NANI ROMA, READY FOR HIS SECOND ASSAULT ON THE DAKAR IN THE CAR CLASS
With one year of experience at the wheel of the Mitsubishi Montero Evolution, faces the 2006 Lisbon Dakar with higher ambitions
Machines, team personnel and drivers of the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team are ready for the 2006 Lisbon Dakar Rally. One of its spearheads, Nani Roma, is already immersed in the countdown and fully concentrated to face his eleventh participation. Sixteen days of competition, more than 9,000 kms in eight different countries, 747 participating vehicles and 40 countries represented, have turned the 28th edition of the most famous rally of the world into a real record-breaking event. With all homework done and less than one month left for the start of the hardest rally of the world, Nani Roma tells us about his feelings and hopes for what will be his second season in the car class. Unlike last year's Dakar, where he arrived after covering only 500 kms at the wheel, but managed to arrive at Lake Rose in a meritorious sixth position, the Repsol driver faces this edition after covering more than 12,000 test kms and with an ambitious aim in mind: getting on the podium. But his eleventh Dakar will also be special due to other reasons, because his wife Rosa will also be taking part this time, in the motorbike class.
There is less than one month left for the start. Which are your plans for these days? Which will be the last tests before the start?
"We will basically finish preparing smaller details, although a bit of fun is never wrong. We made an amusing co-drive with some journalists today. It's been a fantastic meeting and we were able to use the Mitsubishi I used to win the Baja Aragon and to race the last Dakar. Tomorrow I'll be in France to test the material we're going to use at the Dakar and then the whole team is going to the French Bretagne to do the last physical training. We'll be there until December 16, training and also relaxing a bit. What we do these days, rather than looking for a good shape for the Dakar is to make a good team job, in order to increase confidence and get closer. We will return to Point-de-Vaux, the team's base in France, on December 17, where we'll do the shakedown with the car we're using for the race; it will be the last test before the start."
"Not now. Now we have to think about the Dakar, something I've been preparing for the whole year. I'll obviously spend Christmas with my family, but those are days where you are somehow there but not really. I actually cannot disconnect completely and I'm almost always thinking about the race and not that much about the family."
At this stage, the car's preparation and development are finished. What's the difference compared to the car you used last year?
"Last year I used the 2004 version, the MPR10, and my team-mates used the MPR11, but this year we're all going to use the MPR12, i.e. the 2006 version. It has been a jump over two evolution stages for me so the difference as regards behaviour and weights has been more significant to me than to my team-mates. It has improved a lot. The weights and the centre of gravity are much lower and the suspensions have improved a lot as well."
What are the effects of the new regulations?
"Before, the air admission system of the engine was variable and this year the regulations forces it to be fix. The engineers have done a great job and the engine is still having a great performance. I'd say that with the new regulations, we have more torque and power than last year. As regards suspensions, we already had a flange limitation of 32 mm, so there have not been many changes there. I'm very optimistic because we have a great car and all of us can do a great job."
Last year, your big handicaps were the lack of experience, your limited position inside the car and driving on dunes. How have you evolved in all of these aspects?
"I've improved a lot in all of them with no doubt. As regards experience, last year I arrived at the Dakar rally having covered only 500 kms with the Mitsubishi, but this year we've made more than 12,000 kms of tests on all kinds of surfaces. I've also improved technically, although I still got a lot to learn. My position inside the car is another improvement; last year I had a really bad time; the seat was much too small. It was really hard because I spent several stages with pain in my back and my legs. This year, Mitsubishi have prepared a special seat for me, larger, and I fit much better into the car. We made a very good test in Dubai on dunes, where I managed to improve my driving style. We had very complicated dunes, but I took them quite well and took away some of the stress I have when driving on that kind of surface. You can always fail, because it is the most complicated surface we are going to face, but now I feel much more confident. The most positive aspect is that I've been learning a lot this year, progressing really quickly and well, without making any mistakes."
Which are the strong and the weak sides of this year's Nani Roma?
"The strong side is that I know the terrain very well, I know Africa. The nine years I raced on the motorbike gave me a large experience. The weak sides are still the same, the lack of more technique at the wheel. I still have to learn but the large motivation I have makes up for those lacks."
Last year's result was very positive and this season you already took your first victory at the Baja Aragon. Which are Nani Roma's aims for the 2006 Dakar?
"I always set myself difficult aims and this year couldn't be less. I know that it's ambitious, but my aim is to get on the podium. I'll take the start with that aim and that will keep me focussed. Last year, since I had no clear aim, it was more complicated to race. I reached the finish with a certain feeling of frustration, but that's what I had to do. It was my first year and I had to cover kilometres and to learn. A lot of people had put their trust in me and I didn't want to disappoint them staying out. It was very positive and I'm very happy with what I managed to do, so this year I want more. This doesn't mean that I'm going to put my foot down every day because it's a long and complicated race. I'll race as I've been doing so far, but I'll go for my aim. If we do our job right, the results will come."
You are in the best car team and with the best drivers. This will not only have advantages, also some inconveniences, won't it?
"The only inconvenience I've found is that many people, just for the fact of having a car like mine, demands results. But somehow it is only natural. However, neither the team nor Repsol have put any pressure on me, on the contrary, they have always been giving me a lot of confidence and all the calm of the world. It is difficult for me to find any inconvenience in the fact of being a member of the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team. Having team-mates such as Stephane, Luc and Hiroshi is a big luck. They are the best and I'm learning a lot with them, so I'm trying to make to most of this luck. It might become an inconvenience in the future, but always in brackets, because we all know where we are and what we want."
A bet for this year...
"I have never won a bet in my whole life so I better keep quite. I'd say that Mitsubishi is going to win in the car class, but it's going to be a hard fight against the Volkswagen, they have also been showing themselves highly competitive. The Dakar will be really open. Jean Louis Schlesser with the buggy and the new regulations does also have possibilities to do a good job, the BMWs... In the motorbike class the winner will surely be a KTM."
Do you believe in luck? Have you got any amulet?
"I don't believe in luck, but I have some amulets. But it has rather something to do with superstition, because I think that it's a sweet gesture when people think about you and give you things to take with you during the races that will give you good luck. Since last year, I always race with a ribbon of Our Lady of El Pilar from Zaragoza tied up at the car's door and a watch that a brand gave me to give me luck."
If you would win the Dakar you would.........
"..do nothing special. I already won the Dakar two years ago on a motorbike and I didn't change anything in my life nor did I do anything special. Winning the Dakar was a dream and now it is an aim. Once you make it you feel that you've reached the aim you had in mind and there's nothing else you need to do."
How do you feel about your wife racing the Rally?
"I didn't feel well when she told me, but now I'm feeling better. It was complicated at the beginning because I was afraid of her being alone in the desert; I know how dangerous it is and how bad it feels. But now, with the project she has prepared and how she has organised everything, I feel much better. She has got a mechanic that will built her bike and a backpacker who will always be with her, so every time I overtake her I'll see her with somebody. Moreover, Rosa has got a lot of experience and she's a responsible person who knows really well where her limits are and she won't take any further risks. It is a dream she's had for many years and now she'll be able to make it come true. I'm very happy for her."
Rosa was already a biker before the two of you met and I've heard that she rides really well. Do you think she is ready for the Dakar?
"She's always been very good on the motorbike, but now she's highly motivated and she has prepared herself thoroughly. Women are women and when something gets into their minds they go for all. She has been training a lot and well, and she has evolved, but the Dakar is the Dakar. She knows it and she knows that there are going to be very hard, difficult, long stages, and that she'll be driving several hours at night... and she has prepared herself mentally a lot. I'd really be happy if she could reach Dakar, but the main thing is that she doesn't get hurt. She is capable to do it, but she has to know that the race also decides."
It's the hardest race of the world; do you think that her participation may affect your performance?
"No, because I usually focus on the race and forget about the rest. I'd say that I'm probably much too focussed on the race. Moreover, as I already told you, her project makes me feel relaxed, so I don't think that my performance will be affected by that at any time."
Christmas days at your home have always been something special, because you haven't been able to celebrate New Year 's Eve at home, as the rest of the families. What do your daughters think about the fact that you will both be away this year? Any special plan for New Year's Eve?
"We will spend Christmas together, and at home we have always celebrated Christmas Eve rather than Epiphany, which is also celebrated in Spain, so there won't be much of a change. But New Year's Eve will be special. First we thought about the possibility of bringing the girls to Lisbon with their grandparents, but we'll already be racing on December 31 and we'll start very early on January 1, so we wouldn't be able to spend much time with them. We finally decided that it's better if they stay home with the rest of the family. I guess it will be strange for them, but they are already used to it. Abril, the eldest is already eight years old and a very independent girl, already used to it. Julia is very young and although she will feel strange, she will also get used to it. It's only fifteen days and then, they will be able to enjoy their parents much more than other children."
Considering the genes they have, one of them must be a biker...
"Abril doesn't like motorbikes at all, maybe because she connects it with the fact of her parents being away and therefore she somehow rejects its. Who knows if she will start liking it in the future? Julia however likes them. When she hears or sees motorbikes she smiles and she enjoys sitting on them and watching how she opens the throttle. I o think that she is the biker."