’This was a proper off-road stage!’ says Max Delfino, co-driver of Gilles Girousse. ‘It was technical, fantastic to drive and in a wonderful landscape. I love stages like this. This is rallyraid, not WRC. Wow!’ Todays 200 kilometer of special stage across the mountains were a challenge for the drivers and the vehicles, a true ‘Balkan’ stage.
Right from the start is was clear this day would bring change to the overall ranking, favouring experienced off-road drivers and good navigators. Richard Oguez was one of them, but he lost time at the end of the day after hitting a tree. ‘Also my shocks are dead, the car is bouncing around like a boat!’
A long and technical stage can be very difficult if you try to go too fast, even if you have won the event in the past. Today a broken rear axle spoiled the battle of Desislav and Margarita for the podium. Their famous black G-Wagon gave up – for now at least. As we write this the recovery crew is busy taking them out of the stage.
Simon Schimmel, the motorbike rider who won in 2013 has returned to race at a moderate pace. ‘But when I found myself in the ranking among the front runners I did not understand it. I am riding really relaxed! The track this year are nice, I myself love the mountains around Sofia a lot but you can see the effort that went into making a nice route!’
‘Can you imagine that there are people who are working right now, in airconditioned rooms?’ Racing a Polaris 1000, Christian Czerny is fully dusted and warm from the Bulgarian Summer. ‘With tracks like this, I don’t want to have anything else. The road book is written for the Polaris, fantastic!’
Rallyraid is much more a psychological game then you would think, luring you with high speed and adrenaline. When do you overtake, what do you want to risk..? Nikolao Papanastasis, the Greek driver in the Can Am Maverick X3 took a little too much risk in the dust, and rolled his SSV.
‘I feel privileged to race here,’ says Pieter Labuschagne with a smile. Coming from South Africa he is enjoying the Balkan Offroad Rallye to the max. ‘I am not a good navigator, but I am fit. When the other guys are done and over with, I can open the throttle and ride even faster.’
The Balkan Offroad Rallye 2017 is half way, and it starts to wear on the teams and on the vehicles. In the next days we will see who is able to stay in the front, or who can catch a few places with careful and precise driving.