With the European rally racing scene in shambles due to the COVID-19 situation, I’d resigned myself to pottering around the TET trails for the remainder of 2020 (with the exception of the Hellas Rally in Greece still going ahead). The TET riders are a close-knit community, however, so after a few posts here and there, I received an unexpected message. “There is a one-day rally event taking place this weekend. It’s the Hungarian Baja COVID Edition”, the message said. Tamas Esch, a Hungarian rally racer and founder of Cross Country ADV, invited me to take part in a short, non-timed rally run held in place of the original Hungarian Baja race, and I’d never say “no” to a rally event.
Hungarian Baja: The Corona Edition
A few days later, after a scramble to replace my worn clutch plates and springs in time and put the roadbook navigation equipment together, I found myself at the Hungarian Baja bivouac in Kemenesmagasi, Northern Hungary. With 50/50 tires and a woefully oversized tank, I wasn’t exactly going to break any personal records, but then, the Hungarian Baja event wasn’t meant to be a full-on race.
“Because of the Coronavirus situation, all races in Hungary have been cancelled, and we’re unable to hold the original Baja rally here. So we figured we could just get together, design a short course, and have at it – we’ve got pretty much all of the Hungarian cross-country racing teams here as well as some guests from Slovakia and Czech republic, we’ve got cars, quads, motorcycles, SSV, and a truck, and it’s just going to be a blast”, Zoltan Garamvolgyi, organizer of the event, told me. We were to do six stages of 22 kilometers each on the same route, the first three stages going in one direction, then finishing the last three in another. The course was to be marked, too, to cater for the car and truck racers, but we were given a roadbook and could navigate in the traditional way. According to Zoltan, most of the tracks were going to be fast with some bumpy sections and some mud thrown in for good measure.
At the bivouac, I immediately felt at home as all the Hungarian competitors were so chilled out and welcoming it was like riding with a bunch of friends. After cobbling the roadbooks together with some packing tape, we lined up at the start and took off riding the mangled, hole-littered track first, then opening the throttles wider on some fast-flowing gravel track and forest trails.
Mud became my undoing, as the 50/50 Heidenau tire refused to offer any grip at all; during the third lap, as the tracks were already artfully destroyed by the cars, SSVs, and the truck, I came into a corner too fast and ate some dirt landing face-first. Luckily, it only cost me a bruised ego, slightly bent handlebars, and seat bolts that had ejected themselves out and into the mud pits, never to be seen again. I’ve got to say: the event felt really well-organized, with track marshals stopping traffic for the rally, a medical team on standby, and plenty of rally staff and support every few kilometres, and that’s why a rally setting I always such a good way to improve your riding more or less safely.
After the first three stages, there was a quick lunch and some last-minute bike tweaks at the paddocks; caked with mud but grinning from ear to ear, we were eager to jump back on the bikes and have another go changing direction. Most of the bike riders were much more experienced and faster than me with several desert rallies under their belts, but everyone was so friendly and supportive I felt like I was getting some seriously great saddle time instead of a beat down. Always ready with jokes, a supply of packing tape, and riding advice, these guys were having a ball out on the tracks, and I was grateful I could be there and try to chase after them on poor unsuspecting Lucy.
“Hungarian Baja Covid-19 Edition was the 4th and easily the best rally training event this year, I enjoyed it so much that I was a bit sad when it was over. The 22km special stages were diverse with bumpy tracks, technical stuff in the forest and mind-blowing fast sections. After the rally, I felt like I had really learned something, improved my skills and because of the amazing riders and the atmosphere at the bivouac, this event is one of my highlights of 2020, for sure”, Tamas told me after the event.
If you’re in Europe in 2021 and want to have a go at a rally race, the original Hungarian Baja is a three-day race aimed at both pro riders and amateurs, so stick it on your calendar – it’s a professionally organized yet incredibly friendly and chilled out event that’s ideal for rally practice or a warm-up for the bigger races. If you’re flying and riding, check out Cross Country ADV for bike rentals and rally support.