"Visca Catalunya, visca Nani"* Barcelona, December the 30th 2004 - For the last day of scrutineering in the main hall of the Palau Sant Jordi before the big start of the race tomorrow, the Catalan fans were finally able to cheer their local...
"Visca Catalunya, visca Nani"*
Barcelona, December the 30th 2004 - For the last day of scrutineering in the main hall of the Palau Sant Jordi before the big start of the race tomorrow, the Catalan fans were finally able to cheer their local hero, Nani Roma. By his Mitsubishi Pajero Evo 2, the winner of the Telefonica Dakar 2004 bike race, a newcomer on four wheels, was by far the most popular competitor of the day with children by hundreds asking for a precious autograph. "It's difficult to be happier than I am today. It's fantastic being at home."
Just 60kms away from his tiny home village of Folgueroles, Roma drove one of the five official Mitsubishis into the main hall without the slightest pressure on his shoulders. "I'm in the best possible conditions, although I only drove 600kms in the Mitsubishi. I've been told to take it easy. I'm here to help out Peterhansel and Masuoka as a fast assistance."
'Peter', the car title holder winner himself is delighted with the new Mitsubishi recruit: "Nani is in the best possible position. He leaves the bike category to go to cars in the best vehicle and no pressure. He just has to focus his energy on learning."
The Frenchman went through the technical checks with a huge smile on his face delighted to be back in Barcelona. "I still have amazing memories of my first visit back in 1989. It was incredible. Thousands of people were on the side of the roads giving us a pat on the shoulder." Although he is "here to win" with his new improved Evo 3, the 6-time bike winner insisted he felt even better than before: "It's tougher to fight for a first title than keeping it. Last year I had extra pressure. This time I feel cooler, more confident but every kilometre has its trap in Africa."
Traps that three of the four official Volkswagen drivers know just too well. Alongside American newcomer Robbie Gordon, three former Dakar winners unveiled their promising Race Touareg machines to the Palau Sant Jordi crowd. Leading the 'terrific trio' was 93 winner Bruno Saby, shortly followed by Jutta Kleinschmidt who claimed the event in 2001 and 88 champion Juha Kankkunen. The Finn actually spent most of his time admiring the rally films on the giant screen of the arena. Archive sequences where he only appears once and that was for his only appearance on the race in 1988. "It's nice to be back. We will try to do as well as we can. For the overall we will have to see during the race but 600 competitors also want to win the race."
After the KTM Repsol riders led by Isidre Esteve yesterday, the other favourites for victory on two wheels, the KTM Gauloises boys, arrived for their scrutineering day. Third on the podium last year, Cyril Despres appears like the race favourite although he has a different feeling. "There are no favourites. The race lasts 17 days and everything remains open. My first opponent is the desert, then we have Meoni, Esteve, Coma...Frétigné..." Walking through the administrative corridors, the Frenchman looked extremely relaxed and certainly aware that a rider like Pal-Anders Ullevalseter will be one to watch. The Norwegian indeed has high expectations: "My goal is to make it to the top three !"
On the podium of the 2004 edition, a tired Fabrizio Meoni, sixth of the overall announced that he wouldn't be back on the Dakar. Well, close to 11 months later, the Italian rider is back and still hungry... The two-time race winner feels that the Dakar is slowly returning to its "real spirit where the stage results are difficult to predict."
A kind of spirit that will certainly also concern the truck race where the Kamaz vehicles of leader Vladimir Tchaguine will be hoping to conquer yet another title (Tchaguine's fifth) but will face fierce opposition against the DAF duo of Jan and Gerard De Rooy. "I have more experience but you never have enough. I'm just aiming at the highest possible position", insisted the younger of the De Rooy family but one can expect fantastic battles between the Russian and Dutch brands.
(*) Long live Catalunya, long live Nani