Sunday, July 21, 2024

Nani Roma joining M-Sport Ford, Laia Sanz also in talks

Nani Roma‘s return to the Dakar Rally will be with a newcomer to the race as he joins up with M-Sport and Neil Woolridge Motorsport‘s new Ford Ranger T1+ effort. MARCA reported Wednesday that he has signed a two-year deal with an option to add a third, while the team is also negotiating with Laia Sanz to pilot a second truck.

Roma had already tested the Ranger T1+, which was initially due to race in 2023 before delaying its début to 2024. A two-time Dakar Rally champion, he served in a similar capacity at his last stop with Bahrain Raid Xtreme, helping to develop the Prodrive Hunter before being one of its inaugural drivers at the 2021 Rally. He finished fifth overall.

After the 2022 edition, where he was classified fifty-second, Roma put his career on hold to undergo bladder cancer treatment. While he had hoped to recover in time for the 2023 race, the timetable was too narrow for him to do so, ending his 26-year streak at Dakar. He still has another year on his contract with BRX, but has opted to forgo it to head to M-Sport.

Sanz, a fellow Spaniard, was the top female rider in Dakar’s bike category throughout the 2010s before transitioning to cars in 2022. After finishing twenty-third in her cars début with Mini, she drove a Century CR6 for Astara Team in 2023 and placed sixty-fifth overall after flipping in Stage #5.

Since Dakar, she has been focusing on Extreme E with ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team run by three-time Dakar winner Carlos Sainz. Sanz and Mattias Ekström, Sainz’s rally raid team-mate at Audi, won the season opener in Saudi Arabia, incidentally the current host country for Dakar.

In an April interview with DirtFish, M-Sport owner Malcolm Wilson envisioned a three-car operation for the 2024 Dakar Rally, leaving one slot available to partner with Roma and Sanz. Seth Quintero, who races in the World Rally-Raid Championship’s T3 category, is among those linked to the seat, while Wilson mentioned some World Rally Championship drivers are candidates as well.

MARCA also noted the team tested “informally” with Sainz and Sébastien Loeb. Sainz has stressed his interest in winning a fourth Dakar Rally with as many manufacturers as his final career goal, but his Audi team’s future in Dakar is uncertain amid a difficult 2023 Rally. Loeb’s contract with BRX expires after 2023 and he has raced for M-Sport in WRC, though he has also been rumoured for Renault’s 2025-bound Dacia programme.

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