More than 9,000 kilometres over perilously soft sand dunes, through fields of treacherous boulders, across the gargantuan heights of the Andes, and through the relentless desert heat of one of the driest regions on earth: anyone with victory in mind must be prepared to suffer. That much is certain, as MINI looks to successfully defend its title at the 2015 Rally Dakar (4th – 17th January). However, the Monster Energy Rally Raid Team, which lines up with three MINI ALL4 Racing powerhouses, already possesses the key to success at the toughest endurance rally in the world. The team has been the dominant force in the Dakar since 2012 and goes into this year’s race on the back of three successive victories at the desert classic, which has been held in South America rather than Africa since 2009.
Stamina, reliability and experience: these are the key qualities at the marathon rally, which in 2015 takes the competitors right through the heart of South America – from Argentina, through Chile and Bolivia, and back to Argentina. The MINI ALL4 Racing and the Monster Energy Rally Raid Team possess all three essential characteristics required for this trip. The team is spearheaded by defending champion Joan “Nani” Roma. This is the Spaniard’s 19th outing at the Rally Dakar. Nani had to learn some painful lessons on the way to his maiden Dakar win in 2004, when he won on a motorcycle in Africa. “The first few years were tough,” says the 42-year-old. He made his first appearance in 1996 – and failed to finish. It was to be the same story for the next three years.
However, it takes time to gain experience. And stamina. So Nani climbed back into the saddle of his Enduro again in 2000 – with success. He reached the finish for the first time – in a creditable 17th place in the motorcycle class. However, his patience was to be put to the test once again. Nani once again missed out on his next three starts, before his big breakthrough came in 2004. For the first time, he not only mastered the wretched Dakar conditions, which put both man and machine to the test. He also outdid all his rivals. “I will never forget my first Dakar win,” says Nani. “It cost me a lot of nerves. However, you don’t win the Dakar at the first attempt.” The same went for Nani’s outings on four wheels, having switched from bikes to cars in 2005. His best result at the Dakar was third place, until he lined up for the first time in a MINI ALL4 Racing at the 2012 race – and promptly finished runner-up.
Back then it was another MINI ALL4 Racing that denied him first place – driven by Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel, who presented MINI with the first Dakar victory in the manufacturer’s history. “That was a huge success, and it was clear to me from the word go that the MINI ALL4 Racing was tailor-made for the Dakar,” says Nani in retrospect. While Peterhansel repeated the feat in the MINI ALL4 Racing in 2013, Nani had to wait until 2014 for his big moment. After over 4,000 kilometres against the clock, he and his MINI ALL4 Racing eventually crossed the finish line as the winners. His dream of a second victory at the Dakar had come true. “It was far from easy. However, I had absolute faith in the MINI ALL4 Racing, and the team did a super job,” said Nani at the time. “I will always remember this win. I have got a taste for it now.”
It is not hard to imagine how good success must taste. It is a point of honour, then, that Nani should want no other car for his 2015 campaign than the MINI ALL4 Racing with the number 300 on the doors. The defending champion’s car, no less. Nani will be flanked by his experienced team-mates Krzysztof Holowczyc from Poland and Argentina’s Orlando Terranova, who also line up in MINI ALL4 Racings. In 2013 Krzysztof, at the wheel of a MINI ALL4 Racing, won the World Cup for Cross Country Rallies – an international off-road event, which the team has used in recent years to prepare the 320-hp desert MINI for the various challenges it would face at the Dakar. The MINI ALL4 Racing also pocketed the title in the World Cup for Cross Country Rallies in 2014. As such, it is excellently prepared for the Dakar, when MINI will play “Connect Four” as it looks to add a fourth Dakar success in a row. Incidentally, only twice since the first Rally Dakar back in 1979 has a car manufacturer achieved this feat. Another overall victory would thus earn MINI a place among the exclusive top three winning car manufacturers at the Rally Dakar.
Although there is still a long way to go – the demanding route takes competitors across countless fields of sand dunes, over majestic Andes passes, and straight through the driest region on the planet, the Atacama Desert – MINI fans can already start looking forward to the 2015 Rally Dakar. Roma, Holowczyc, Terranova and the Monster Energy Rally Raid Team will be joined by more participants in MINI ALL4 Racings. In total, MINI will be represented by ten driver/co-driver crews from twelve different countries. This guarantees it will be the dustiest MINI festival of all time. And if it were up to Nani Roma, the 2015 Rally Dakar would pan out exactly as the 2014 race did. However, one thing is guaranteed to be different this year for Nani. His MINI ALL4 Racing for this year’s Dakar will be black instead of yellow. But he can live with that.