Monday, April 15, 2024

“Sacrifices to the Greek gods” define muddy Rally Greece Off-Road

Benediktas Vanagas and Tiago Reis arrived at the Rally Greece Off-Road with top-of-the-line Toyota Hilux T1+ trucks, the former having seen his win with two different drivers in both the FIA World and European Cups for Cross-Country Bajas in 2023 while the latter was the European Cup points leader after winning the season-opening Baja TT Dehesa Extremadura. Both left with Vanagas’ caked in mud and cutting through shrubbery to tow Reis’ back to the bivouac.

The tenth Rally Greece Off-Road was far from the smoothest edition for its competitors as bad weather made the weekend a massive headache. Various team such as the T3 son/father duo of Miklos and Sandor Trebitsch reported suffering from eye pain after the race as dirt was slung into their face, having been forced to keep their helmet visors open in order to see through the mud.

While the T1 class is typically the class of the grid in any rally raid, the conditions instead favoured the SSVs of T3 and T4. Still, the latter weren’t exempt either as victims included reigning Polish Cup champion Piotr Otko, who was the T3 leader on Friday before a rough second and final day knocked him off the podium entirely.

Ironically, a T1 came out on top anyway, albeit due to further bizarre circumstance as the T4 of Amerigo Ventura held off T1 driver Krzysztof Hołowczyc for the win only to be disqualified for failing post-race inspection. The protective casing between the right-side fuel tank and the chassis of his Yamaha YXZ1000R had a smaller width between them than on the opposite side: the left tank met regulation as the housing was roughly 50 mm in width, but the right’s only maxed out at 38.7 mm in violation of Article 3.1 of Appendix J in the FIA International Sporting Code.

Ventura’s Quaddy Racing team accepted the penalty and explained the car had been fully rebuilt after crashing in the Baja TT Dehesa Extremadura in April, but the crews mistakenly used smaller space rubbers to reconstruct the tanks. Besides spoiling co-driver Mirko Brun‘s birthday, the disqualification continued a streak of misfortune for Ventura in the European Cup as his Baja TT Dehesa Extremadura accident took place while leading the final day; that race was also marred by drama as a plethora of scoring errors forced the final classification to be released over a week after its conclusion. Hołowczyc described the disqualification as “a great pity” and asseted that “surely this technical issue was not intentional. I hope that we will have the opportunity to fight and see each other on the podium.”

“We will certainly remember the three days of this rally for a very, very long time,” Hołowczyc, a former European Rally Champion racing for the Bajas Cup to prepare for his first Dakar Rally since 2015, continued. “Greece is usually connected to sunshine, high temperatures and dust, but not this time. Downpour, mud and extremely slippery sections, this was this year’s rally of Greece. After the prologue, we had a plan to gradually accelerate and adapt our pace to the conditions. We knew that the sum of all the mistakes would do the result, so smart driving was the key to success. We pushed harder and harder and tried to force mistakes on our rivals. We also had adventures in the form of jammed wipers, we had to stop and wipe the windows. On Saturday we had electrical problems, which Lukasz solved during the drive. I can confidently say that in Greece everything played, our driving, strategy, excellent service work. Another step in preparation for the Dakar scored. The harder the better.”

Urvo Mannama, who made his Dakar Rally début in January, finished second in T1 as the highest-placing FIA Hilux (Manuele Mengozzi won the National overall in a Hilux) following Reis’ exit. Reis had won his class in the first stage, but the mud caused him to careen off course into the trees on a downward slope where his truck broke its clutch. Shortly after, Vanagas crashed in the same location, leaving both Hiluxes stuck upon realising they risked sliding down the mountain if they tried to move their vehicles. After tying the Hilux to a tree to keep it stable, Vanagas had a support truck winch it out before towing Reis back.

T3 team Santag Racing suffered greatly on Saturday as João Dias, who won the opening stage on Friday, retired with a mechanical issue while Filipe Barreiros Cardo‘s engine caught fire. Vanagas sardonically described the blaze and his own exit as “sacrifices to the Greek gods.”

Even before the rally started, things seemed to be a sign of inauspicious things to come when it was delayed by a month due to Greek elections.

Class winners

FIA

Class Overall Finish Number Competitor Co-Driver Team Vehicle Subcategory Total Time
T1 1 208 Krzysztof Hołowczyc Łukasz Kurzeja Fosfo Racing BMW X3 T1.1 9:16:22
T2 2 217 Alessandro Trivini Bellini Marco Trivini Belini TB Team Mitsubishi Pajero T2 11:21:04
T3 2 232 Jesus Fuster Carlos Fernandez C.A. Herrador Competicion Herrator Inzane X3 T3.1 9:21:11
T4 6 405 Miguel Valero Chuliá Fina Roman Aguilera Gedeser XXI, S.L. Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo T4 9:38:27

National

Class Overall Finish Number Competitor Co-Driver Team Vehicle Subcategory Total Time
T1 3 213 Manuele Mengozzi Erica Bombardi Manuele Mengozzi Toyota Hilux Overdrive T1.1 10:18:28
T2 18 604 Alberto Spinetti Andrea Taloni Alberto Spinetti Suzuki Grand Vitara T2N 15:27:05
TH 8 612 Ioannis Vorrias Anthanasios Bakas Ioannis Vorrias Mitsubishi Pajero TH.1 10:56:27
T3/T4/SSV 1 410 Israfil Akyuz Mert Tepe Rally Raid Team Türkiye Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo T4 9:39:49.7
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