Fenix Rally 2023 marked a new milestone in the world of cross country races with new territories, new challenges and with 8 racing days for the third edition of the desert marathon in Tunisia. The extreme revenge is marked by Tarvo Klassimae and Hardo Mere (from Estonia), two extreme drivers who won first and second place in the Car Open class with their well-prepared hard trophy vehicles.
Photography by Paolo Baraldi, Story by Hristomir Nikolov
The long awaited third edition of Fenix Rally took place from 15 to 22 of March in Tunisia. The rally-raid marathon, which already set a new era of the desert competitions, once again bring the competitors in the magnifique landscapes of the African country, including, most importantly, the Sahara Desert and offered many new things and brand-new desert experience.
What’s new? First of all, Fenix Rally 2023 offered 8 racing days – one with qualification stage, usually known as prologue, and 7 full legs, with total distance of more than 2000 kilometers, with almost 1600 against the clock. This is a further step in the evolution of the race, which started with 6 days in 2021, followed by 7 rally days in 2022.
This time the worldwide known resort of Djerba hosted the start of the rally, as well as the prologue at the sea coast. The Mediterranean city offered its hospitality for the first days, and then the caravan moved directly in the desert in the oasis of Ksar Ghilane for the second camp. As usual, the beautiful city of Douz hosted the last days of the competition and the award ceremony.
“Eight fabulous days to race, starting with a prologue from the touristy beaches of Djerba to the beautiful Tunisian inland desert areas. The rally offered various types of dunes, fesh-fesh and nice and fast gravel. Star Wars, the soft white sand of Sabria, the majestic Grand Erg Oriental, the twisty roads with oued crossings around Matmata and the grandiose dunes of Zmela throwed the competitorsu from one element to the other”, race director Alex Kovatchev explained about the route of Fenix 2023. And added another interesting thing – the return of the marathon stage without assistance teams, in a dedicated camp deep in Sahara.
Once again, over 100 racing vehicles from all classes – bikes, quads, SSVs, cars and trucks passed under the arch in Djerba. Plus, several crews has tasted the rally-raid feeling without the pressure of the chronometer in the Discovery category.
40 kilometers of prologue marked the start of the desert marathon Fenix Rally
The third edition of Fenix Rally just started with a flag-off ceremony in the city of Djerba. Some 93 racing vehicles from all the classes managed to the starting line, facing the first of 8 competitive days. The first day offered a short warming for the competitors with 40 kilometers at the Mediterranean Sea coast near Djerba. The terrain was hard, without many sands, the navigation was not difficult, so the speed was high.
Starting with the bikes, the best time was set by the debutant Ferenc Fodor from Romania (No. 19, Honda). Second for the day was Sebastien Tocaben from France with KTM (No. 16), and the third place went to the Tunisian rider Sofien Ben Jebara (No. 26) with Yamaha.
In the quad race, the best three times were for the pilots from Polaris Poland team. The best time was set by Rafal Jawien, followed by Marcin Wilkolek with some 11 seconds. Third best time was for Ireneusz Ostafin, half a minute behind the winner.
It was a family affair in the most crowded (as usual) class of the SSVs, as Arunas Lekavicius from Lithuania (Can-Am) won the prologue, with 23 second of advance of his son Arunas Lekavicius Jr. (Can-Am). Top 3 was completed by Jacek Zac from Poland with Polaris.
As for the cars, we saw another pilot from Lithuania on the top of the ranking – Mindaugas Povilaitis with Toyota. Some 41 seconds behind was the Dutch Rik Van Den Brink (Mitsubishi), and third for the day became the winner of Balkan Offroad 2022 Doncho Canev with his rear-wheel driven prototype Suzuki.
Finishing with the trucks, the opener for the second day will be the veteran from the extreme class of Breslau Steffen Braun (Unimog) from Germany, who won the stage. Second place went to his compatriot Alexander Paass (MAN), and top 3 was for another German – Matthias Koerber (OAEF MAN).
Fenix Rally Leg 1: towards Sahara. The race moved to Ksar Ghilane with the second longest stage for this year
The second racing day of Fenix Rally 2023 marked the end of the first leg, and the moving of the convoy from Djerba to Ksar Ghilane in the Sahara Desert. In the menu for the competitors there were more than 430 kilometers, 302 of them – against the clock.
Even that the rally entered the mythical desert, the tracks were mainly hard, with stones and not so much sand. The first part of the day offered wide tracks, which become narrower and narrower in the second part. And the battle was more than serious.
Unlike yesterday, just at the first half of the stage, the different classes were mixed on the tracks, so the fastest cars and SSV were together with the bikes and the quads, which actually start first for the day. So, in the car class it was the reigning champion of Balkan Offroad Doncho Canev from Bulgaria, who set the fastest time. Second, some 3 and a half minutes was Rik Van Den Brink from Nederland (Mitsubishi). Third best time was for Mindaugas Poviliatis (Toyota) from Lithuania.
In the SSV class, the stage win was held by another Lithuanian – Dalius Olechnavicus, with only 31 seconds in front of his fellow countryman Tomas Mickus. The Baltic country has another representative on the daily podium – Rytis Juodnukis.
Fenix Rally champion Matthew Gird (KTM) from South Africa set the pace for the day, taking the stage win with 3:32 advance to Sebastian Tocaben (KTM) from France. Top 3 was completed by Luca Marinone (Yamaha) from Italy.
Rafal Jawien from Poland, with Polaris, was the best ATV rider, stealing some 6 minutes to Gaetan Martinez (Can-Am) from France. Third best time for the day was for another Polish pilot of Polaris – Marcin Wilkolek.
In the truck race, the best result was for Matthias Koerber with MAN, who was one of three German pilots on the top. Second place went to Steffen Braun (Unimog) and third was Klaas Steinhoefel (MAN).
Fenix Rally Leg 2: first battle with the dunes. Tough stage in the desert and some surprising winners
The third racing day of Fenix Rally 2023 offered the competitors the first real battle with the dunes (and dunettes). The loop with start and finish in Ksar Ghilane offered one single stage with 230 kilometers against the clock.
The day started with short distance of fast gravel and sandy pistes and then the competitors crossed the big dunes of Zmela followed by a stretch of technical dunettes. The big dune was actually the biggest obstacle for the day, where some vehicles stuck seriously. Those who managed to escape, faced nice graves pistes, another dune passage, and tricky gravel roads along the valley and the flat part east of Ksar Ghilane.
It was really interesting in the car class, where the stage was won by a driver with car, usually seen on the extreme tracks of the RBI races. And it was the Mos 1 proto of the Estonian pilot Tarvo Klaasimae. Moreover, his compatriot Hardo Mere, also with extreme class vehicle, took the second place. Third for the day was Rik Van Den Brink from Nederland with Mitsubishi.
As for the SSVs, the French driver Frederic Henricy (Polaris) managed the best in the dunes and claim the stage win. The second place went to Marcin Graczyk from Poland with Can-Am and the third to Dalius Olechnavicius from Lithuania, also with Can-Am.
From the light “cavalry”, definitely the quads were fastest in the sands. An it was Rafal Jawien from Poland, who claimed his second daily win. His compatriot and teammate from Polaris Polska Racing Team Marcin Wilkolek post the second-best time and Gaetan Martinez from France with Can-Am completed top 3.
Sebastien Tocaben from France (KTM) was the man who has deal the best with the dunes and he finished in front of reigning Fenix Rally champion Matthew Gird from South Africa (KTM). Third place in leg 2 was for the Italian rider Luca Marinone (Yamaha).
Because of the long and heavy stage, the trucks were not completed the stage when releasing the information for leg 2, but from the preliminary information, the best time went to Carsten Felten from Germany with MAN.
Fenix Rally Leg 3: at full throttle trough the pistes. The second loop around Ksar Ghilane was fast and tricky
The third leg of Fenix Rally 2023 offered not so heavy route, mainly dominated by WRC type gravel pistes with some tricky and curvy parts in east and north of Ksar Ghilane. The stage was modified and instead the full 240 kilometers, the competitors have to drive 140.
Starting with the SSV buggies, Maciej Stolarski (Can-Am) was the fastest driver on four wheels. The Polish pilot took the daily win with near minute and half advance to Dalius Olechnavicus (Can-Am) from Lithuania. Third best for day was Frederic Henricy from France with Polaris, 2:19 minutes behind the winner. In the overall, leader for the moment is Olechnavicus, more than 5 minutes in front of Henricy.
In the car class, the best time was posted by Rik Van Den Brink (Mitsubishi). The pilot from Nederland “stole” only 20 seconds from Aivaras Kavaliauskas (Lithuania, Hummer). The “bronze” from the stage went to Tarvo Klaasimae from Estonia (MOS1 proto). In the general ranking, Klaasimae has huge advance of 40 minutes to his compatriot Hardo Mere (5th place for the day) and the top 3 is completed by Rik Van Den Brink, with almost one hour and half behind the leader.
In the “light” part of Fenix Rally 2023, the quad riders continue to be faster than the bikers. One again Rafal Jawien from Poland posted the best time. Second place went to Gaetan Martinez from France and third for the day was Ireneusz Ostafin from Poland. In short – triple stage triumph for Polaris. Provisional leader is Jawien, with almost half an hour advance to Martinez. Last place on the provisional podium is for Martin Wilkolek (Polaris, 5th for the day).
Fastest biker for the day was Sebastien Tocaben from France with KTM, who finished almost 8 minutes in front of Matthew Gird (South Africa, KTM). One more French pilot made it well, as the third place went to Frederic Reinheimer, also with KTM. Tocaben is leading the provisional classification, almost 8 minutes and a half in front to the reigning champion of Fenix Rally Matthew Gird. The third position is for Reinheimer.
As for the trucks, Steffen Braun (Germany, Unimog) won the stage around Ksar Ghilane, which helped him to stay on the top in the rankings. His fellow countryman Matthias Koerber (MAN) was second fastest, but is holding the third place in the overall. Second in the provisional ranking is another German – Carsten Felten (4th place in the stage).
Fenix Rally Leg 4: the marathon. Strong winds made the stage very difficult
Fenix Rally 2023 faced the first part of the marathon challenge, where the competitors drove the stage to a dedicated desert bivouac, where they spent the night without the help of the assistance crews. However, the initial plan was to drive almost 140 kilometers in the sands, but because of heavy winds in the areas, the route has to be modified – not in terms of length, but using different tracks, for safety reasons.
The windy day was very good for Matthew Gird in the bike class. The pilot from South Africa managed to set the best time, finishing 5 minutes in front the French rider Sebastien Tocaben. Third for the day was another Frenchman – Frederic Reinheimer, so we saw a triple win for KTM. Tocaben is still the leader in the overall, 3 minutes and a half in front of Gird.
Rafal Jawien was once again unbeatable in the quad class. The pilot of Polaris Polska Racing Team finished with a lead of 6 minutes to Nicolas Martinez from France (Polaris), and some 10 seconds more to his teammate and compatriot Marcin Wilkolek. Jawien is provisional leader with over half an hour to Gaetan Martinez from France (4th place for the day).
Poland was the country triumphing also in the SSV class of the marathon stage, as Jacek Zak (Polaris) was the fastest on the windy track. Second for the day was his fellow countryman Maciej Stolarski (Can-Am) and the third place went to Fredereic Henricy (Polaris). In the general rankings, to Dalius Olechnavicus (Can-Am, 5th place for the day) from Lithuania is still on the top, 4:32 minutes in front of Henricy.
In the car class Doncho Canev (Suzuki proto) claimed his second stage win from Fenix Rally 2023. The pilot from Bulgaria had more than one minute advance to Mindaugas Povilaitis (Toyota) from Lithuania. Daily podium was completed by the dutchman Rik Van Den Brink (Mitsubishi). However, overall “king”, with more than comfortable 42 minutes advance to the closest competitor is sitting Tarvo Klaasimae from Estonia (MOS1 proto), despite his 5th place in the stage.
Among the trucks in Fenix Rally 2023, Steffen Braun (Germany, Unimog) once again was fastest on the stage, with some 9 minutes advance to his compatriot Matthias Koerber (MAN). Third best time was for Klaas Steinhoefel (MAN), also from Germany. Braun continues to be on top of the rankings.
Fenix Rally Leg 5: toward Douz
The second part of the marathon stage bring the competitors of Fenix Rally 2023 from the dedicated desert bivouac to the city of Douz, which will host the final stages of the race. The initially planned route featured over 110 competitive kilometers, but once again the terrible winds in the region played a bad joke with the caravan, so leg 5 was modified and included half of the distance.
In the car class, the “extreme guys” from Estonia were triumphant in the harsh conditions, where the sand in the air was like a huge fog, combined with small tornadoes. Best time for the day was posted by Hardo Mere, who claimed 6 minutes to his friend and fellow countryman Tarvo Klaasimae. Tarvo is unbeatable leader for the moment, with some 35 minutes advantage to Hardo Mere.
As for the SSVs, drivers from Poland are very constant in terms of winning stages. So, this time the daily win was claimed by Maciej Stolarski (Can-Am). Second place was for his compatriot Grzegorz Brochock (Can-Am), and the “bronze” went to Fredereic Henricy from France (Polaris). Anyway, leader in the overall is still Dalius Olechnavicus (Can-Am, 4th place for the day), followed by Fredereic Henricy, 3 minutes behind.
It was another great day for Matthew Gird in the bike class. The South African (KTM) finished with almost 3 minutes in front of Sebastien Tocaben (France, KTM) and (!) 34 minutes advantage to his countryman Stephane Mazella Di Bosco (Husqvarna). In the overall, Tocaben is till on the top of the rankings, but with jut 35 seconds advantage to Gird.
As for the quads, Rafal Jawien continue to be dominator in the Sahara Desert, as he claimed another one daily win. The rider from Poland stole 50 seconds from Nicolas Martinez (France, Polaris). Third place went to Gaetan Martinez (France, Can-Am). Provisional leader is Jawien, with huge 48 minutes advance to Nicolas Martinez.
Among the trucks in Fenix Rally 2023, Steffen Braun (Germany, Unimog) is undisputed leader, taking another stage win. He has over 2 hours advance to his closest competitor, so only a big mistake can cost him the title of Fenix Rally 2023.
Fenix Rally Leg 6: almost done. The penultimate stage of the race was long and difficult, but also spectacular
Fenix Rally 2023 entered its penultimate day with a very long stage northern from the city of Douz. Despite some modification near the city, where the strong winds did not stop, the competitors tested the dunes near the famous Star Wars village, fast gravel tracks on the east part of Chott El Jerid and some mountain roads towards the finish.
In the car class, Rika Van Den Brink (Mitsubishi) was the man who set the best time in the stage. The pilot from Nederland finished with some 23 minutes advance to Tarvo Klaasimae from Estonia with his extreme prototype. Another “trophy” guy – Hardo Mere completed the daily podium. The pilots from the Baltic country are undisputed leaders in the overall, as Klaasimae has 36 minutes in front of Mere. Third in the general ranking is Van Den Brink, but 3 hours behind the fastest
Arunas Lekavicius (Can-AM) from Lithuania claimed the stage win in the SSV class. He finished 3:15 minutes in front of Eric Schiano from Niger (Polaris) and a minute and a half more to Maciej Stolarski (Can-Am). Stolarski is the new overall leader, as Dalius Olechnavicus (Can-Am) finished in 8th place, 19 minutes behind the leader and is with 10 minutes passive in the overall.
A walk in the park for Sebastien Tocaben (France, KTM) in the bike class, who claimed 5 minutes to Matthew Gird (South Africa, KTM). Tocaben is now 6 minutes in front of Gird, so the battle will be until the very end of Fenix Rally 2023.
In the quad class, Polaris Polska Racing Team saw a triple stage win. Rafal Jawien can not stop to be the fastest on the stages, this time with almost 12 minutes in front of Marcin Wilkolek. Third for the day was Ireneusz Ostafin. Jawien is undoubted leader in the overall, with a huge 1-hour advance to Gaetan Martinez from France (4th place for the day).
Finally, in the truck class, which is dominated by German drivers, Matthias Koerber (MAN) was with the best time. In the general standing leader is still Steffen Braun (Unimog), hours in front of his rivals.
The kings of the desert. Sands and dunes, but no stress in the last stage of the Fenix Rally
Fenix Rally 2023 is now in the books. The 8-day desert marathon ended with a final stage in the region of Douz, with 133 kilometers of timed section. The stage began with dunes near Jebil National Park, then offered some fast pistes and ended not far away from the host-city with small dunettes and sandy tracks.
Extreme is the new cross-country? As it was clear few days ago, with his huge advance, Tarvo Klassimae is the winner in the car class of Fenix Rally. The Estonian managed to keep his advance to the fellow countryman Hardo Mere and we saw two extreme pilots with their well-prepared hard trophy cars on the podium. Third place went Rik Van Den Brink (Mitsubishi), who claimed the last stage win in Fenix Rally 2023.
In the T2 or “limited” car class, Fritz Becker from Germany with Toyota, was the fastest in Fenix Rally 2023. The second place went to his compatriot Olaf Seip with Land Rover, and the podium was completed by Manfred Raedler from Austria (Toyota).
In the SSV class, where the battle was until the end of the race, Dalius Olechnavicus (Can-Am) is the crowned winner of this year’s desert marathon. The Lithuanian crossed the finish with 5 minutes overall advantage to Maciej Stolarski from Poland (Can-Am). The “bronze medal” went to Frederic Henricy from France, with Polaris, who was the fastest in the last racing day.
Winning the final stage to Douz, Sebastien Tocaben (France) confirmed his title in the bike class. The rider from France, who was in duel with Matthew Gird, had tiny advantage of one minute before the last start. But Gird had a very bad day and did not finish the whole stage, so Tocaben ended with huge 2 hours in front his main rival from South Africa. Well deserved third place for Frederic Reinheimer from France (KTM), who was very constant at the race tracks.
With 6 out of 7 leg wins, Rafal Jawien was the fastest quad rider in Fenix Rally 2023. The pilot of Polaris Polska Racing Team had his small stress in the last day, when he ran out of fuel some kilometers before the finish. Fortunately, a fellow teammate towed him in the sands and Jawien succeed to grab the title. Second place in the marathon is for Gaetan Martinez from France with Can Am and third best in the class is another rider of Polaris Polska - Marcin Wilkolek, who set the fastest time in the last stage.
In the truck class, dominated by German drivers, Steffen Braun (Unimog) won the title with another daily victory. Second in the 8-day marathon is Carsten Felten (MAN KAT) and the third place is for Klaas Steinhoffel (MAN KAT).
RBI Sport next appointments for 2023
Fenix Rally 2023 is already in the books, but race director and manager of RBI Sport Alex Kovatchev already is thinking for the next event under his command – the legendary Breslau rally in Poland in the end of June. After that, in the menu is the 11th edition of Balkan Offroad, which will be for second year in Romania, in the beginning of October.