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Budapest-Bamako: Waking up from a bad Dream - Rally will return in 2011.

The 2010 Budapest-Bamako was highly unusual because it ended in Agadir (Morocco) due to a strongly worded terror warning form the Hungarian Foreign Ministry. Since then the new management team has been fired and the founder of the rally, Andrew G. Szabo took control again of the Budapest-Bamako 2011. We talked to Andrew about the future plans for the rally, that has often been hailed as the heir to the Dakar in Africa.

MR: What makes the Budapest-Bamako so different in your view and what happened to the rally 2010?

Andrew Szabo: "The Budapest-Bamako is what the Dakar originally intended to be in the early 1980s, a long, difficult, road rally and adventure from Europe to West Africa across the Sahara. People have not changed. They do have the desire to explore and go way beyond their homes.

Africa has not changed much either. The desert dirt tracks are still there, the mud huts and colorfully dressed African villagers are still there to be discovered. The Dakar did change and became a marketing machinery with well financed teams. The Budapest-Bamako replaced the Dakar for those who were seeking adventure and difficult times in Africa.

For four years the motto of the B2 was anyone, by anything by any means. We offered a rally, where a "300 Euro Polski Fiat" could start next to a Landrover or a KTM. The whole idea was not accepting any obstacle. In 2010 I retired from the management of the race and left it in the hand of a professional team, which tried to turn into a well organized corporate machinery. Two days before the start in Budapest the Hungarian foreign ministry advised the organizers to avoid Mauritania and Mali. The organizers compiled and the race ended in one of the ugliest towns in Morocco, the tourist resort factory of Agadir. Therefore this year's run didn't have the same spirit."

MR: Would you have acted differently?

Andrew Szabo: "Yes. Absolutely. The Budapest-Bamako is about dealing with obstacles and difficulties. If there's a sand dune ahead of you, you don't turn back. You go over it or around it or find a friend to pull you through. You just don't give up. That's not the Budapest-Bamako. This year the first obstacle did not come in the shape of a sand dune. It came two days before the rally from the authorities in Hungary. The new organizers lost their credibility with many of the teams."

MR: They also changed the rules for Spanish and Portuguese teams and required them to go the start line in Budapest. What kind of effect did this have?

Andrew Szabo: "Well, every year there were 5-10 teams from the Iberian peninsula. This year we only had one. The Sepulveda's were a heroic team. They drove all the way to Bamako and back. Next year the Spanish and Portuguese teams will start from Almeria or Tarifa depending on which route they are taking. I think it´s ridiculous to ask them to drive 3000 kilometers in the other direction."

MR: So are you involved with the 2011 race?

Andrew Szabo: "Yes. I took over from the team that ran the show last year. I think 2011 is going to be a fantastic year for the rally. The Budapest-Bamako is just waking up from a bad dream. The stages will be shorter in Mauritania, but we´ll add 2-3 stages in Senegal. I´d like to add the Lac Rose in Senegal since it´s an iconic place for anyone who has watched old Dakar broadcasts. We´ll include scenic dirt roads in Senegal and Mali. We also changed the entry fee system to make the rally more affordable for everyone."

MR: What is "affordable" in your interpretation?

Andrew Szabo: "How does "free" sound? Yes, the Budapest-Bamako has a category where teams can enter without entry fee. Funny cars or ambulances that will be donated in Mali or Senegal can come for free. There´s also the "Bamako By The Book" category, which is an adventure raid category strictly with written instructions. A two person team can enter for 300 Euros. They have no access to medical services or organizers, but they too get a very detailed roadbook with GPS coordinates and will enjoy the strong protection of the Mauritanian army and the company of other adventurers. For 300 Euros you can't even enter a domestic weekend rally."

MR: So you are not trying to run the Budapest-Bamako like a business?

Andrew Szabo: "Unfortunately it can´t run like a business, because it will lose it´s charme and spirit. The Bamako became a legend, because it´s not a business. Businesses must optimize procedures and profits. If profit was the goal we wouldn´t be giving away entries for free. The Budapest-Bamako is a pioneer in community adventure. The goal is to experience something that we could all experience alone, but would rather do it as a group. Sharing stories at the campfire at night and making new friends is the foundation of the B2."

MR: How will you react if there's a similar warning next year?

Andrew Szabo: "I think people who enter a rally like this must know that this is not a weekend drive to Malaga. This is a serious adventure with many challenges. Just because an airplane is blown up by terrorists air travel will not stop in the world, but airports will strengthen their security systems. We enjoy the protection of the local authorities. This year there were 15 armed vehicles guarding our desert bivouac in Mauritania for 40 cars. Participants must accept the risks. Organizers must reinforce security. It's really that simple. Thankfully we live in democratic societies where not the governments decide how we spend our free time."

MR: Does that mean that some people drove to Mali? Wasn´t it dangerous?

Andrew Szabo: "We had the full protection of the Mauritanian army as in previous years. The teams that decided to drive to Bamako had an incredible experience. Each night we had solders and policemen guarding the camps. In dangerous sections we travelled with a military convoy. Seeing the faces of the children in Mali was priceless. They all heard it on the radio that the rally was canceled and were very disappointed. The surprise for them was incredible when we arrived in Diema. We delivered 25 tons of aid to children, school, hospitals and non profit organizations in Mali and Mauritania. It was an amazing accomplishment."

MR: So how many categories will there be this year?

Andrew Szabo: "There´s always racing, which is not a timed race. It is more of a navigational and endurance challenge. Although this year certain speed keeping sections were introduced where teams had to drive at set average speeds on a certain stage. The racing category will be tough and demanding this year, just like in previous years. The route will be challenging, but spectacular at the same time. There will be the touring category, where teams don´t collect points. They just have to get to Bamako and enjoy the ride. They will travel on a different route. The adventure category can be completed even in a two wheel drive car. There will be the Bamako By The Book category which is a variation of the touring category."

MR: Were there any accidents and incidents?

Andrew Szabo: "There were several injuries in the racing category this year. The three time winner of the race Juraj Ulrich overturned his Nissan Navara and ended up breaking his neck. He had to quit the race after 8 days. There were many broken arms and fingers, but all in Morocco. The unofficial route had no problems reaching the Malian capital."

MR: What else will change in 2010?

Andrew Szabo: "We´d like to keep the rules a little bit more liberal. The meticulous technical scrutineering is not for this type of event. We´re going to set up a radio based race tracking device, that will make scoring the race even more accurate. We´d like to eliminate racing in Europe all together. This way the Spanish and Portuguese teams could start from Spain or Morocco without losing points."

MR: We hear that you are also planning a summer rally similar to the Budapest-Bamako?

Andrew Szabo: "Yes, plans are in the works for a Central Asian rally along the silk route. I've been trying to launch a summer event for many years, but I think the time has come. The start will be Budapest and the finish will be Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, but it's too early to reveal more at this time."

2010/03/07 | 09:01 CET | Editor: MR/HS/SZABO

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