Monday, May 27, 2024

Andrew Houlihan’s FIM Bajas campaign a gruelling adventure

Andrew Houlihan leads the FIM Bajas World Cup in the Veterans Trophy, but it has not been an easy journey for him. Much of the schedule consists of races in Europe sandwiched by dates in the Middle East on each side, making travel from his native Australia one long flight after another.

The most recent race, the Baja España Aragón on Friday and Saturday, was 17,186 kilometres away from his hometown of Albury in New South Wales. After heading to Melbourne, he boarded a fifteen-hour flight to Doha in Qatar, followed by an eight-hour plane trip to Barcelona. Once in Spain, he rented a car and drove five hours to reach Teurel.

Once all of that was said and done, he will return to Australia for a week of shore leave before redoing the process for the Hungarian Baja on 10–12 August.

The Baja Aragón came three months after another trip to Spain for the World Cup’s Baja TT Dehesa Extremadura located on the opposite side of the country in Badajoz. He took a similar plane trip, going from Albury to Melbourne, Melbourne to Doha, Doha to Madrid, then Madrid to Badajoz. While Extremadura and the previous round Qatar International Baja were separated by a month, Houlihan was on a tight schedule after spending much of that break sick with COVID-19. Houlihan is no stranger to racing in Spain, though both Aragón and Extremadura were his débuts in those races.

Aragón was a particularly difficult race as the top European rally on the World Cup calendar, attracting a litany of names that included World Rally-Raid Championship competitors on both the FIA and FIM sides. Tosha Schareina, who impressed at the Sonora Rally in April, won the bike overall.

Houlihan had to navigate through dust kicked up by quads, which led to him falling and hurting his shoulder in the first stage. Electing to use a conservative strategy for the rest of the rally as he continued through dirt from the quads and cars, he finished eighteenth overall and fifth in the Veterans Trophy. Rival Pablo Bianchi Prata placed second as the top Veterans bike while Toni Vingut won the trophy on a quad.

“One of the hardest stages of the Baja series so far, so I’m happy to have finished,” Houlihan told Cross-Country Rally News after the final stage on Saturday. “Finally felt a little bit comfortable on the bike this afternoon but still carrying a bit of a sore shoulder, so I’ll be happy to get back home and get some rest before the next round in Hungary.”

While Bianchi is closing the gap, Houlihan continues to lead the Veterans Trophy and sits third in the overall championship with four more rounds to go. The 54-year-old won the first two rounds on a Husqvarna before switching to a KTM 450 built by the Greek Aurora Rally Equipment for the European stretch with support from Nomadas Adventure Racing, finishing second to Bianchi in Extremadura.