Growing up, Gioele Meoni dreamed of racing the Dakar Rally alongside his father Fabrizio Meoni, a two-time winner of the legendary event. This was tragically never realised as Fabrizio passed away after crashing in the 2005 edition, but Gioele hoped to continue his father’s legacy two decades later.
On Wednesday, the door to his goal was blown wide open as the Amaury Sport Organisation overturned their initial rejection of his application and accepted him onto the grid for the 2024 Dakar Rally. He was denied during the rider selection process in July due to a lack of desert rally experience, which he fulfilled in October when he competed in the Rallye du Maroc.
His time in Morocco was short lived as he dislocated his shoulder in a Stage #4 crash caused by losing control of his bike while navigating a mountain, though he had shown solid pace prior to the retirement. He quickly impressed by finishing twentieth in the Rally2 class in the opening stage, and repeated the finish two days later in Stage #3 with a thirty-third sandwiched in between. Prior to the accident, he was sitting twenty-third in the overall.
“In those ten minutes after falling, the sacrifices of an entire year had passed before me, made to find myself there, at kilometre 150 of the penultimate stage of the Morocco Rally with a dislocated shoulder,” recalled Meoni. “Months of waking up at 5:00, of intense training to the detriment of family and work, months of travel and meetings with the fear of not finding the budget.
I had already shown in the previous stages that the race pace was constant and was in the top 30, but it might not be enough. These thoughts crowded in my mind.
“I knew that I would have to convince the organiser of the Dakar, David Castera and the entire organisation, that I was capable of participating in the Dakar on a motorcycle. I knew that that seemingly trivial mistake, a banal crash, the first of my rally career, could affect everything. But then I thought: we are human beings, motorcyclists to boot, and even if we are riding in total tranquility, we can always stumble upon a hidden hole or a displaced stone, placed there by fate, in the wrong place at the wrong time. As it goes, ‘luck is blind but bad luck sees clearly.’
“Once that moment passed, I reflected, and I thought that if they had given me the chance, I should have used that negative moment as a positive opportunity, a necessary experience to help me face the stages of the Dakar with even more awareness.
“They gave me the opportunity. The fateful letter confirming my participation in the toughest race in the world has arrived.
“Now we only think about one thing, getting the shoulder healed and training it in time for 5 January, the starting day of the Dakar.”
The Rallye du Maroc was his first time running a World Rally-Raid Championship event, let alone in a bona fide competitive desert rally. The effort was the culmination of a three-year development; Meoni had dabbled in motocross after his father’s death before focusing on academics and work, but his love for rally was revitalised in 2020 after befriending Dakar veterans and father/son duo Aldo and Andy Winkler.
KTM Italy along with Fabrizio’s old sponsors joined the younger Meoni’s project, which he dubbed Dakar4Dakar with the goal of eventually auctioning off his KTM 450 Rally bike to support the Fabrizio Meoni Foundation. The foundation is dedicated to building schools in Senegal, where the Dakar Rally finished during its original run.
It is not uncommon for riders who were rejected in July to earn their Dakar Rally qualifications in any of the following W2RC races. Bruno Leblanc had also been turned down during the first wave of acceptances but changed the ASO’s minds by finishing thirty-first in Rally2 at Morocco.