Since 1995, the year of the first München-Breslau, the Rallye Breslau has written the history of the European off-road sport. This legendary race, born with few rules and a lot of passion for impossible challenges, has evolved over the years without ever forgetting its origins and losing the spirit that made it a legend.
Photography and story by Paolo Baraldi
Rallye Breslau, since its origins, has evoked in the imagination of European off-roaders, and not only, epic scenarios of an immense challenge between men, machines and nature. A reputation that has grown and consolidated year after year because, while adapting to new trends, it has never denied the identity of its origins.
From misfit madmen who were simply happy to play in the mud to professional motorsport businessmen. How the world of off-road has changed
25 years ago, when the Rallye Breslau began, no one had any idea that this race would become a legend and evolve over time, following the new trends in the world of off-road sports without ever losing its soul which contributed so much to making it famous and appreciated.
In those days, the participants were real enthusiasts, competing in shorts and T-shirt, without helmets, with almost standard and cheap 4x4 vehicles. Safety was not the main topic, the regulations were written down on a piece of paper, the roadbooks were handwritten and the GPS were not even covered. The original Breslau was the only event of this kind, the participants were crazy geeks who didn't even need a shower for a week; they were simply happy to play in the mud!
Today, the off-road world has changed. Many teams have become professional, the sports regulations are considered to be a Bible, the technical regulations are rigorous and detailed, the economic vehicles have turned into high-end race cars and the crazy misfits have become businessmen, motorsport stars and professionals. In place of the only Rallye Breslau, there are now dozens of similar races.
Rallye Breslau has been able to adapt to modern times without losing its identity of origins
Obviously the Rallye Breslau has grown, it has adapted to modern times and the needs of the teams while remaining unique in its kind and without having lost its original identity. The Rallye Breslau has remained open to all offroad enthusiasts and a sports license is not required to participate. At Rallye Breslau you can find 4x4 vehicles of all types: from cheap ones built in the garage to expensive ones made by professionals. At the Rallye Breslau next to a team of students who race with a 1,000 euro Suzuki you can find Dakar veterans with a 150,000 euro vehicle. One very special thing, however, has never changed in all these years: the Rallye Breslau is still a big family with a big heart, made by motorsport enthusiasts for motorsport enthusiasts.
From 2 to 8 wheels, from Extreme to Cross Country; all vehicles can compete in Breslau
Any type of off-road vehicle can participate in the Rallye Breslau. Since its origins, together with 4x4 vehicles, motorcycles and trucks have challenged each other and it is still so today. Motorcycles, Quads, Side by Side, 4x4 and Trucks are competing on the same routes and with the same obstacles. Deep rivers and the impregnable swamps crossed at the same time by every type of vehicle have become unforgettable. This was Breslau, it is Breslau and will always be the Rallye Breslau.
The first 15 years of the Rallye Breslau were characterized by the challenge between Extreme vehicles. The dark forests, the deep river crossing and the impossibile swamps to overcome have built the history and the fame of this race. Then, since 2012, Cross Country vehicles, obviously with dedicated tracks, have been admitted to the Rallye Breslau making it the only European race to have very different vehicles, drivers and specialties run together in a single event.
From the origins of the Rallye Breslau to the present day. München-Breslau, Berlin-Breslau, Dresden-Breslau and Breslau; story of an epic legend
1995, München-Breslau. The first race of the Breslau series takes place starting from Munich (35 cars, 20 motorcycles and 5 trucks) and arriving in Wroclaw (Brelsau in German).
2000, Berlin-Breslau. The location of the departure of 65 cars, 50 motorcycles and 15 trucks has been moved to Berlin. Afterwards, due to the intense traffic of Alexanderplatz, the organizers were asked to change the start of the event. The choice fell on a lignite mine near Senftenberg, where the race began in 2001.
In 2005, 106 cars, 65 motorcycles and 38 trucks participated in the race. 2006 marked the last time of departure from Senftenberg or Cottbus when the lignite mining area was flooded and then renaturated.
2007, Dresden-Breslau. The departure was moved to Dresden, capital of the German state of Saxony
2011 Breslau. For the first time the start of the race has been moved to Poland in Wroclaw with arrival in Dresden. Record of participants in Breslau with more than 370 vehicles. In the same year, the first Balkan Breslau which crossed Romania and Bulgaria took place in September. From 2012 the Balkan Breslau will take place only in Bulgaria.
Since 2011, Breslau and Balkan Offroad have been organized by Bulgarian Alexander Kovatchev.
2016, Breslau Poland. Breslau changes its name to Breslau Poland and Balkan Breslau to Balkan Offroad.
2018, Breslau 500. Breslau 500 (3 days of competition) is added to the classic Breslau to compensate for the cancellation of the Baja Deutschland.
In October 2019, Baja Europe was born, which takes place in Poland
On 1 July 2019, the race started from Gwda Wielka to celebrate the 25th edition of the Rallye Breslau. The event ends on 5 July 2019 at the Drawsko Pomorskie military shooting range.
2020. Rallye Breslau International Association (RBI) presents the Fenix Rally in Tunisia and the Balkan Offroad is transformed into the Balkan Trophy only for the Extreme category. Due to the Covid19 pandemic, the 2020 calendar is in work in progress.
The great passion of Alexander Kovatchev and his Bulgarian team are the guardians of Breslau legend. Interview with Alexander Kovatchev
Back in 1973, a boy named Alexander was born in the small country of Bulgaria in Southeastern Europe. The boy was born in a family of big dreamers – people who dared to work for their visions, no matter what the circumstances were in an ex-socialist country. So, the boy grew up strong, worked hard and started to live in his own fairytale making his dreams come true one by one… He had a lot of interests, hobbies, and loved learning about anything. One thing he loved most – cars and the great feeling of freedom when driving them! Alexander Kovatchev has fuel running in his blood and all his projects are connected to his initial passion for automobiles.
43 years later, after a spectacular “rally” through university years in Germany, running own business there, being a member of the 4x4 Club Leipzig, moving back home and setting the foundations of the off-road motorsport in Bulgaria, he is now the owner of a successful company and organizer of the biggest off-road rallies in Europe. His company is dealing with equipment for 4x4 vehicles as well as customized solutions and is a market leader in Bulgaria. In addition the company develops and manufactures parts for the automobile industry in Europe.
Nowadays Alexander Kovatchev is famous in the European off-road scene as the organizer of the legendary Rallye Breslau (Rallye Breslau Poland), the one of its kind Balkan Offroad Rallye in Bulgaria and the biggest off-road race in Germany - Baja Deutschland. For the first time this year will be carried out the brand new motorsport event in Europe – Balkan Classic Rallye, an endurance rally for historic cars.
But how it came that he turned into organizer of the most significant off-road rallies in Europe?
This can’t be done in a day or two. Alex had a solid base of long years experience as a competitor in
off-road races and exactly this is the key factor for him to understand what the competitors really need.
Let’s learn more about him and his passion for the off-road sport.
-When did you “discover” the off-road?
I was only 11 years old when my father put me behind the steering wheel of the old family Lada and said “Now turn the key and start the engine!”. He was my teacher, coach and idol. Further he was my best friend and a strong guru. My Dad taught me to have strong will, to always set myself high goals and to never give up. He kept on saying “Son, before you learn to win, you must learn to lose like a real man”. Fortunately my mother was crazy for cars and techniques too and she supported me fully to follow my dream.
Before 1989 it was extremely difficult to start a motorsport career in Bulgaria. No money, very limited access to cars and modern technology and no possibility to travel in the western countries. So I had to struggle a lot to see a light at the end of the tunnel. These were different times…
Coming back to the question, my first off-road race was in 1996 in a little town in Germany called Geithain. I started in a local event there with my well-prepared Russian UAZ 469. It was not just an UAZ, it was a low budget race machine built in numerous night hours with big love for the detail. Mercedes diesel engine, good suspension, diff. locks, but no winch. No budget for a winch…
I won the race. I was the happiest man on earth!
The fire was always burning in my heart but the first victory caused an explosion. Many other big and small races followed with thrill and disappointment, but there was no way back to what people call “normal life”. At the end of the nineties I changed my beloved UAZ with a Mercedes 230 GE short wheel base. It was like a new world. This car fascinated me so that I stayed with this brand till the end of my active career, changing several cars purposely build for races.
- What were the most beautiful emotions you've experienced as a competitor?
There are so many of them that it is difficult to mentions all, but how could I forget the start of a great friendship with Marko Misson from Slovenia in an extreme mountain stage of the Carpat Trophy in Romania in 2001. We were running second with a little gap to the first when the last remained piece of my winch rope was completely destroyed. Marko had a problem with his engine, he came to me and said “Hey brother, we abandon the stage but you could have our rope if you want.” We were back in the game and made it up to the second place on the podium. Marko and I became friends for the lifetime and in the last five years Marko is a strong column in the organization of the Breslau rallies, responsible for the total Race Control.
Many, many times racing the Rallye Breslau as a competitor, many times staying on the podium and fighting against people from numerous countries in the stages but being good friends with them in the bivouacs, leave a strong footprint. Most of these people are still a part of the huge Breslau family, either as competitors, team managers, mechanics or a part of the ORGA staff.
Another very special moment was the two times win in a row of the Baja Saxonia (now Baja Deutschland) in 2009 and 2010. The 2009 edition was extremely dry and after the first lap the dust was so heavy that almost nothing could be seen. The competition was really strong and many fast cars with good drivers were heading to the first place. Our new G-wagon 320, V6 was flying over the mining roads in Hohenmölsen. Every corner with low visibility was a big risk, every overtaking in the wall of coal dust was a nightmare, but the conditions were the same for all. We took a great victory with over 15 minutes to the second. My co-pilot and I were very happy.
The next year the conditions at the Baja were just the opposite. It was rainy, slippery and the mud was deep almost to the knees at some places on the track. We made a mistake in the orientation in the prologue and had to start from position 38 in the first special, having more than 10 racing trucks in front of us. That was not all. In the second lap a Unimog hit us brutally in the right side, the car body was open like a can, but fortunately there was no damage to the suspension and the axle. It was a hard moment. Both of us in the cockpit shook hands and said “An easy victory is not sweet, so let’s try to catch up”. After two days of sprint at the limit of man and machine we did it. Our second victory in a row with only 49 seconds!!! ahead of the second. Crazy!
Here is the place to say that in our sport the pilot alone can do nothing. The co-pilot who often stays in the shadow plays the key role. I had two great co-pilots throughout these years and they did a great job. Karsten Dorn and Dimitar Lazarov, many thanks! You are great men!
- Why did you start this experience as an organizer of the Breslau?
It was a tough decision to be taken. The Breslau is not just a small weekend event. It is the biggest off-road rally in Europe with 8 days of racing and with a long famous history. The organization of such an event is very demanding and takes a lot of resources. It is actually a full time job. But the most difficult of all decisions for me was to put the racing helmet on the shelf. It is simply not possible to be the Breslau organizer and to drive rallies. There is no time for both.
I saw this challenge as my next race on another, higher orbit. I wanted to share my experience and I wanted to evolve the old “Breslau lady” to a rally of the top in the world, but to keep the spirit and the friendly atmosphere. All of a sudden I was responsible for all these old mates that I raced with, but not as competitors against each other, but participants in a big event. The responsibility is extremely high but what helped me a lot were exactly these competitors who knew me and trusted me.
For the off-road community the Breslau series are not just motorsport events. They are social philosophy, dedication and lifestyle.
- What does it mean for you to organize in your country a big race like Balkan Offroad Rallye?
Motorsport is like a narcotic. Once you taste it you cannot leave it, no matter if as a racer or as an organizer. Balkan Offroad Rallye is the evolution of the old famous Breslau Rallye. The competitors are hungry for new challenges and want to explore new territories. Bulgaria is my motherland and the nature there is unique. Except sand dunes all other elements can be found on a very small territory. The diversity of the terrain is one of a kind. Further the Bulgarians are very hospitable people and they are passionate about motorsport. Everywhere we go when doing the tracks or meeting local authorities we are very welcome. Don’t think that all is allowed here. There are strict rules, but when you do the job with professionalism and passion and of course keep the rules, you win the confidence of the partners and the doors open. We are happy to work with all parties in the difficult process of organization and they are happy to work with us. There is a big trust and respect. Bulgaria is a beautiful country, with friendly people and great hospitality. With no doubt you can say that Bulgaria is an off-road paradise and Balkan Offroad Rallye is its biggest ambassador.
- What were the most beautiful emotions you've experienced as an organizer?
There are so many true answers to this simple question, all written on the faces of the competitors, mechanics, press representatives and ORGA staff. When the whole Breslau family gets together and lives the rally days with all ups and downs, no matter of nationality, religion, sunshine or rain. We are together to share our dreams and passion for our sport, but also to sense the spirit of friendship build to last for a lifetime.
After each event I feel happy and squeezed like a lemon at the same time and this is how all participants and ORGA feel too, because the strong emotions give a lot but also take a lot. What really makes me happy is to have none or just minor injuries during the rally. We play with the fire, but we do our best to play safe.
And as an answer to the frequent question: “Alex, why do you do it over and over again?”, I can only say: “My strong mind tells me that I’m a complete idiot, but my „animal instinct” answers that this is what I truly need to feel alive.”
-What is the future of off-road in Europe?
I’m confident that despite all ridiculous politics, restrictions and even brain washing the off-road will live long. In Europe people turn more and more to birds in a cage, limited by the numberless rules of the modern living matrix. Everything is organized, neat and tidy but the stress and isolation are everywhere to be seen. As if there is no life without a smart phone, internet or social network. I’m a friend of all modern technologies but I know that the human being has the same brain and body like in the last thousands of years. People need a break. They want to run out of the dull daily life and they want to go back to the roots. Driving off-road is a great alternative to challenge man and machine and it gives the best option to experience a lot of nature in a short period of time. Did I forget to say that actually we have no time?