Two-time Dakar Rally winner Nani Roma has tested M-Sport’s Ford Ranger T1+ with which it will make its cross-country debut on the Saudi Arabian event next year.
Roma, who won the Dakar for the first time in 2004 on a bike before repeating the feat in the car category a decade later, missed this year’s rally after spending the bulk of 2022 recovering from cancer.
Roma was a key part of the development of the Prodrive-run Bahrain Raid Xtreme program and finished fifth on the Hunter’s maiden outing in 2021.
Although still contracted to Prodrive, Roma has been increasing his T1+ driving of late, with M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson saying the Spaniard was one of many drivers under consideration for a Ranger seat next year.
“There’s a big list, put it this way,” Wilson told DirtFish. “There are more people knocking on our door than there is in WRC.
“We’re still testing, we have another test planned in Morocco at the end of April, so we’ve still got a long way to go, we’ve got a lot of work to do but we’re happy with what we’ve learned and we’re happy with the progress that we’re making with the vehicle.”
The Ranger T1+ broke cover last year and, with the help of specialist outfit Neil Woolridge Motorsport in South Africa, has undergone an initial testing regime.
For Wilson, arriving prepared at the Dakar is his main focus.
“The target is to try and do Dakar next year, but a lot will depend on how the rest of the season goes with testing,” he said.
“[It’s] mainly the Woolridge guys who have developed the car in South Africa, they’ve been doing quite a bit, but we also had Nani Roma testing for us in the last test as well.”
Wilson would not be drawn on naming specific drivers he’d target to drive any of the three cars, but did accept that interest has come from all corners of the rallying world.
“There’s no question that if we want to win Dakar then you need the experience. I don’t need to tell you the guys who are on the shopping list for that.
“There’s some of them WRC but there’s an incredible amount of interest in competing in Dakar. I must admit that’s the one thing that has really, really probably shocked me – the amount of people and they all seem to have some form of budget to be able to do something.”
Young Red Bull rally-raid driver Seth Quintero’s name was linked to M-Sport during this year’s Dakar in January, but the American driver was coy when quizzed by DirtFish in Saudi Arabia about the possibility of a T1+ graduation.