CC Fabrizio Meoni
Forty-seven year old Fabrizio Meoni was one of the most popular characters on the FIM Cross-Country Rally circuit and one of the most successful. The smiling, effervescent Italian won the Dakar Rally on two occasions in 2001 and 2002 and was bidding to bring down the curtain on his Dakar career with a third win before heading into retirement on January 17th.
Sadly he lost his life 184 kms into the stage between Atar and Kiffa on January 11th, when he suffered a suspected broken neck and serious head injuries after a fall. Meoni, ironically tackling his 13th Dakar Rally, had been in determined mood for several days. He had arrived in the Atar bivouac with a 2m 55s advantage, only to see five minutes of ludicrous penalties push him down the leaderboard.
At times Fabrizio could be outspoken. His heated conversation with TSO Director Etienne Lavigne at the Atar rest day was a case in point. But his opinions were respected and the penalty for a GPS infringement was duly reduced to two minutes. The following day he lost his lead to team mate Cyril Despres and was in hot pursuit of the Frenchman when the tragedy unfolded.
The result is now of little consequence, but what will sadly be missed around the bivouacs of the Dakar, Tunisia and Morocco rallies is the tall, limping Italian with the infectious smile, famed Italian accent when talking French and the warm personality that affected everyone who knew him. Meoni was the star of the Dakar and it will never be the same again without him.
He began his enduro career quite late in life and took part in the Dakar for the first time in 1992, finishing 12th. He finished third overall in 1994, fourth in 1995 and won the Rally of Tunisia two years later. Meoni was getting faster in every race and he and the late Richard Sainct - himself killed while racing in Egypt last September - began to dominate the sport when Stephane Peterhansel switched his attention to four-wheels.
Meoni won the FIM World Championship in 2000 and the Masters, Tunisia and Egypt rallies. His maiden Dakar title came the same year at Lac Rose and he repeated the feat the following year. He was third in 2003 and sixth last year.
Survived by his wife and two children, he is a great loss to the world of cross-country rallying.