Rallye du Maroc showing earns Ruben Saldana Goni a Dakar 2023 slot

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Credit: Ruben Saldaña Goñi

Ruben Saldaña Goñi‘s hope of making his Dakar Rally début in 2023 were seemingly dashed in late July when his application was rejected due to insufficient experience. Three months and a participation in the Rallye du Maroc later, he is on his way to Saudi Arabia.

Competing on a KTM 450 in the Rally2 category, Saldaña finished twenty-third overall with stage finishes of thirty-ninth, twentieth, twenty-seventh, twenty-second, twenty-ninth, and twenty-sixth. He was the third best finisher among rookies in the class, with the top newcomer Stefano Caimi—who was sixth overall—also clinching a trip to Dakar.

His run was enough to convince the Amaury Sport Organisation to reverse their decision on 12 October, which he publicly revealed a week later. Being part of the World Rally-Raid Championship, the Rallye du Maroc is a Road to Dakar event that allows competitors with no previous Dakar Rally experience to be invited if they are among the best performers in select races. T4 driver Toomas Triisa secured his spot after finishing eighth in Morocco, while Luis Díaz Soza won said class at the Atacama Rally in August to do the same.

“Receiving this letter is a reward for years of dedication to this sport,” wrote Saldaña. “As you know, all my life the idea of ​​one day being able to run a Dakar has followed me and this is not something you go and buy.

“As this race grew, the requirements to be able to take the start increased, and this year has undoubtedly been the strictest to date. This year, the available places have been reduced by 20% compared to last year. It is warned that it will be the hardest and longest edition to date, with two additional stages, fewer links, more specials and split roadbooks to prevent some drivers from following others without worrying about navigation. These elements increased interest in the Dakar.

“So in this last Rally of Morocco practically the whole category was looking for this letter and thanks to the result we got it!”

The Spaniard primarily competes in domestic rally raids. In 2021, he won the Baja TransAndalusía.

Saldaña joins a litany of rookie riders who have been accepted for the 2023 Dakar Rally, including The Checkered Flag interviewee Ace Nilson. Like Nilson, Saldaña will need to garner enough funding to make the trip as he is a privateer without factory backing; Nilson told TCF that expenses run over USD$100,000 (€102,224.50) to pay for items such as, but not limited to, bike rental, lodging, pit support, and desert training.

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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