Robb Pritchard. Offroad correspondent
These Balkan hills have seen their fair share of battles and the abandoned houses tell the silent story of the war that raged here barely a generation ago. Today, though, the trees echo with the sounds of a different type of fight; Europe's, if not the world's, biggest hardcore 4x4 event... the one and only Croatia Trophy. 18 nationalities have come to this remote part of Croatia down near the Bosnian border from as diverse places as the UK, Malta and Russia and as there are people rolling into camp just a few minutes before the start no one is completely sure how many teams are here. 120 is a rough estimate.
On any other day this quaint meadow would be a nice place for a picnic, but stick some poles in the ground and splash a couple of trees with paint and you have a magic course for the opening prologue... mud pits, nasty slide slopes, tight turns around the Superwinch banners and some seriously fast sections which the crews tackle 4 cars at a time... and the spectators who crowded in weren't disappointed with the show... There was lots of winching, breakdowns, airborne vehicles, a rollover... and all on a 1km track! There are many reasons people love the Croatia Trophy. This is just one of them!
Fritz Becker in his beastly Jeep only got to the first corner when an incongruous stall meant a DNF as the battery was dead, Peter Whitman in his massive buggy severed a hydraulic steering pipe, Nick Anderson and Neville Hudd slid up the big bank and the helpful spectators rolled him back down it, the Maltese were enjoying the mud and trees especially as this is all totally illegal in their country and the genial organiser Igor Bozikovic stood in the shade looking on. “Getting position on the first stage is quite important, but so is having some fun,” he smiled. “So I give them something to clean and to fix... it's not so interesting for people to sit in the campsite tapping your fingers.”
The official office is a little caravan in the corner of a field and no one knows who got the fastest time yet. Tomorrow the serious stuff starts... and it lasts for over a week!