BALKAN OFFROAD RALLYE 19.09 – 26.09.2015
FROM SOFIA TO THE BLACK SEA:
8 racing days, more than 2000 km off-road on the most beautiful racing tracks in Europe, 3 unique camp locations, beautiful show start in the Bulgarian capital Sofia and incredible prize giving and beach party. It was an exciting rally, a sportive challenge and a true European adventure, from Sofia to the beach at the Black Sea.
‘5 years of rally, 5 mountains to cross’, was the motto of the 5th edition of the Balkan Offroad Rallye, and the promise of Race Director Alexander Kovatchev to the competitors was clear. The most beautiful tracks, strong competition, excellent timing and fast results.
‘It is my goal to organise a rally on par with the Worldcup events, and still be accessible for everyone,’ says Race Director Alexander Kovatchev, who gives great trust to his extensive and experienced organisation. ‘We have the classic ‘Breslau’ class that races a track made by our trophy specialists and we have the classic rallyraid Cross Country class, which we know from the big off-road rally events and in which speed, navigation and endurance are the key elements.’ Both classes attract the top teams from all over Europe, bringing together 100 competitors from 12 countries.
‘I am proud to show my city and our country to all the competitors andfans of the Balkan Offroad Rallye!’ says Major Jordanka Fandakova as she opens the fifth edition of the Balkan Offroad Rallye in front of the Alexander Nevsky Church in the city centre. Live television, reports in all Bulgarian media and on the evening news: it is a glorious moment for all and the start of a long rally with tough and beautiful stages, heading from Sofia to the Black Sea. ‘I wish you all a good race, be safe and come back next year to Sofia!’ With this invitation, Alexander Kovatchev and Major Jordan Fandakova started last years’ winner Beat Juen from Austria as first competitor on the 2000 km long roadbook. Racing from Sofia to the Black Sea is racing from west to east, from the capital in the hills, through the mountains and into the valleys of Bulgaria. Balkan Offroad Rallye is not only a competition, the roadbook tells a story about Bulgaria and the changing landscape. With different terrain each day, the challenges change and there is a fair chance for everyone. Mountains, stones, mud, sand and gravel, fast tracks, tough navigation – it is all there in the 8 days of racing. ‘Balkan Offroad Rallye is a true off-road rally, which can be difficult and tough.
Here in Bulgaria we have everything off-road in Europe has to offer. If you are able to finish this race, you have seen and conquered every type of terrain imaginable in Europe!’
Enduro and ATV Cross Country
In the Enduro Cross Country class we saw a battle between France, Germany and Austria, with Bruno Bony (France) taking on Breslau Poland winner Oliver Post (Germany) and last years’ Balkan Breslau winner Beat Juen (Austria). After a long week Beat Juen was took a clear victory in the motorbike class.
With a strong field in the ATV Cross Country class the youngest and competitor Kevin Chenu from France on Suzuki took the lead, ahead of the Bulgarian favourite Vasil Tomov and the Baja Deutschland winner Peter Gröneschild. Navigation and pure speed were his advantage as the young sportsman from France managed to shake off the experienced rivals.
Side by side Cross Country
Tsanko Tsankov and Zornitsa Todorova (Bulgaria) beat not only their competitors in the Side by Side Cross Country class but on many stages they were faster than the Car Cross Country competitors. With one tough day for their Polaris they managed to keep their lead in the class and finish as first SSV ahead of the international competition from Switzerland, Germany and France. The 2nd place was won by Michel Pythoud/Antoine Micheloud from Switzerland and the 3rd place went to Germany – Christian Czerny and Julian Leihener.
On his 25th Breslau event Martin Haehle (Germany) managed to secure his first place in the Balkan Offroad Rallye. Racing together with Wolfgang Braun (Germany) they need only a few words during the event, arriving and conquering the special sections in the extreme class with pleasure and speed. Frank Daurelle and Francoise Hollender from France arrived a second team. Having met only three years ago during the Balkan Breslau 2012. ‘Now we live and race together and we have made it to the podium!’ said Francoise at the finish line, a special story of love and off-road. The 3rd place award went to the experienced duo Roland Brack/ Carmen Hrup (Switzerland/Slovenia).
Car Cross Country
Racing for seconds and minutes, the Car Cross Country class was not for the faint of heart. Early in the week the Bulgarian teams led the race, with the leaders finishing within seconds of each other day after day. The turning point came halfway through the race when Frank Stensky from Germany took over, only to see him disappear again after a mistake in the 5th stage. Peter Cenkov (Bulgaria) raced with sweat on his back for days, chasing a technical problem with low oil pressure. ‘We kept pushing, hoping the engine would survive,’ said co-pilot Ivan Marinov (Bulgaria), knowing they had a strong lead. Rients Hofstra/ Sicco Peter de Vries from the Netherlands were second, with 13:36 min. on Ronald Schoolderman/Marcel Blankestijn, who finished third.
Truck Cross Country
A first for the Balkan Offroad Rallye and for motorsport in Bulgaria as a whole is the full podium in the Truck Cross Country class. The experienced Thomas Schmidt and Frank Hartwig from Germany won the Balkan Offroad Rallye with their Unimog, ahead of the Dakar veteran Gerhard Walcher and Andreas Rager (Germany) in the fast Unimog U-500. Gregor Tilch (Germany) and his team reach the finish with their Iveco Magirus. ‘We look forward to a bigger field next year,’ says Gerhard Walcher on the podium, celebrating his second place in the Balkan Offroad Rallye.
Finishing on Long Beach at the Black Sea south of Varna the 5th edition of the Balkan Offroad Rallye has come to an end after 8 excellent days. With an incredible prize giving and beach party the competitors, service crews and organisers celebrated the end of the Balkan Offroad Rallye. ‘I am proud of the competitors who managed to finish this race,’ says Alexander Kovatchev, ‘and I am proud of my team who has been able to push this race to such a great level.
Professional organization from A to Z, faultless timing, perfect medical support including the helicopter, clear checkpoints and perfect roadbooks: all this turn Balkan Offroad Rallye in Bulgaria into the best off-road event in Europe’ Balkan Offroad Rallye was made possible by the generous support of our sponsors: Outback Import as main sponsor, WARN, KONI, Monster Energy, Gladiator Offroad Technik, RMX Polaris and all partners & suppliers.
Leg 1: CC – 74.03 km / EX – 74.03 km
‘We want to show our country, we want the competitors to see the most beautiful landscapes and experience the best Bulgaria has to offer!’ Alexander Kovatchev is proud as he sends his ORGA team to do the final work for the start ceremony, in front of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia.
As the teams enter the Parc Fermé the square fills with people. At 11:00h the ceremony begins with the speech of the Race direcotor and is followed by the Major of Sofia Jordanka Fandakova. Live television, media crews, photographers – it will be a show for the competitors, for the public and for motorsports as a whole. ‘This is amazing,’ says Gilles Girousse (FR) from Paris, who loves the big city feeling of Sofia. After 13:30h the teams start in the first stage of BALKAN OFFROAD RALLYE, 80 kms from Sofia to Borovets. It’s a fast stage through the hills, a first taste of the forthcoming week and a first test for the teams and the machines!
Bulgarian teams take the lead on the first day of BALKAN OFFROAD RALLYE, showing exceptional speed and experience in the first LEG. Peter Cenkov leads in Car Cross Country, Tsanko Tsankov is the fastest SSV. In Car Extreme Martin Dechent shows the speed of his Toyota Land Cruiser. Bruno Bony is the fastest biker, beating Beat Juen when he made a navigational error in the difficult last part of the stage.
Petar Cenkov and Desislav Slavchev take the lead in Car Cross Country, ahead of the Breslau Veteran Jorg Gruenbeck. The Bulgarian terrain is familiar to the local teams, who know how to deal with the many ruts and bumps that are found on the track in the region around Borovets. The teams are minutes apart, so one problem with a tire or a mistake in the navigation makes all the difference.
Leg 2: CC – 205.84 km / EX – 78.03 km
A hailstorm caught the competitors in BALKAN OFFROAD RALLYE today on the last special. ‘We wanted to go up into the mountain, but it came flushing down towards us!’ Jorg Grunbeck had to fight with his Mercedes G on all terrain tires in this off-road experience. They lost their third place today to the Bulgarian teams, who enjoy racing in the mountains and show incredible speed in this race.
Desislav Slavchev/ Margarita Staynova are determined to win BALKAN OFFROAD RALLYE again, facing the international competition. Losing a tire 20 km before the service point doesn’t bother them: no time to loose so they kept driving until they were out of the stage. Petar Cenkov and Ivaylo Varbanov both finish within one minute behind Desislav and you can feel the tension in everything.
’Today we rode above the trees, in the hills with excellent views,’ says Peter Gröneschild, riding his Yamaha Raptor quad. On the bikes Bruno Bony pays the price for opening the stage and finding the track: Beat Juen has overtaken him and finishes with a lead of almost 10 minutes. Uwe Goetzel isn’t fast today but as a lover of mountain tracks he finishes with a big grin on his face. ‘What a ride! The track and the landscape are so nice, even in the rain it is great to ride here!’
Leg 3: CC – 356.70 km / EX – 319.98 km
With a stage reaching up to 2000 meters in the Rila mountains and flying through the valley near Starosel today`s stages had everything: stones, exceptional places and views and high speed. ‘There were so many stones and step downs, I just had to slow down to keep my bus intact. It is part of offroad in Bulgaria but I have yet to get used to it.’ Bernd Jaeger drives the Rallyebus, the famous yellow VW T3 which he has completely rebuilt in the last months for Balkan Offroad Rallye. ‘Luckily I have my co-driver with me, he pulls me through all the technical difficulties we have!’
With the Extreme class driving almost the same track as the Cross Country – they had to move to the new camp as well – it was a fast day for them. Henrik Strasser and Martin Haehle are chasing each other but Martin Dechent managed to sneak in between and catch the second place with his V10 equipped Land Cruiser. ‘I am happy that people organise events like this,’ says Martin. ‘The show, the incredible route going deep into the mountains, the feeling in the bivouac, wow!’
Leg 4: CC – 244.41 km / EX – 100.31 km
A complete change in the ranking, this we saw today at BALKAN OFFROAD RALLYE. Frank Stensky takes the lead and the Bulgarian dominance has disappeared: only Dimitar Nichev with the Pajero can keep up with the speed of the front runners today. ‘We saw Desislav along the stage this morning, he was on the phone standing next to the car,’ according to Ronald Schoolderman, who finishes as the 6th team today.
Today is one of the last stages going through the mountains as we have reached the valleys and are slowly moving towards the Black Sea. With this the terrain changes from rocks and gravel to sand and clay and we saw good competition between the fastest riders.
Leg 5: CC – 121.17 km / EX – 64.98 km
Directly after the start of LEG 5 it is chaos: the leader Frank Stensky came back to the start to make sure he had the right track and he was not alone: among the leader in the race we see missing CP’s in the preliminary results. ‘It is tricky navigation today,’ says Clerk of the Course Konstantin Panayotov, ‘you need to think and have a sharp mind to find your way!’
Bruno Bony has a sharp mind and he arrives at the finish as the first bike with all checkpoints on the list. Beat Juen was faster but currently in the timing he misses one CP, which would put him back in the ranking. ‘Beat is a serious competitor,’ Bruno said at the start. ‘It is great to race here. With my Rally Replica even the hardest terrain is like a Pullman, and the views are excellent!’
As the first teams arrive after the fast stage and the dust clears we see who has mastered the tough navigation on this short stage. It is a tough afternoon for the teams as they realize what has happened today on the stage, finding the new ranking on the lists in the camp.
Leg 6: CC – 572.51 km / EX – 465.58 km
‘We’ve got the right shoes for this terrain!’ Maurice Ubachs is smiling at the start of the third special. His choice for this race proves itself as the rain in central Bulgaria changes the terrain from fast and dry tracks to wet and slippery mud. Frank Stensky gives the track a careful look. He has rock tyres, who resemble a pair of flip-flops when going for a mountain walk. ‘The weather forecast said it would rain only at the end of the day, but we expect the tracks to dry out quickly.’
Spraying fountains of mud the teams leave the start on a track along an old vineyard. Tasty grapes for those who wait until their turn and tough terrain for all who start: ‘This looks like home,’ says Peter Gröneschild, who is racing his Yamaha Raptor in the quad category and drove the full liaison himself. ‘Many of the fast competitors here have difficulty with muddy terrain, for me it cannot get any better!’ After putting in a new road book he is off the line for another few hundred kilometers offroad.
Moving from Starosel to Shkorpilovtsi is also a move from the mountains and rocks into the sand and hard pack of the valleys. Faster specials, long straights and sharp corners make for spectacular driving and chances for those who dare to reach the highest speeds. The rain adds to the fun, creating a slippery surface with almost zero grip. With stage results within minutes the teams battle with the proverbial ‘knife between the teeth’. All know this is the one very important day of Balkan Offroad Rallye.
Leg 7: CC – 136.33 km / EX – 117.86 km
A present for the competitors is LEG 7, with exceptional tracks through the hills around Shkorpilovtsi. A short stage with very technical sections, climbing to the highest point in the region and going down again into the valley with difficult navigation. Desislav Slavchev, Herman Jasper and Ronald Schoolderman reach the finish within 30 seconds of each other, chasing through the hills and avoiding the many navigational pitfalls that the organiser presented them: Herman Jasper sets the fastest time at 1:22:07, based on the live and preliminary results.
Roaring engines in the distance, that is the sound of BALKAN OFFROAD RALLYE as the teams pass over the first of many hills, driving on the crest from hilltop to hilltop. Afternoon sun, dry and fast tracks, the helicopter flying – it is a beautiful stage and easy to drive after yesterday`s tough marathon. Technical are the long climbs and steep descents, for which you need a big heart or low gear in this beautiful country!
Adi Ruhaltinger is the co-driver for Ernst Amort in the green Tomcat. ‘The stage just had it, we worked to get through the road book, conquering mud, steep climbs and tight forests. The Extreme class is adventure pur, with long days and tough driving.’ Dolly Wittberger has the same feeling but is not too happy: ‘A flat tire took out a brake line and then the hydraulic pump collapsed… It was a day with problems for us. And now I have to find parts for the car, we want to be on the beach tomorrow!’
Leg 8: CC – 205.05 km / EX – 52.49 km
‘I am happy!’ says Race Director Alexander Kovatchev.
Even at the start of the last special of 10 km the outcome of the Balkan Offroad Rallye 2015 was uncertain. Petar Cenkov had a clear lead but number two, three and four were so close that one mistake could cost the podium. Rients Hofstra, Ronald Schoolderman and Frank Stensky raced today like there was no tomorrow, flying with incredible speed over the fast stages and onto the beach at the Black Sea for the finish. ‘I managed to win 5 minutes on Ronald,’ Frank says, ‘but nothing more, he is faster!’ With Petar Cenkov as first, Rients Hofstra second and Ronald Schoolderman third we have a Bulgarian / Dutch podium on the Balkan Offroad Rallye in Cross Country Car class!
Beat Juen wins the Balkan Offroad Rallye for the second time on his bike, scoring an exceptional result in a field of fast bikes. ‘It is great to be here as the first bike,’ says Beat Juen, who waits at the finish line for his good friend Oliver Post who scores a second place. ‘I even had time to get a beer for him!’ Third on the finish line is Bruno Bony from France on his KTM Rally Replica, giving strong opposition to the fast Breslau-veterans Beat and Oliver.
In Car Extreme Martin Haehle wins ahead of Franck Daurelle, battling until the finish line. Seeing the cars come from the far distance, racing along the coastline and chasing each other until the engines explode. Martin Dechent finishes third today, but leaves the podium to Roland Brack with the venerable red Toyota. Roland knows his car by heart and with a steady pace he is not the fastest but hard to beat.
After their engine explodes on the last day last years’ winner Lea Gathier is in tears: it was a tough week for her and her father with many technical problems. Stanko Tsankov and Zornitsa Todorova win the Side by side class. With their incredible speed they are often faster than the cars, opening the track and finding the route in the difficult and interesting roadbooks here in the Balkan Offroad Rallye. Michel Pythoud and Christian Czerny are numbers two and three, well deserved after a week of endurance.
Truly international is the ATV class, with Kevin Chenu (FR) on Suzuki as winner, Vasil Tomov (BGR) as second and Baja Deutschland winner Peter Gröneschild as third. ‘It was a tough race, even for the quad. I decided to ride everything myself, even the connection stages and I am happy to be here at the finish. Riding the quad all week long is something different, what a race!
Thomas Schmidt and Frank Hartwig win the truck class, ahead of Gerhard Walcher and Gregor Tilch. The introduction of trucks in the Balkan Offroad Rallye is an interesting addition but often the tracks are very narrow. ‘The landscape and the routes are beautiful,’ says Gerhard, ‘but with the truck it was often difficult to find my way in the tight forests.
‘I am happy!’ says Race Director Alexander Kovatchev. ‘Sometimes I wonder if we push too much to get everything organised as well as possible, but the result is accordingly and I see many happy faces around me. With everything going as planned we were only disturbed by a bit of rain. And in hindsight I am happy with it. It makes the finish here at the beach even sweeter..’
Tonight we have the price giving ceremony and the final results will be announced. Starting at 21h and lasting until the sun comes up, the Balkan Offroad Rallye’s closing ceremony will be worth of this long and tough rallyraid!