BALKAN OFFROAD RALLYE 20.09. – 27.09.2014
ADDICTION GUARANTEED! This is the slogan of Balkan Offroad Rallye and as usual Alexander Kovatchev and his team rose to the challenge by delivering for everyone another superb race with many exciting moments that will remain forever in the memories of those present at the Balkan Offroad. Now in its fourth year, this competition has reached the level of its older sister and legendary Breslau Poland and, if it was needed, has confirmed its value on a sporting and human level in the beautiful and proud Bulgaria. The 107 race teams, on motorcycles, ATVs, SSVs, cars and trucks, and a split between Extreme and Cross Country, gathered at the large resort of Albena, just a few kilometers from Varna, on the Black Sea. Here the final administrative formalities were completed. The technical scrutineering took place on Saturday, September 20th right before the show-start at the central square of Varna. It was quickly followed by the first stage that put the competitors in contact with the Bulgarian soil. Here and throughout the time that we were in this region, the tracks were more suited to fast Cross Country that could unleash all their might and “arrogance” in tackling the open fields. Once in Sliven, the second bivouac, after passing the high Balkan Mountains, the terrain changed, also offering tough tracks for Extreme who have had to deal with streams, rocks, mud holes, and if that was not enough even with heavy rain that made everything more difficult. In Sliven we have also witnessed the fascinating stage starts on a disused military airfield, which thanks to the warm morning light made this a very exciting time, and sometimes surreal. The third and final part of Balkan Offroad was held again in the district of Varna, with the bivouac again at the cozy resort of Albena. During the transfer from Sliven to Albena the Balkan Offroad caravan passed along the beautiful beach which became famous in 2013 for its memorable finish of the race.
This location brought back some good old memories and thanks to the hot day we could have some moments of leisure in the fresh waters of the Black Sea. The last race days were characterised by heavy rain which made the tracks so slippery that Alex Kovatchev, the race organiser took the prudent decision not to let the bikes and quads start on the last day as it was simply too dangerous. As a whole, this edition of Balkan Offroad proved to live up to expectations, and its success is undoubtedly due to the tracks always suitable to both categories and the road book that proved to be absolutely accurate and reliable.
But Balkan Offroad is not only this; the atmosphere is great and this was emphasised by the big party on Saturday evening, September 27th, at a restaurant on the beach, where the award ceremony took place.
The Enduro category was won by the Austrian Beat Juen on a KTM 530 and the Quad category was won by the Czech Tomas Kubiena.
In the Side by Sides, the Gauthier family from France, with the young Lea and her father Philippe, confirmed their supremacy by winning for the second consecutive time the Balkan Offroad.
In the Cross Country Car category the Israeli Pointer Team of Heymann Raz and Hillel Segal took the top honours after only their second appearance at Balkan Offroad. Raz and Segal aboard their “Yellow Submarine” were just over one hour ahead of the German Frank Stensky and a little less than two hours ahead of Bulgarian Desislav Slavchev winner of the 2012 edition of the race.
In the Extreme Car category, the victory went to the Germans Martin Haehle and Wolfgang Braun back on the top step of the podium in this race after missing it last year. In second place, the Swiss Roland Brack and Carmen Hrup and third the French, last year’s winners, Christophe Moine and Oliviere Vailleau.
In conclusion we have to remember, as the slogan of the Balkan says, this is not just a race but an adventure where the human aspect has always been present and where competitors once they have removed their helmets are all friends, ready to help and celebrate together … this is the true spirit that we like to see in a race.
LEG 1 – Albena – Albena
The Balkan Offroad 2014 started with a show start at the center square in the city of Varna. After the official flag-off, the competitors entered the special stage where they faced the flat, fast, open agriculture filed roads leading North towards the HQ of the event in Albena. A short section following markers was prepared for the extreme category over a stony and slippery river bed. As there was no prologue stage to determine the starting order, this first timed section had the special purpose to do that. Short, simple and fast.
LEG 2 – Albena – Albena
Clear speed was the day’s leg motto for the cross country, and deep water crossings for the extreme category. A completely different routes north from the HQ in Albena. A 7 km stretch of the Black sea beach was the highlight of the itinerary for the CC. Speeds over 120km/h were normal and easily achieved in the dirt field roads in North East Bulgaria. Driving on the edge between the border of Bulgaria and Romania, the reached the service park. Stage 2 of the day for the CC was a bit slower, with rocky and stony tracks with lots of hard to find grassy paths almost until the finish line. Extreme category got pure offroad driving in the longest river bed in the area, with several deep water crossings and plenty of tricky compass course sections. This LEG 2 has marked the front runners and top teams among all competitors.
LEG 3 – Ablena – Sliven
Staring near Varna at the legendary “Golden Beach” at Albena, the route let the participants South West towards the city of Sliven, for the second camp of the event. The itinerary for the day consisted of almost identical 3 special sections for both the CC and EX category. Stage 1 was typical mediterreain – yellow-colored, dusty and fast wide open agricultural roads.
Stage 2 was a mixed stage, with small up hills and descents up to the entry point of Stara Planina mountain. Stage 3 was complete mountain terrain with breath-taking scenes over the highest peaks in the area. Small river crossings did cool down the vehicles in the fast drive towards the finish line near Sliven.
LEG 4 – Sliven – Sliven
Starting together with a rain storm, the CC drove in the vast lands of the East trakian valley. The route followed the tops of the main ridges in the area up to the service park. With half the lap completed the way North was only following the main dirt roads between villages. The harsh wet conditions did not allow a single moment for the teams to enjoy the stage and see the landscape. The EX category get separate from the CC and entered in the higher part of Stara planina mountain for deep river crossings and winch hills. The rain made the relatively easy up hills from the river bed up to the high peeks hard and slippery.
LEG 5 – Sliven – Sliven
With change in the route for safety reasons, the CC went south towards the city of Topolovgrad almost to the border between Bulgaria and Turkey. The first modified connection stage led the teams towards the Sakar mountain with sandy and rocky tracks. It was tense and high concentration special stage with nonstop changes in the altitude and driving style required. The EX had a hard winch stage, starting almost from the city of Sliven and going on a route following each peak north from the city. In between the peaks, there were several marked extreme sections. The final distance was covered by driving inside a deep rocky river bed.
LEG 6 – Sliven – Albena
The longest marathon stage made in Balkan Offroad ever separated in to 3 timed sections. Starting from the Airfield in Sliven, the teams reached the low part of Stara planina mountain. From there until the service park, the teams drove on it’s ridge up to where the mountain meets the sea. 2 km sand beach was the last distance for SS2 which was separating the teams from reaching their service crews. A short 1 hour break for the teams at the old edition’s camp site was arranged and much required due to the hard conditions in the mountain passes because of the rain storms in the previous days. With SS3 only driving on field dirt roads direction North, it was pure speed up to the finish line near Albena.
LEG 7 – Albena – Albena
Flat lands, high speeds, dusty roads and sand dunes. Another day with weather forecast which was uncertain for the CC. With late start, the teams drove on some of the already driven roads until they reached again the 7 km beach. This time there was no service park and the team had to rely only on their skills and knowledge if there suffered mechanical problems. EX had another hard winch trophy day, complete with rocky river beds, silty deep water crossings, vertical up and downhills and long compass courses. The last extreme section a winch wall over a river creek was only 500 meters before the much desired finish line.
LEG 8 – Albena – Albena
With another heavy rain storm, the track made from fast field dirt roads become slippery and slow with no traction at all. The stage was shortened for safety reasons and finish line moved to a new position. EX category had a route change as well, but the most interesting part a long drive in silty river bed was still in the itinerary. The finish line was in the biggest wind turbine field in Bulgaria. A magnificent place for a finish in the 2014 edition of Balkan Offroad rally.