Balkan Extreme – off-road for all the right reasons!

The Balkan Extreme was held this September in Bulgaria, an eight day extreme off-road competition in ‘adventurous conditions’ in the Bulgarian mountains, vineyards and hills. With teams from all over Europe, the Balkan Extreme is a highly competitive event and a must for those who race in extreme off-road competitions!

The Balkan Extreme is a new name: since 2011 it has been organised as part of the Balkan Offroad Rallye. To avoid confusion and make clear the Balkan Extreme is a true extreme off-road competition, in which you have to do everything: from classic trophy to navigation, from water crossings to bouldering and winching.

Winner Jim Marsden: ’The roadbook takes you deep into the forest, to places that you cannot imagine in your wildest dreams. It is EPIC, unreal. It is not a mud event, but the most brutal race I’ve done, over 8 eight days in these conditions is incredible!’ With his Ultra4 spec car he made the rocks and difficult sections look like carpet, giving the other teams a hard time to keep up.

Franck Daurelle and Francoise Hollender met in 2012 at this race, and keep it in their calendar for the love of the sport and as a celebration of their relationship. They have to fight to beat Jim Marsden, and the victory of the stagewins becomes even sweeter. ‘On the last day, we noticed Jim’s tracks went wrong,’ says Franck. ‘And if there ever was a chance to beat him, this would be it!’

The third place is for Christophe Moine and Olivier Vailleau, who have raced every edition of the event since 2011. ‘We bought the car from Reulsport, and after a few days of learning I cannot be more pleased with it,’ says Christophe. ‘It has all the things you want to help you on the extreme sections, super sharp steering and a great balance.’

As the race moves from Borovets to the east, the first stop are the vineyards of Starosel. A magic bivouac with a fantastic housewine and lots of history from the Trachian times. A big monsterstage brings the teams to Dyuni on the coast, before the final step to the legendary finish location Shkorpilovtsi, the bivouac on the beach at the Black Sea. The terrain is always changing, with new surfaces and challenges.

The Balkan Extreme gets a roadbook written partially by car, partially on foot. Driving in the high mountains, on washed out tracks and rocks is spectacular. With the local knowledge of the roadbook team, the track passes along numerous historical places, over crests and through tight forests.

‘This is off-road for all the right reasons,’ says Jim Marsden. ‘When you climb rocks, you do it because there is no road. And when you reach the crest, they give you a bearing and a distance, and you have to find your way around some impossible places. Once, we crossed a valley filled with logs and broken trees from the last big storm. No track, not even from the animals. Nothing! James and I looked at each other and could not believe our eyes. It was just epic to drive there!’

The navigation is precise, but not easy. ‘You just have to go nice and slow, and find your way,’ says Gregory Rentrop, who is a first time navigator for Josselin Burgun. ‘Sometimes we see tracks going in all directions, and then we know we have to pay attention!’ They won a free entry as the youngest team, a gesture from the organiser to support young teams in the sport.

‘When the phonecall came that we were in, it was like a dream come true,’ says Josselin. ‘And to be here in the race is fantastic. We were able to finish fourth on the last day, less than 30 minutes behind Jim! Can you imagine this? Our car is no comparison, but with careful driving and navigation you can still reach the end!’

Ronny van Baal and Anneke Crijns are the true heroes of the Balkan Extreme with their nice Toyota LJ70, the same type that was used to create the routes. ‘Ok, sometimes I have dreams about Jims’ car,’ says Anneke with a smile. ‘But we know and love our Toyota, and we can do almost everything with it. Ron is such a great driver, it just takes us a bit longer to reach the end!’

‘When our front locker broke it became really hard!’ says Loic Mauro, guiding his brother through a difficult gully. They rolled over early in the race, repaired their bent car and just kept going. Fritz Becker had similar bad luck, breaking and rolling his car. After his mechanics’ daughter came from Hungary with parts they were able to race again – right until he put the car upside down and blew the engine. The effort was fantastic, but somehow they ran out of luck.

The Balkan Extreme runs parallel to the Cross Country event ‘Balkan Offroad Rallye’, but with its own tracks, roadbooks and challenges. Sharing the bivouac and the infrastructure is a big bonus: live tracking, two recovery trucks, including a Bucher Duro 6×6 for the tight forest and a full staff of doctors and a helicopter gives the Balkan Extreme a level unseen in any other trophy.

‘From this year we have a cooperation with the Ladoga Trophy,’ announces organiser Alexander Kovatchev at the pricegiving, a nice insight into the future of the Balkan Extreme and a bonus for the winners, who become a free startplace in Russia next year. Alexander welcomes drivers and teams from all over the world to come to Bulgaria, and race the Balkan Extreme in 2019!