DAY 5 – Balkan Offroad Rallye – Driving on the ‘red line’!

On the fifth day of the Balkan Offroad Rallye all eyes are on the overall ranking, with just three days left to realise the dream of a good result. Three special stages made the day, from technical and a bit rocky to fast and flowing. The early arrival in the bivouac was a nice chance from the previous days, and gave time to enjoy the fantastic location at the shores of the Black Sea in Dyuni.

In the motorbike ranking the leader sits comfortably in his position. Arunas Gelazninkas is training for the Dakar, and this is one of his first events. ‘After years of motocross and enduro I wanted to try rally, and so far it is a fantastic experience!’ He is followed by Dirk Schuttel, who did not only the Dakar on the bike but was a co-driver in the truck at the Africa Eco Race and enjoys the Balkan Offroad Rallye together with his son, who is also on the bike.

The third biker also has big plans. Bram van der Wouden from the Netherlands is training after an accident and happy to have a ‘perfect day’ as he says it. ‘Everything went well, right from the start. I know what to do with the navigation, what I can and cannot handle and the result is fantastic!’

Tsanko Tsankov is the first to finish on four wheels, but Meinolf Dunninghaus delivers one of the most interesting results, arriving from the back of the race in the second place. Together with the experienced navigator Stefan Henken they are enjoying the Balkan Offroad Rallye, supported by a big crew of rally-afficinados. José Castan wants to make a perfect day, but looses time them the turbo of the Maverick X3 explodes. ‘It was 15 kilometer before the finishline, we were like an airplane until then. Luckily we did not loose too much time,’ he says.

‘We drive on the thin red line, and sometimes over it!’ says Margerita, the co-pilot of Slavchev Desislav, winners of the day in the Car category. They race an old G-Wagon, which was kept alive over many events and still delivers. ‘In the past we used to be off-roaders who are racing Cross Country events, but now we are survivors! Look at the cars around us, we should not be in this postion but we choose to be!’ Second and third are Doncho Tsanev and Metodi Paunov, both fast Bulgarian teams with a deep love for speed.

In the Car Limited category a big fight has ensued between Jean-Francois Ryo in the Toyota 120 and Sebastien Morisod with the Range Rover. With burning and smoking brakes they arrive at the finishline, both full of adrenaline, fighting for the victory on the stage. ‘When you have a good competitor, you become hyper-motivated!’ says Marie-Aline Ryo, the co-pilot in the Toyota. It shows that excellent competition is within reach of everyone who can build a standard car for these circumstances!

Moritz Nietsch has bad luck today. His modified Bowler Wildcat with the famous Mercedes 6-cylinder engine has eaten the clutch. Put on the side in the bivouac, access to the gearbox is easy and today during the stage the serviceteam replaced the clutch. They are not the only ones who have technical difficulties. While the racers are in the picture, at night in the bivouac the mechanics take care of ‘the other half’ of the competition!

On day 6 the Balkan Offroad Rallye moves from Dyuni to Shkorpilovtsi, for the legendary bivouac on the beach just south of Varna. Here the race will finish on the beach, after three more stages. It has only just started!


BALKAN EXTREME: Follow the river

Ahead of the stage it was clear that it would be a difficult and wet day, but that does not express the beauty of the stage. Following a riverbed with huge rocks, step-downs and deep pools, capable of swallowing the car. A track filled with adventure, in canyons where the sky was covered by the trees, in remote places where besides the roadbook team no-one has been for years..

‘It was monumental,’ says Jim Marsden, with the emphasis on ‘mental’. Together with James Ayre he is incredibly fast on the stages in the Balkan Extreme, winnign todays stage. ‘We did more rivercrossings and drove more kilometers in riverbeds than ever before in my life!’ says Jim, who is clearly enjoying the race. ‘It is epic, and every day it becomes harder and more difficult!’

‘Just the fast that we made it to the end, makes us proud,’ says Francoise Hollender, ‘There was so much water, there were so many rocks and difficult sections!’ Franck Daurelle agrees: ‘We did it as a couple,’ he says. ‘It was a fantastic day, and to be one of the few to finish here is unique. But I wish the same pleasure for the other competitors as there are only five who made it to the end today!’

Josselin Burgun found his Waterloo in one of the rivers, diving deep with his Land Rover proto. ‘All looked good, but when the winchcable snapped the water was already above the dashboard! I was a bit afraid, but the motor kept working and we were able to winch back out. As we could not pass within the time, we decided to go to the camp and prepare the car for tomorrow!’

Winning the price for the young teams, he was able to race on short notice. ‘Luckily my car was well prepared, until now I only have to put in grease and oil. And today a new winchcable. The serviceteam has had their own adventure with the servicecar, breaking down on the Bulgarian roads. Luckily we were reunited in the bivouac, and we can work on the car together for the next day!

240 Kilometers of off-road adventure awaits the competitors on the 6th stage of the Balkan Extreme. Driving a long day means a higher average speed, but after the previous days we can expect everything. Tomorrow, or tomorrow night the teams will arrive in the fourth and final bivouac in Shkorpilovtsi!

Text: Niels Hatzmann
Photo credit: RBI Media and Dutch Rally Press