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Images of Franco Caimi at the 2023 Dakar Rally

Unsung Hero: Franco Caimi

Jan 122023

With a successful career in enduro already under his belt, Franco Caimi made his Dakar Rally debut in 2017. Straight off the bat Franco finished 8th, and notably as the best South American rider. At the very next edition - at the 2018 Dakar - everything seemed promising until a problem with his clutch forced him to retire on stage 7. That same year Caimi had also suffered a serious leg fracture on the Rallye du Maroc. He then embarked on a race against the clock to recover in time for the Dakar in January. 

Caimi gave it all and tried to cope with the pain, but was ultimately forced to throw in the towel on the third stage as the suffering was unbearable. With his “never give up” mantra in his head, Franco Caimi proved his talent once again at the first ‘Saudi’ Dakar in 2020, scoring the eighth place overall. In 2021, it was a crash on stage 7 and an engine problem on stage 8 that unfortunately put an end to his ambitions. With Yamaha closing their Dakar project; Franco signed to the Hero Motorsports Rally Team in April 2021. 

Quickly adapting to his new ‘Hero’ run bike, the Argentinean rider raced straight to the podium at the Silkway. Everything looked promising, when he crashed while training in Dubai just a few weeks before the start of the 2022 Dakar injuring his right arm. Game over. This year he is back, more motivated than ever… 


What does it mean for an athlete to be ruled out from the Dakar, just a few weeks before the event?
“It was really tough. I was so frustrated that at the beginning I tried to avoid anything related to the Dakar. Then I couldn’t resist, the passion is so big that I started to follow the race, mainly of my teammates in Hero Motorsport, and all the friends on the rally. It was a pity for Ross Branch’s incident”.


Do you have any regrets about what happened?
“Honestly not, because I got injured while I was training with the team for the Dakar. This is what we do: riding a bike. Accidents may happen, you need to accept them and cope with the consequences.  I would regret it if I injured myself doing something else”.


How do you feel now?
“I’m happy that I arrived fit because the Dakar is very demanding. I could train and arrive here prepared despite a complicated 2022 season.  Especially in the Morocco Rally, It was my first time in Agadir and I was not comfortable neither with the bike, nor with the terrain and then  I suffered a crash in the Andalucia Rally”.


Have you changed your approach to the race after you missed the 2022 Dakar?
“A little bit, yes. I take a bit more precautions, but in general, my approach is pretty the same.  Two months before the Dakar, in fact, we were racing in Spain at the Andalucia Rally”.


What is special about the Dakar?
“Everything. It’s the event you prepare for the whole year. What makes it unique? The passion. This is something you breathe in the air at the bivouac. No matter which category you belong to,  everyone speaks the same language in terms of love for this great adventure. I think it’s in the DNA and I feel at home here. It makes me feel good”.
How does it change for an athlete to prepare for such a long race?
“In enduro we had many more races, but the training is now more intense because it’s a 15-day long race nonstop. You need strength and stamina. The Dakar requires a complete racer. You can study, plan, try to make strategies, but then every time you discover how surprising each stage can be. If you look back at the end of the rally, you realize that it turned out to be completely different from what you expected. Even the things that happen in the race, you couldn't even think of that. Or look at the weather, how it has affected this edition. In my case, I try not to make many strategies. I prefer to approach one day at the time, and when it’s possible I attack”.


How do you prepare for the unexpected?
“It’s difficult to say, because for me the Dakar Rally is like a lifetime concentrated in 15 days. Everything that can happen in your life, can happen in these two weeks: from success to frustration, from pain to joy and even love. Sometimes you feel bad for your teammate because in the end it doesn’t matter which team or brand you belong to. We are all comrades here.  If your friend is injured, it affects you. For example, Ross Branch’s incident last year. We are friends before being team-mates. We were together in Hero Motorsports and before that in Yamaha, so I felt really sorry for him. This is something you don’t really like about Dakar. As in life, you don’t want to see any loved ones go through difficult situations. But If you are not willing to be open to this possibility, you cannot be here”. 


So passion comes before logic.
“Exactly. There is no logic here. Especially if you think of the great efforts made by the amateurs. But this is an experience that you cannot compare with anything else. It can even be a nightmare. But you cannot know, if you don’t dare to experience it”.