Saturday, March 2, 2024

SKARLAT-XTRM Team celebrates successful debut in Spain

Last week, Vadim Pritulyak led a pair of wounded Ukrainian combat veterans across Europe to participate in the Rallye TT Cuenca, the Spanish Cross-Country Rally Championship‘s season finale. Racing a new Ukrainian UTV called the SKARLAT 1000, the SKARLAT-XTRM Team of Pritulyak and Sergey Romanovsky set the fastest time in the ParaBaja category across the weekend. Olexandr Gonzul completed the race in a Toyota FJ piloted by Ivan Barbero.

The ParaBaja class is designed for people with disabilities like limited mobility; as a non-competitive category, finishers are celebrated regardless of how they did, though times are still kept for scoring purposes and drivers are required to follow standard rally regulations. Romanovsky lost his right leg while fighting pro-Russian forces in fall 2014, while Gonzul’s left arm and right leg were blown off by a land mine in July 2022 five months after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of the country. Pritulyak wears an eyepatch over his right eye due to thrombosis and vision loss stemming from an accident in 2018, though he noted it pales in comparison to the disabilities that his classmates have.

“After finishing first and surpassing all the competition in the second stage, I approached one of the participants and noticed that the steering wheel was equipped with devices where the driver operated them with his hands, including the gas and brakes on the steering wheel,” recalled Pritulyak. “I spoke with him, and after that, I approached the organisers, and we decided that all participants in ParaBaja would receive identical trophies because it turns out that I’m the only one without a particular limitation. Well, there are some problems, and my navigator also has a disability—he’s missing one leg—but we’re overtaking people who are paralysed in the lower part of their bodies, and it doesn’t seem very sportsmanlike. So, everyone was awarded the same trophies.”

The team’s journey to Spain came together with the help of partners like Autolife run by Vladyslav Kushchynsky, a rally raid driver who oversees the Automobile Federation of Ukraine’s technical committee and coordinated with his Spanish counterparts at the Real Federación Española de Automovilismo to invite wounded Ukrainian troops to race as co-drivers in Cuenca. KLO, a domestic gas station chain, also came aboard as a sponsor; one of its stations in Kyiv was destroyed by Russian shelling in the early days of the invasion, and the site was used by the team’s supporters to send them off. Rafał Sonik, the 2015 Dakar Rally Quad champion who helped Ukrainian refugees in Poland, greeted them upon their arrival in Kraków followed by Dakar T1 driver Miroslav Zapletal in Prague as they continued westwards. Romanovsky recalled the night crossing into Poland had some delay but “both the Ukrainian and Polish sides reacted very positively to our mission and helped us.”

Credit: SKARLAT-XTRM Team

Upon reaching the ceremonial start podium in Cuenca, they brought out the flags of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces; Romanovksy served in the latter. Romanovsky then called the shots for Pritulyak, an ex-Dakar competitor on a bike, in the SKARLAT. Pritulyak hopes the effort will drum up foreign investors into the marque, which is developing UTVs for the Armed Forces of Ukraine to evacuate injured troops from the frontlines. They raced the car in its four-seater form, albeit without passengers in the back, while spare tyres were placed in the trunk.

Gonzul had to overcome a language barrier with the Spaniard Barbero, but managed to reach the finish.

Eleven ParaBaja teams competed in Cuenca, including two for bikes.

With the team’s début a success, Pritulyak and many of those involved envision bringing the ParaBaja concept to Ukraine to provide those wounded while defending the country from Russian invasion with a new outlet upon returning to civilian life. Eventually, Pritulyak hopes to see the team—whose name he is considering changing—competing alongside regular rally teams and even tackling the Dakar Rally.

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