Robb Pritchard, Offroad correspondent
Today in Croatia it's a national holiday so they ran the Circuit Race for the spectators to have something spectacular to see... and they weren't disappointed... if the no-quarter given racing wasn't enough the event's shortest stage claimed the biggest victim!
The Croatia Trophy is not about throwing cars into big pits of mud and seeing them winch out, there are 40km roadbook stages where every natural obstacle you can image waits in the forests, but there are also special sections designed to test teamwork... but the Circuit Race is the antithesis of teamwork! 6 laps around a 2km course in the fields and woods near the camp... and is much harder than it sounds.
The field was split into five groups, two of Adventure and three of Trophy class and the Adventure went first making the forest track muddier and muddier until the bank it went up became a winching section and all the onlookers congregated. As always cheers were given for David de Raedt in his beautiful Unimog but then it was the turn of the big boys and all hell broke loose. Those lower down the order were set off first and two ways either side of the group of trees became the overtaking place if co-drivers were quick enough or if the driver managed to scramble up.
Star drive of the day came from Karl Frost and David Needham. A winch solenoid broke and fried the motor and so in the middle of the mud pit in front of the whole crowd they had to do the winch-challenge equivalent of a 3-point turn and winch up backwards. It was a well deserved cheer that they earned... but the one they got the next time they came around was even louder. Knowing full well that it was all or nothing Karl dived in full-throttle and foot flat to the floor slithered around and managed to make it to the top! Incredible!
The little red Suzuki of Maxim Kirpilev and Vadim Shmaylov couldn't employ the full power techniques of the others but thought around the problem of the deep ruts and thick mud instead. At the beginning of the chewed up track they winched out of the ruts, weaved around the trees and then winched up further to the side of where everyone else was blasting up. They did this every single time they went around.
Earning the praise of the other drivers was Sergei Savenko in his Pink Thing. The car is so light that he could bounce it over the ruts that the others were stuck in and so small that it fitted under a tree that the others couldn't... plus it's not really a normal 4x4 and is probably one of the most expensive vehicles here... although the sex-shop-pink colour scheme would make you think otherwise. Several times he slewed up the bank to applause.
But then the top 18 came... and with them came chaos. At first it was a strange sight of Jim Marsden holding the entire line of cars up as he lost traction on a tree root and co-driver Wayne Smith had to tie the rope to four different trees to get the car around the trunk it was stuck on. The second time around they were in about 5th position... and then they weren't seen again. Apparently a steering box broke... which means a maximum time plus 2 hours of penalties...
But none of the other drivers cared about that. Mud flew, V8s roared, diesel smoke plumbed, trees were driven down, spectators scattered, winch lines driven over and pandemonium celebrated. The Croatian Jeep of Boris Kus looked to be doing well as were the two Hungarian teams, Boros Csaba and Szylard Magyar in their small Jeep and G-Wagen. But getting up the bank without a winch more times than most was Alexey Golubev in his hand made Proto. It doesn't have the biggest tyres or the loudest engine but it has superb traction.
By the time the last crews had finished it was just about dark with a
coming storm flashing from over the Bosnian border. The drivers had
parked at the finish and were slapping each other on the backs
congratulating some and cursing others. Gordon Krota had a big smile
on his face and Peter Whitman looked over the scoring girl's shoulder
to note how close everyone was after some 20 minutes of racing.
Below are yesterday's top 5 results.
|1.||James Marsden||Land Rover||6:47:33|
|3.||Roberto Mazega||Jeep Wrangler||7:34:34|
|4.||Alexey Golubev||Gaz 69||7:34:51|
|5.||Szylard Magyar||Mercedes Proto||8:00:35|