The first edition of the Fenix Rally took place in Tunisia from 13 to 20 March. This latest creation by Alexander Kovatchev gave to all the participants a breath of a long-awaited air of normality in this terrible period. The desert rally veteran Jerome Pelichet showed what it means to have long years of experience in cross country competitions. The Frenchman took 6 from 6 stage wins, and won the race with unbelievable advance of 1 hour and 47 minutes to his nearest competitor.
Photography and story by Paolo Baraldi
The long-awaited first edition of the Fenix Rally took place in Tunisia from 13 to 20 March; the latest creation by Alexander Kovatchev, deux ex machina of the famous Rallye Breslau Poland, of the Balkan Offroad Rallye and of Baja Europe.
While this is not the first rally in Africa that Kovatchev and his team are responsible for (there are several classic rallies and off-road races in Kenya, Botswana and South Africa, where the team manages complex racing processes), this has been the first official RBI Sport race in the Sahara.
This first edition of the Fenix Rally was a great success with 101 vehicles (18 motorcycles and ATVs, 36 cars and 47 SSV buggies) competing in the various classes that gathered in Douz, the heart of the rally and assistance park for the participants.
10 European countries were represented at the Fenix Rally with many well-known names from Rallye Breslau Poland and Balkan Offroad among the competitors. Among the participants, I also point out a Tunisian team.
The rally program included 6 days of racing with a course with a total length of over 1300 km. The participants also faced a marathon stage (without the assistance of mechanics) which took them to a Bedouin camp in the heart of the desert.
In addition, the Fenix Rally proposed the adventurous Discovery category, whose participants (61 vehicles) were able to experience the thrill of the world of cross-country racing without being pressed by the time and the score. Those enrolled in the Discovery category were able to drive along the routes of the race with road books and GPS points, enjoying the thrill and atmosphere of the Sahara desert.
The Fenix Rally has been recognized by Tunisia as a national priority event. Therefore, the competition enjoyed the full support of the Tunisian Automobile Federation (FTA) and the Tunisian Motorcycle Federation (FTM) in the person of Mr. Hatem Ben Youssef, President of FTA and Mr. Mehdi Bach-Hamba, President of FTM. They are members of the organizing committee together with Mr. Jamel Debabi, Vice President of the National Automobile Club of Tunisia. In addition, the partner of the competition is also the National Tourist Office of the Mediterranean country. Local authorities, including the police and the army, pledged their full support for a safe and successful event.
Furthermore, the RBI Sport has assured that the rally was held in strict compliance with all anti-epidemic measures, making the Fenix Rally in a Covid-free zone.
Under the motto "New event, same high quality standards", each participant in the Fenix Rally was able to count on the renowned professionalism of Alex Kovatchev and the international team that we learned about at Breslau Poland and Balkan Offroad. The Polish Offroad Rescue Team with qualified medical personnel, 4x4 vehicles and a rescue helicopter took care of ensuring the safety of the participants.
Fenix Rally, Leg 1: at full throttle
Fenix Rally 2021 started with a short flag off ceremony in Douz with the presence of the local authorities, who gave the official start. Just minutes later, the racing vehicles entered the sands and dirty tracks of Sahara. The first leg included 135 kilometers against the clock and offered every terrain that the competitor will face the next days: sand, dunes, pistes, and again, and again.
And the fastest vehicle among the 103 racing machines was the PH Zephyr SSV of Lionel Baud and Loic Minauder (FRA). They “ate” the stage for little more than two hours and are currently leaders in the lightweight class ahead of Edwin Opstelten – Hendricus van Kouwen (Can-Am) and their compatriots from Netherland Pelle Moens and Karana Moens.
Also incredibly fast was the French crew Jerome Pelichet – Pascal Larroque who took the lead in the Car Open class. Their rear-wheel driven Optimus prototype was feeling at home with the sand and the team finished with 4 minutes advantage of the Lithuanians Vaidotas Paskevicius and Andrius Matuolis with the so fresh looking Seat Leon Dakar. The leading trio for the day was closed by another French tandem: Jean Pascal Besson and Francois Cazaletwith their powerful sand buggy.
Top 5 of the car class was completed with the unique desert Porsche of Agostino Rizzardi (ITA) and the racing Hummer H3 Proto of Aivaras Kavaliauskas (LTU). Fastest in the Car Limited class was the duo Frederick Fourdraine – Christophe Stutz from France with Toyota Land Cruiser HZJ 73.
In the bike class, the fastest raider was Romain Muraton (FRA, Husaberg) who took 2 minutes advantage of Marc-Michael Kuehne (GER, KTM). Third for the day was Mattew Grid (GER, GasGas) strictly 3 minutes behind the leader. Anyway, because of a situation with a fallen biker, the stewards will have to take decision in the night, what to do with the times of the pilots, who stop to help him.
The ATVs actually was faster than the bikes in the sands near Douz. And, among them, the fastest was Alexander Piorczynski from Poland who beat the Lithuanians Tomas Mickus and Romualdas Karuzis. The entire leading trio is counting on Can-Am quads.
Fenix Rally, Leg 2: not a daily park ride
The second day of Fenix Rally 2021 offered 2 stages (named “Park ride” and “Sahara toaster”) around the Jebil National Park near Douz with almost 190 kilometers against the clock. As usual, the route was full of sand and small dunes, which were a challenge for the competitors, but there wasn’t such a big drama, affecting the rankings. Or it was?
In the car open class (usually dominating the overall), Jerome Pelichet and Pascal Larroque with their Optimus 2WD buggy took their second consecutive stage win, overtaking Rik van den Brink and Gydi Heimans (Toyota) with almost 5 minutes. Top 3 for the day completed another Dutch crew with Toyota – Jan Peter Hartog and Mark Salomons.
In the overall ranking, Pelichet and Larroque are bespoke leaders, followed by Agostino Rizzardi and Umberto Fiori with their unique Porsche 911 like prototype, and the leading trio is concluded with the French duo of Jean Pascal Besson and Francois Cazale, who had enough advance from the first leg to stay in the winning group.
In the SSV class, Hugues Lacam and Max Delfino (Can Am) managed to be faster than their French compatriots Lionel Baud and Loic Minaudier, but the equipage of the PH Zephyr machine is still unbeatable for the overall lead. Second in the temporary ranking after Leg 2 is the Dutch crew of Pelle Moens and Karana Moens, and Lacam – Delfino climbed to top 3.
Bike class faced a difficult day in the sand, but it was Bram van der Wouden (Sherco) who was the fastest on 2 wheels. The Dutchman is also leader in the overall, followed by the German GasGas rider Mathew Grid and Romain Muraton from France (Husaberg). In the ATV group, the same systems worked for Romualdas Karuzis who was fastest for the day and on top of the general standings. Lithuania now is the dominating country, after Tomas Mickus and Adomas Gancierus completed the top 3 in the class. Like Can Am did as a leading brand…
Fenix Rally 2021, Leg 3: battle, as hard as the terrain is
The longest Leg of Fenix Rally 2021 offered 2 special stages with a total timed distance of 261 kilometers. The route consisted mainly of hard tracks and soft “pistes”, so the most powerful machines and the most experience drivers could push so hard, flying to the finish.
Once again, the fastest car was Jerome Pelichet’s desert bolide Optimus MD. The Frenchman made the 2 special stages for total 2:53:31 hours, leading 17 minutes over his compatriot Jean Pascal Besson, also driving suitable machine for the sands – the T3RR 2WD buggy. The fastest 4x4 vehicle was the Toyota ORD-150 of Rik van den Brink.
In the overall rankings, Jerome Pelichet is leading with a huge 55 minutes advance in front of Jean Pascal Besson. Agostino Rizzardi and his Porsche 911 proto are dropping to the 3rd place, finishing the day in 4th position.
It was battle to the last breath in the SSV class, where Lionel Baud and his amazing PH Sport Zephyr took the stage win. But they managed it with the tiny 2 seconds advance in front of Hugues Lacam with his serious prepared Can-Am. The big surprise for the day was the 3rd place of the Bulgarian Vladislav Velkov (Can Am), who made his debut not only in a desert race, but in the so called “Breslau series”, managed by RBI Sport.
In the general, the things are very different: Baud has 20 minutes advance to Lacam, and the leading trio is completed by Pelle Moens (NLD, Can-Am), 4th for the day.
In the bike class, Bram van den Wouden (Sherco) from Netherlands was fastest for the day, and leader in the general, so did it the Lithuanian Romualdas Karuzis in the ATV class of Fenix Rally 2021.
Fenix Rally 2021, Leg 4: the marathon
The fourth day of Fenix Rally 2021 offered the competitors another two special stages, with timed distance of 102 and 71 kilometers respectively. But more important thing was that the second section was part of this year’s marathon stage of the race. This meant, that all of the participant would go to an isolated camp in the desert, when they could not count of their assistance teams for help, but only of other competitors.
In the bikes class, the Frenchman Jonathan Mongarny (FRA, Beta) was the fastest for the day, overtaking Bram van der Wouden (Sherco) with tiny 20 seconds. Anyway the Dutch is still comfortable leader, with huge advance to the French pilots Lionel Mansuy (Sherco) and Romain Muraton (Husaberg), who did the leg on 4th and 3rd place, respectively.
The battlle in the ATV class for the moment is internal Lithuanian affair, as Romualdas Karuzis (Can Am) and Adomas Gancierius (CF Moto) were the first two pilots on the finish line. Third for the day was Mikolaj Krysik (Can-Am) from Poland, and we see same three names in the same three positions of the overall ranking, where Karuzis seems unbeatable for the moment with 40 minutes advance.
Lionel Baud made it again in the SSV class, as he finished LEG 4 on the first place, in front of Kose Castan (FRA, Can Am) and Stephane Zosso (CHE, Can Am). The French pilot Baud and his spectacular PH Sport Zephyr machine are dominating the rankings, as they now lead with 35 minutes to Pelle Moens (NLD, Can-Am, 6th for the day) and even 51 to Dalius Olechnavicius(Can-Am, 10th on Leg 4).
Once again Jerome Pelichet showed what is to be so many years in the desert races, and also, to have the appropriate car for this kind of terrains. The Frenchman with Optimus 2WD dune buggy made it again in the marathon day, beating Agostino Rizzardi (Porsche) with almost 12 minutes. Third of the day was Jean Pascal Besson with his T3RR, but in the overall rankings the pilot from France is in front of the Italian. And, if Pelichet has a huge advance as leader, the battle for the second place is on full speed, as the two contenders are separate by just 5 minutes.
Fenix Rally 2021, Leg 5: almost done
The 5th and penultimate day of Fenix Rally 2021, took the competitors from the Bedouin camp of the marathon stage back to Douz at the main bivouac of the race. There were two special stages, with a total distance of 225 kilometers timed. As the first part of the day was full of sand and some dunes, the second one (near the famous town of Matmata) offered mainly rocky tracks with some fesh-fesh.
Once again in the car open class, Jerome Pelichet was unbeatable and took another stage win. The French driver and his “magic” MD Optimus buggy flew the timed section, finishing with almost 8 minutes advance of Vaidotas Paskevicius (Seat Leon) and another 15 minutes to Agostino Rizzardi (Porsche).
And as Pelichet seems immovable from the first place, there was huge changes after him. As Jean Pascal Besson retired from the race because of technical problems, it’s now Rizzardi who is the main contender for the “silver medal”. But even more dramatic is the situation for the third place, where now is the Bulgarian Dessislav Slavchev (Mercedes). Slavchev did it with 4th time for the day, but in the general rankings is under serious push from not one, but three competitors and mainly from Adam Bomba (BMW), who is only some 5 minutes behind.
In the car limited class (ot T2, if you want) Laurant Aboueix (Mercedes) and Gregorz Brochocki (Toyota) will fight for the title, as they have huge advance over the rest competitor. Brochocki has over 12 minutes advance, but nothing is decided before the final kilometers of Fenix Rally.
As Lionel Baud and his PH Sport Zephyr are dominating the SSV class with another stage victory, it’s clear that the main fight will be for the second place. Second for the day at the finish was Dalius Olechnavicius (LTU), followed closely by Lea Gothier (FRA). Anyway in the general rankings the second place belongs to Pelle Moens (NLD, 6th for the day) and Olechnavicius is third.
In the bike class Jonathan Mongarny(FRA, Beta) won the 5th leg of Fenix Rally, but the Dutch Bram van der Wouden (NLD, Sherco) is absolute leader with huge advance. As for the ATVs, nobody can catch Romualdas Karuzis, who was faster for the day (again) and is leading his compatriot Adomas Gancierius with 52 minutes.
Fenix Rally 2021: the maiden winners
The inaugural edition of Fenix Rally ended with a 110 kilometers of last special stage. After 6 days and more than 1000 kms competitive sections, the race is ready to crown its first winners.
Tunisia welcomed the brand new project of RBI Sport and Alex Kovatchev with warm hospitality, full support from the authorities and unbelievable terrains in Sahara and the region around the city of Douz. It was one perfect week with high class organization and all kind of the necessary security and sanitary measures.
The last day was really interesting in the car open class in many ways. First of all, the desert rally veteran Jerome Pelichet showed what it means to have long years of experience in cross country competitions. The Frenchman took 6 from 6 stage wins, and won the race with unbelievable advance of 1 hour and 47 minutes to his nearest competitor.
The second place went to Agostino Rizzardi and his exotic Porsche proto. The Italian made very good progress during the rally, and pushed in the last stages, to climb on the podium. But even more interesting was the situation with Adam Bomba (BMW) from Poland, who completed the podium just in the last stage, beating the Bulgarian Dessislav Slavchev (Mercedes).
In the car limited category, it was Laurent Aubouex from France (Mercedes) who won the title in front of the Polish pilot Grzegorz Brochocki (Toyota) and the German Fritz Becker (Toyota). As the teams from this class couldn’t compete with the powerful T1 protos, they showed that you can take such a long rally with a conventional off-road machine, if you have enough courage and are smart on the racetrack.
In the most crowded class – those of the SSVs, it was Lionel Baud, who took the maiden victory of Fenix Rally. The pilot from France took 5 from 6 stage wins, behind the wheel of the powerful PH Sport Zephyr, leaving no chance to his opponents with over one hour advance at the finish.
Second in the “petite” class became the driver from Netherlands Pelle Moens as Lithuanian Dalius Olechnavicius completed the overall top 3. Both pilots counted on Can-Am vehicles.
In the bike class, there was the Dutchman Bram van der Wouden (Sherco), who eliminate the competition of two French riders: Lionel Mansuy (Sherco) and Romain Muraton (Husaberg). Van der Wouden was very constant and this paid off with more than 2 hours difference with the closest followers.
Finally, in the ATV class, it was Lithuanian domination, as Romualdas Karuzis (Can-Am) took the victory of Fenix Rally 2021 and his compatriot Adomas Gancierius (CF Moto) who get the “silver medal”. The third place was for the Polish rider Mikolaj Krysik (Can-Am).
Last but not least, Fenix Rally 2021 offered the adventure Discovery category, who gave the opportunity of the 61 entering teams to discover the world of the desert racing in guided tours without the pressure of the chronometer. And it’s clear that a lot of participants already thinking to have the next race in Tunisia in the competition category.
Now all the eyes are turned to the next big competition of RBI Sport – the legendary Breslau rally, who is planned for the end of June in Poland.