With three marathon stages, the longest of 580 km, and with four camps, the 2018 edition of the Balkan Offroad Rallye was the longest ever with a total of 2700 km and 1730 km of special stages. The victory in the Balkan Extreme went to the British Marsden-Ayre with the French Franck Daurelle and Francoise Hollender in second place. The Balkan Cross Country was won by the Bulgarians Konstantin Cholakov and Ivaylo Zhekoch.
Photos and text by Paolo Baraldi
In Bulgaria, from 15 to 22 September, took place one of the most beautiful and epic off-road events of all Europe. The Balkan Offroad Rallye is not only a race, it is a huge event, unique in its kind, with two major competitions: Balkan Extreme and Balkan Cross Country and an equally appealing "experience" like the Balkan Discovery dedicated to those who without the stress of the race want to discover the beauties of this Balkan country. Finally, at the same time, the Balkan Classic was disputed for safari and historical car lovers.
The road book of the Balkan Offroad, tells the long history of Bulgaria through a magnificent landscape in continuous evolution that from Borovets, ski center close to the capital Sofia, brought the teams to race on the coasts of the Black Sea where, on Shkoprilovtsi beach, the grand finale went on stage. With three marathon stages, the longest of 580 km, and with four camps (Borovets, Starosel, Duni and Shkoprilovtsi), the 2018 edition was the longest ever with a total of 2700 km and 1730 km of special stages.
For the Balkan Extreme it was an uncompromising race with routes mainly immersed in the mountains between rivers, rocks and ancient forests. This class continues the story of the legendary Breslau. During the 8 days of competition, we witnessed an exciting battle between the British Marsden-Ayre and the French Daurelle-Hollender with both who have won several stage. Moiene-Vailleau (France) they witnessed the main battle closely and sometimes broke into the rankings. For everyone it was not easy to reach the Black Sea line. The extreme route made life difficult for everyone. Jim Marsden, after his won in Poland Breslau, won the 2018 Balkan Offroad with James Ayre as co-pilote, with 1 hour, 36 minutes and 59 seconds ahead of the second. Just after passing the finish line on the beach, Jim comments on this experience: "Wow wow wow! I raced around the world but this race is epic! It is extreme but without mud, it is fast with hundreds of kilometers and is well organized like no other. I am excited ... we have lived the most incredible week of all time and we are proud to have won this legendary race. If you love off-roading, you must participate in the Balkan Offroad!"
In second place we find the winners of the 2017 edition: Franck Daurelle and Francoise Hollender. Franck and Francoise fought without ever backing off with Jim Marsden showing all their valor and skill. Fracoise Hollender commented: "It was an honor to fight day by day against Jim Marsden and James Ayre and give them only 1 hour and 36 minutes after 8 days of competition. Kiril Panayotov and Konstantin Kirilov did an amazing job drawing the roadbook through this wonderful country. Alexander Kovatchev and Daniela Roussekova managed the event masterfully. What more could you want than what they gave us? Congratulations to my life and race partner Franck Daurelle who perfectly combines a talent for offroad driving with his mechanical skills". Francoise concludes, like Jim, inviting everyone to participate in the Balkan Offroad "which is definitely the best Offroad race in Europe".
In third position, from France and with a new vehicle, we find Christophe Moine et Olivier Vailleau.
Bulgaria proved to be equally perfect for the Balkan Cross Country thanks to a terrain that changed every day. Mountains, rocks, mud, sand, gravel, fast pistes and hard navigation were the ingredients that accompanied the crews for 8 days. Even in the cross country, the battle has always been lit between the top teams, who alternated in leading the overall. The final victory has always been uncertain and even when the result, before the last stage, seemed definitive, the unexpected happened with breaks that have turned the podium over. Bulgarians Konstantin Cholakov and Ivaylo Zhekoch won the Balkan Cross Country 2018 with the Polish Adam and Michal Bomba second and third, also from Bulgaria, Doncho Tsanev and Milen Dechev.
The other winners of the Balkan Cross Country are: in the bikes Arunas Gelazninkas, in the quads Aleksander Piorcynski, in the side by side Yann Van Beek - Emanuel Barraux, in the car limited Jeanfrancoise Ryo - Mariealine Ryo, among the smal truck Philippe Musy - Tim Ibbett and finally in the big trucks won Tom Heuer - Marco Richter - Torsten Moeller.
The "Dakar of Europe", as the participants love to call the Balkan Offroad, proved once again to live up to its reputation even surpassing its own fame. For both cross country and extreme lovers it's definitely worthwhile to put in the 2019 calendar of things to do!