Balkan Offroad Rallye: 10.09 – 17.09.2016

Crossing Bulgaria from the west to the east, from the mountains to the plains, from the city centre of Sofia to Long Beach, after eight days of racing the Balkan Offroad Rallye 2016 has finished saturday september the 17th 2016.

More than 2000 kilometers offroad racing through all types of terrain make the Balkan Offroad Rallye a special event. Mountains, hills, valleys and the beach of the Black Sea – to master the Balkan Offroad Rallye you have to do it all, and fast. The Bulgarian landscape is an incredible backdrop for racing, with fantastic panorama’s, lush forests and an extensive network of dirtroads.

Participating in the Balkan Offroad Rallye is open for everyone, but a place on the podium is reserved for those who can handle the marathon. Whatever your category, everything has to be right: vehicle, navigation, assistance and of course a bit of luck.

Frank Stensky and Alexander Tasch win the Car Cross Country category in their Mercedes Lennson CC, a prototype based on the Mercedes G Class. They were the most strategic and the fastest team in the race, with strong competition and an incredible lineup of fast cars including Overdrive Hilux, ORD Land Cruiser, Bowler Nemesis and many others.

Franz Schreiber is the fastest rider in Enduro Cross Country, and well known from the German Enduro Championship. The Balkan Offroad Rallye is his first rallyraid, but after several of the leaders had to slow down to stay in the race, he managed to grab the first place in the overal ranking!

Tomas Kubiena wins the ATV Cross Country class for the second time on his 2WD quad, showing his incredible speed. Opening the stage, riding in front of the bikes he had to ride and navigate at high speed.

Nicolas Hoogsteyns and Goeffroy de Burlin win the Side by Side Cross Country class, for small offroad buggys. ‘Geoff is the perfect navigator,’ said Nicolas, ‘He allowed me to as fast as our Polaris could go!’ Racing with several of the fastest teams in Europe Nicolas shows that to finish first, you first have to finish.

Udo Heidenreich is the fastest truck in the Balkan Offroad Rallye, racing his brand new Hummer Prototype or ‘UH-1’ in the Truck Cross Country class on the difficult tracks in Bulgaria. ‘I think every truckteam should try this event,’ said his co-driver Hermann Schmitz after the price-giving.

A ‘Breslau special’ is the Car Extreme category, won by Franck Daurelle and Francoise Hollender in their orange Land Rover. ‘It is a tough race, it wears on you mentally because of the long days. Each day is like a marathonstage!’ Franck and Francoise celebrate their victory and enjoy their victory in the toughest class of the Balkan Offroad Rallye.

Balkan Offroad Rallye this year was a succes and a big step forward for the rallyscene. ‘Never before it was so fast,’ says Alexander Kovatchev, proud to see the influence the Balkan Offroad Rallye has on the development of the offroad racing scene in Europe. ‘Next year we will have the seventh edition of the Balkan Offroad Rallye, and we look forward to the next step in offroad racing!’


LEG1: Balkan Offroad Rallye: from the city into the mountains!

Starting today in front of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia the competitors of the Balkan Offroad Rallye had their first encounter on Bulgarian soil. Going straight from the city into the mountains, the difference between city life and rally cannot be bigger.

Krasen Kralev, the Bulgarian Minister of Youth and Sports opened the Balkan Offroad Rallye today in Sofia, welcoming the competitors from all over Europe to this unique event. Alexander Kovatchev started the competitors, wishing them luck and a safe race on their journey from Sofia to the coast of the Black Sea.

Broadcasted on Bulgarian Television, the showstart is the moment of glory for the competitors, and the final start of the Balkan Offroad Rallye, with 8 days of racing. The square full of the most beautiful offroad vehicles – big trucks, fast cars, small buggies, quads and bikes – all prepared to go offroad, into the mountains and forests of Bulgaria.

Cross Country

Starting on the Murgash Mountains on a rocky high altitude stage the competitors reach one of the high points in the Balkan Offroad Rallye right at the beginning. ‘It was difficult to go fast on this stage,’ says Nikke Harkjaer, who finished second on his Polaris today. Gerard List had more fun on his new quad: ‘It’s a mattress, even on these difficult roads. Never before it was so easy to jump over rocks and ruts!’

‘This was written for the SSV,’ says Thierry Gerome smiling, the offroad legend racing together with his wife and living the spirit of his class with a small Polaris 800cc. Last years’ winner Tsanko Tsankov takes the overal lead straight from the beginning with his incredible Yamaha, with almost 8 minutes lead over the fastest car.

Doncho Canev is racing a full blown offroad buggy and wins the first stage in the Car Cross Country category, with Konstantin Cholakov on Hilux behind him. Polish champion Pawel Molgo finishes third, starting at the very end of the field with his Overdrive Hilux. He managed to overtake a lot of cars on the tracks, securing a good starting position for tomorrow.

Strategy is king in a marathonrally such as the Balkan Offroad Rallye and many of the regular competitors make a careful start. ’We are racing at high speed, but we take little risk,’ says Marcel van Blankestijn, co-driver of the 4×4 centrum Ermelo team. The full top ten of the race is within 8 minutes, todays stage is only the beginning of an 8 day battle at high speed, going from west to east in Bulgaria.

Extreme Class

Fritz Becker is a legendary competitor and for this race he has selected an experienced co-driver: Otto Weyand. First fruit of their cooperation is a first place on the opening stage of the Balkan Offroad Rallye. ‘It was an excellent start,’ says Carmen Hrup, co-driver of Roland Brack, ‘a very nice stage, difficult driving but not too tough. Just a great way to start the race!’

The second stage on September 11th will be held in the Borovets region, on mid- and high altitude tracks. Beautiful mountainpasses, long and sometimes difficult climbs and steep descents – it will not be easy for those who want to go fast!

LEG2: Balkan Offroad Rallye: souvenirs of the mountains

Full of souvenirs was todays stage, a great day in the mountains with adventurous driving for the Extreme Class and wide panoramas for Cross Country. ‘This day alone made it worthwhile to come to Bulgaria!’ says Oliver Post, racing on KTM. ‘The views, the landscape, the tracks – excellent!’

Four stages for Cross Country and two for the Extreme class took the competitors over several mountains, into the forest and the hills around Borovets. Starting at mid altitude the route climbed into the mountains to finish with a short but daring stage in between the rocks and canyons of the ski resort Borovets.

With Beat Juen out of the race today Rico van der Sanden from the Netherlands takes the lead. He is fast and careful: ’These stages are stunning, but sometimes very difficult to ride. In technical sections over rocks or with deep ruts, often the roadbook needs attention as well! You can’t just fly over it!’

It’s a mechanic sport, especially on these demanding stages. Nikke Harkjaer was changing the rear A-arms on his quad at the servicepoint today, losing a bit of time. ’There are nasty cracks in them, and I have new ones with me. As we have little time I am helping the mechanics.’ Finishing third today after Tomas Kubiena and Vasil Tomov his strategy worked and he is still in the race.

Konstantin Cholakov reaches incredible speed with his Toyota Hilux, beating even the two wheel drive buggy from Doncho Kanev. Frank Stensky decided to take no risks in the overal ranking, working his way towards the podium with a third place today. ‘We had a nice competition with Pawel in the Overdrive Hilux, as we overtook him several times. His car is clearly faster on gravel or forestroads, the balance is excellent. But on a difficult stage like today we can e good competition for him/

Racing is important, but it is good to be aware of the world around you. ’We stopped several times on the stage to make photos,’ says Udo Heidenreich, racing his Hummer/Unimog prototype in the small truck class. Well known as a competitive racer he is impressed by the landscapes and the route of the Balkan Offroad Rallye. ’These images I take home with me!’

Another poetic team we find in Extreme Class. ’Racing here is like music,’ says Franck Daurelle, overal leader of the Extreme class with his orange Land Rover. ‘And today we had the full orchestra. The stage was like a melody, with impressive panorama’s over the mountains and difficult tracks for the car. It’s a great feeling when it all comes together in this way!

On monday september 12 the Balkan Offroad Rallye leaves Borovets, heading east towards Starosel. Here the Vineyards, hills and agricultural roads will dominate the stages, but not before a last special in the mountains!

LEG3 Balkan Offroad Rallye: a high speed affair

Passing through the Rhodopian Mountains for the last time, the Balkan Offroad Rallye says goodbye to the high mountains and heads east to the second bivouac in Starosel. ‘Really, after this rally I would like to ride back from Varna to Sofia, but with more time to stop at all those beautiful places,’ says Franz Schreiber, the German Enduro rider who is doing his first rallyraid event here in the Balkan Offroad Rallye.

‘Slowly I am learning about rallyraid, navigation and the speed you need to finish,’ he explains after today’s stage. On his first rallyraid event he is able to race with the best riders, a big surprise for him. ‘I will have to go slower in the next days, but not too much as I want to keep my ranking. Guys like Rico van der Sanden really have their bike under control. When they overtake me the rearwheel doesn’t even move, they go so smooth over these rough tracks!’

Racing for seconds the Car Cross Country class is a high speed affair. Pawel Moglo in the Overdrive Hilux had a great stage, finishing first today: ’After yesterdays problems with the clutch we had to overtake many competitors and I can only compliment them: it was fair play on the stage, we had no problems at all.’ Frank Stensky is fourth on the stage, chasing the leaders. ‘We are so close together at the moment, you see even the smallest mistake in the result at the end of the day!’

As we are moving in eastern directions the competitors find their ‘rhythm’ in the race and on the stages. ‘I usually need a few days before my concentration is where I need it to be,’ says Gerard List, racing in ATV Cross Country with his two-wheel drive quad. ‘It better comes soon, so my speed can go up. On these fast stages you need to be focused!’

Racing together with the Balkan Classic Rallye allows us to compare the speeds of the classic rallycars and the offroad vehicles and to our surprise today Bernard Munster had the fastest overal time in his Porsche, with more than 5 minutes lead over the fastest offroad car. The Balkan Classic is organised for the first time, to see if it can grow and become an event specifically for classic cars.

After a beautiful descent from the Rhodopian mountains onto the Trakian Plains the competitors adjust to the new terrain, become faster en deal with the challenges of high speed racing on a flat surface. On LEG4 the terrain could not be more varied, with dirtroads and fast tracks, long climbs and excellent panorama’s. Bulgaria is a country gifted with excellent landscapes and in the Balkan Offroad Rallye the competitors get to see the best of it.

LEG4: Balkan Offroad Rallye: halfway!

Racing from the high mountains to the beach, from Sofia to the Black Sea this edition of the Balkan Offroad Rallye has a whole new level of Cross Country racing. After four stages the Balkan Offroad Rallye is halfway and time has come to look at the competition and the results so far.

With only two foreign teams in the top five of the Balkan Offroad Rallye the Bulgarian offroad sport has developed to a new level, with several fast and well prepared teams at the start. Konstantin Cholakov brings his new Hilux to the game, a home grown vehicle with incredible speed. It is only today that Frank Stensky manages to catch a second place in the overal ranking, pushing Doncho Canev to the third place.

‘We have not become slower,’ says Margarita Staynova, the famous codriver of Desislav Slavchev in the black Mercedes, ‘The other teams have become a lot faster! And remember last year, when we ad a 2nd place overal on the fifth stage and broke down.’ She speaks about the Bulgarian teams who have been building and racing, but also about the international competition in the Balkan Offroad Rallye. ‘We have been racing with some of these teams already since 2009, and over the years you see them grow.’

Another legend in offroad racing is Thierry Gerome, who is racing with his wife in their Polaris 800. ‘I brought the 800 to be a little slower and allow my wife to learn to navigate on her first rally. But I regret not having my Polaris 1000 turbo here. These stages remind me of the early days of my offroad racing career, with such great routes through the hills. I look forward to racing here next year with a ‘Breslau Special Edition’ of my Polaris!’

In the Extreme Class today the competitors found the ‘Golden road’, an old gold mining road that has not been used since decades. ‘We had to cut and winch our way through and did almost 2/3 of the stage on our own!’ Francoise shows the muscles in her arms, pumped from the hard work today. ‘This was a proper trophy day, with lots of winching and tough terrain.’ As the first teams had to do all the work they received a time bonus based on the data from the tracking box.

On wednesday 14 september the Balkan Offroad Rallye moves to Shkorpilovtsi, the third and final bivouac of the race. ‘It might not be the most difficult day, or the most kilometers but it will be the longest day of the race,’ said Alexander Kovatchev at the briefing. Crossing half of Bulgaria the teams will see the terrain change as they get closer to the coast, with the arrival at the beach in Shkorpilovtsi as highlight.

LEG 5: Balkan Offroad Rallye: the longest day

A lot has changed in LEG 5 on the Balkan Offroad Rallye. It is a marathon, not a supercross and those teams who overestimated their material are suffering now. Leader Konstantin Cholakov has mechanical problems with his Hilux, so Doncho Canev takes over. Frank Stensky is second in the overal ranking, pushing the leaders of the race. With three more stages to come the tension is rising!

Racing from Starosel to Shkorpilovtsi the competitors crossed all types of terrain – the last of the mountains, beautiful hills and forests with small waterfalls and long winding gravel roads. It was a beautiful day with compliments for the roadbook team at the finish.

After 5 days at high speed the front runners in each class are changing. Fatique, mechanical problems, no more spare parts.. part of the marathon is calculation, strategy and perseverance. In all classes we see changes and all of a sudden the familiar teams who looked so slow in the beginning are back in the fight for the podium.

Nikke Harkjaer found a nice ravine for his quad, escaping with a few bruises – and giving number one Tomas Kubiena a strong lead over the competition. On the motorbike newcomer from the German Enduro scene is ranked first, a humble and strong rider who has been able to adapt to the rallyraid conditions quickly. Pierre Francois Bardotti is the first SSV, with Lean Gauthier and Nicolas Hoogsteyns at less than 7 minutes. It is an incredible fight in this class!

Getting faster each year, the experienced Franck Daurelle and Francoise Hollender have built a lead in the Extreme class. Zbigniew Popielarczyk is two and a half hour behind them, and has to defend his position with all possible means. Ernst Amort and Roland Brack are both within minutes behind him: one mistake, one small problem will change the ranking completely.

Competition is the goal and mutual help is a gentlemans pride – the atmosphere among the racers doesn’t suffer from the tension on the stage. When Jorg Grunback and Thomas Dasinger crashed their G wagon Udo Heidenreich helped towing them out. ‘And around the corner we found a French Bowler Wildcat in problems, so we decided to help them as well,’ says Udo.

A steep climb on the Extreme roadbook was too much for most competitors. Roland Brack drove around it and stayed on the top as winch anchor, helping the others one by one. Afterwards he went up himself, able to cross the track and reach the finishline as one of the first cars. The Extreme Class is a special competition, one you cannot win without help.

On 15 september, the 6th day of the Balkan Offroad Rallye takes the competitors onto 126 km of special stage. A short ‘afternoon run’ on fast tracks for Cross Country and through the riverbeds for Extreme – a chance to relax before the finale of the Balkan Offroad Rallye 2016!

LEG 6: Here comes the rain

LEG 6 was planned as a short stage, easy to drive and a nice way to relax before the final days of the Balkan Offroad Rallye. Until the rain came, and the tracks turned to soap. What was normally an easy uphill section now took fullgas, with flying mud and spectacular driving. After a few minutes the rain was gone and for the last competitors the tracks were almost dry – a strange sight in this lovely green landscape.

In the bike ranking you clearly see the first riders come through fast & nice, with the top five making great times. For those behind them it was a different story, as a wet track in this region of Bulgaria requires lots of attention while riding. ‘I tried to speed, but it was futile,’ says Kay-Arne Bulsink, who slipped and crashed several times with his bike as the hailstorm hit him.

Peter Groneschild on his Yamaha Raptor is making up time in the bad weather. ‘I let the air out of my tires and adjusted my riding – and I could catch up with the leaders today!’ There are more riders who like the wet and slippery conditions on the stage today, able to catch up. Nicolas Hoogsteyns in his Polaris is second today, and first overal. ‘I have such a great co-driver, he did not miss a tulip today!’

Frank Stensky does the impossible – taking the overal lead with his rigid axle Mercedes Lennson in as field with Overdrive Hiluxes and fast Bowlers. The advantage of independent suspension is enormous, but Frank shows that you need more than as he sets the bar for the forthcoming days. Desislav Slavchev is one unlucky driver, rolling over on one of the dirtroads in between the fields. ‘We could not do anything,’ says his co-driver Margerita. ‘Before I knew it we were upside down. Michael Weimer pulled the car back on its wheels so we could continue.’

In Extreme Class today it is all about navigation, with Christophe Moine being the first to reach the finishline. Paul Dehouve is welding new mounts for his shockabsorbers, working and driving on the klimit of what he can do. ’For me this is the maximum!’ he says. ‘It is my first year here and I understand it is quite a tough edition. The landscape is extraordinary, and now I hope my car will reach the end!’

Tomorrow the stage will be twice as long and the rain has made the tracks slippery. ‘The darker the soil, the harder it gets,’ says Herman Jasper. ‘So far it has been quiet for us, but tomorrow and saturday it must happen, we will floor it!’

LEG 7: Close to the end

With over 250 km of special stage, the seventh day is the day of the marathon drivers. Racing a fast and long stage, in which you have to deal with fatigue, technical problems after a week of racing and the tension of having a last chance at the podium. On this stage we are almost there, almost..

‘8 Kilometers after the start of the stage we lost the steering!’ says Michai Bomba, co-driver the Bomba-Nemesis. ‘Luckily we could fix it but we drove the entire section until the service area with strips and wire to secure our steering.’ After a quicky repair by the servicecrew they could continue. ‘It was a miracle to start as last, we had no dust and could go full. Our chance for a good ranking is gone unfortunately, to get good results here everything must be perfect.’

Frank Stensky runs in a league of his own, driving yet another faultless stage together with Alexander Tasch. Still, the competition has gained some time and the battle for the podium is on. If Frank makes no mistakes, he can race and finish in the last stage but Doncho Canev and Rients Hofstra will have to push in the last leg of the race to stay ahead of the competition.

Attacking in the last days, this is what Ronald Schoolderman and Marcel Blankestijn have done and with a 2nd place yesterday and a third place on stage 7 they are back in the game for the daily results. ‘During such a long rally you learn and get up to speed again,’ says Ronald Schoolderman. ‘Perhaps we should have started earlier, but it took me some time to get the feeling for it this year.’

On the motorbike newcomer and enduro specialist Franz Schreiber has the lead after seven stages. He is not untouchable, Marc Menoud and Philippe Cottet are very close behind him and will try to take the first place of the podium in the last stage. If they make a mistake, Oliver Post is there to catch a place on the podium – in this edition of the Balkan Offroad Rallye the speed among the bikes is just incredible!

Jan van Miltenburg is ready to reach the finish of the Balkan Offroad Rallye with his small Yamaha. After racing with the Desert Warrior and now the quad he has decided to stay with the brand and bought an SSV. ‘It is amazing what these buggies can do!’ – surprised about the capability of the vehicle and with little problems they set times that before they could only dream of. ‘The track

LEG 7 was a tough and long stage for the Extreme Class, with deep and muddy watercrossings and a section along the beach. ‘Kiril Panayotov who makes the extreme roadbooks does such a great job!’ says Adi Ruhaltinger, co-driver of Ernst Amort. ‘We see him on the stage each day and when he is there we know it will not be an easy section. Today we crossed dry riverbeds, swamps and other gnarly stuff.

In the Extreme Class we see a lot of trophy cars, but Ernst and Adi rely on 33 inch tyres and a simple setup with a Tomcat frame and TD5 engine. ‘The small tyres help us to save the drivetrain, we usually don’t break a lot of axles,’ says Adi. ‘But in these conditions we often miss the last centimeters of clearance to go through sections without winching.’

On LEG8 the roadbook takes two big loops to reach the grand finale with the finish on the beach of the Black Sea, in front of the Long Beach bar. On saturday evening the pricegiving ceremony will be held here, just as the finishparty.

LEG 8: Who wins the last stage?

Winning the last stage, losing the battle. Pawel Molgo of the NAC team has been fast almost all week, but he was not able to catch the podium. On the last day Frank Stensky could take it easy with over 25 minutes lead, but the second and the third places on the podium were still open and up for grabs..

Herman Jasper with the Bowler Nemesis, Doncho Canev with his fast Bulgarian built 2WD buggy, Rients Hofstra with his classic Land Rover and Desislav Slavchev with perhaps the most knowledge of the terrain of all of them were racing right from the start. Such an international field and so little difference in the overal time made it an incredible stage today.

Two sections made up the last stage – one stage in the north of 116 kilometer fast tracks and 16 kilometer to take the teams to the beach. Reaching Shkorpilovtsi and starting in the second special they could lose it all on the short but difficult last stage up to the finish on the beach at the Black Sea. The loose sand requires to air down the tyres all the way, or risk overheating or getting stuck.

Flying over the sand, Pawel Molgo wins the last stage of the Balkan Offroad Rallye with his fast Overdrive Hilux. Behind him come Desislav Slavchev and Rients Hofstra, both with a classic vehicle concept with solid axles. Sometimes a big heart and great driving skills matter more than a fast vehicle, making their results something special.

In the Enduro Cross Country class the fight for the podium was done, but the third place was open. ‘I was riding or my life in the last section!’ says Oliver Post, who needed 30 seconds to beat Marco Mebnoud and get onto the podium in this tough class. Counting the seconds: ‘I cannot believe I am here and alive, what a race!’

Tomas Kubiena has been flying through Bulgaria, building a lead on the competition from the Netherlands. Dakar quad rider Gerard List and Baja Deutschland winner Peter Groneschild both know how to win races, but could not keep up with the fast Czech. ‘This is best offroad rally in Europe!’ he said at the finishline, happy to claim victory for the second time in the Balkan Offroad Rallye.

In SSV Cross Country a ‘jack of all trades’ in the Balkan Offroad Rallye shows his potential, finishing as third in the new Yamaha YXZ1000R. Jam van Miltenburg raced on Bulgarian soil in the Desert Warrior, alone on the quad and this year in the Side by Side. ‘You get a realy taste of Bulgaria in a buggy like this,’ he laughs, his face full of dust and sand from the last stage.

Franck Daurelle and Francoise Hollender knew at the beginning of the last day their only task was to reach the finish of the race, with several hours of lead of over the rest of the field. Zbigniew Popielarcyk, Roland Brack and Ernst Amort all had a chance for the podium, and all had raced their cars beyond the limit. Broken axles, worn differentials and a massive engine failure were on their side, taking out the competition one by one.

Zbigniew managed to continue on his own and reach the finishline securing a second place overall, but for Ernst Amort there was no chance at all after his TD5 engine exploded on the stage. As Fritz Becker helped Roland Brack to continue and reach the end they arrived on the podium as third car in the Car Extreme class.

Arriving at the finish of the last stage, on the beach of the Black Sea in front of Long Beach bar is a special moment. After the stage the party started, with full moon over a calm sea. Dancing and talking after the Price Giving the last competitors left long after the sun had set again over Shkorpilovtsi, over the last bivouac of the Balkan Offroad Rallye 2016.