NR: It is a difficult one to balance! Really, it is about the feel of the car. I listen to the engine and the noise of the transmissions to know how the Hunter is handling the driving conditions. Lots of this is about experience – learning about the terrain, you build this up over years and years.

How does this year’s Dakar differ to last year?

NR: The navigation is more difficult this year, as well as the new digital roadbook, it’s quite difficult. Last year the route was more in the empty quarter, while this year we have more mountain areas, rocky tracks and more navigational challenges. 

How has COVID-19 affected the rally?

NR: It is obviously very different this year – there is no staying in hotels, and everyone must stay together, in the bubble. It is like the rally was 25 years ago, when I first started, with everyone in it together, helping each other, a really tight-knit community. That is one of the real positives to come from COVID-19 this year.

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