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Headline: Budapest-Bamako Trans Sahara is quickly growing up

In 2005 a bizarre group of 40 cars and motorcycles left the Hungarian Capital Budapest for West-Africa to experience the adventure of the Dakar. By 2008 the marathonrally-raid attracted over 400 people in 160 vehicles. We talked to the organizer, Andrew G. Szabo who is expecting over 200 vehicles and around 600 people this year.

MR: "We’ve seen reports of Trabants, Polski Fiats and Dacias crossing the Sahara on previous races. So is this a serious rally raid or just a whacky race?"

Szabo: "The Budapest-Bamako started out as a low budget alternative to the Dakar. We wanted everyone to experience the magic of African driving. The motto has always been "anyone, by any means, by anything". Many people just pick up a cheap car in Hungary and drive the distance. They sell their car in Bamako and return home with the experience of a lifetime. However, this time for the first time, we will be separating those who take racing seriously from the Trabis. Teams in the touring category and the race route will be completely separated. The start ceremony and the finish party will be the same for both groups, but the stages will be very different. So to answer your question, it’s really two rallies with a common start and finish line."

MR: "What kind of changes can racing category teams expect this year?"

Szabo: "The race is going to be a very demanding amateur or semi-professional rally. There will be liason and special stages each day. Teams have to reach several navigational checkpoints, the so-called geo challenges. They will also have to complete the special stages by driving at consistent speeds. For each special stage we will assign an average speed requirement. The teams that are the closest to the required average will get the maximum points for that stage. Finding the checkpoints and keeping the required speed will earn maximum points. The most consistent teams will place in the top ranks."

MR: "How will the route be different?"

Szabo: "Since the Dakar moved out of Africa, we feel that they have left a big void. We tried to carry the torch that they left by writing a very difficult course this year. In fact we will use some of the exact same special stages that they had offered on the Dakar many years ago. Morocco is going to be magnificent and relatively easy. The hardship will begin in Mauritania. The Atar-Tidjikja-Kiffa super marathon stage will offer plenty of excitement and work for the teams. From the moment we enter Mauritania to the time we arrive in Bamako there will only be a 200-300 km paved liason section. We are very excited about the new route."

MR: "What else will be different this time?"

Szabo: "Last year we had only 40 cars in the racing category. Today we already have seventy teams from all over Europe. We will also be offering an assistance truck to the racers and teams can place their charity donations which they are recommended to bring to Bamako in a huge humanitarian truck. For the first time in the history of the Budapest-Bamako we will also have air support in the form of a Gazelle, French military helicopter. The helicopter will carry out filming, rescue and transport assignments. We will also have a sophisticated GPS tracker installed in each vehicle for score keeping purposes."

MR: "What nationalities are expected at the start line?"

Szabo: "About 60% of the teams are Hungarians. There are teams from Romania, Croatia, Poland, Norway, Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, England, Portugal, Spain and the United States. It’s a very international crowd. The official languages of the race are English and Hungarian."

MR: "So it looks like the Budapest-Bamako is slowly growing up to be a real rally-raid?"

Szabo: "That’s true. However, at the same time we like to stay true to our original roots and the founding spirit of the race. We even allocated 20 free entries in the touring category for those who are keeping the original spirit of the rally alive. But the racing category is definitely going to resemble a serious raid with helicopters, ambulances, support trucks."

MR: "Last year many people were concerned after the Dakar got canceled and the Budapest-Bamako went on as planned through Mauritania? How did this effect the rally?"

Szabo: "The first week of January was a very tense period for us. After the Dakar got canceled, the Hungarian press started accusing us of being careless and crazy for going into the lion’s den. From the very beginning security has been our most important concern. The Mauritanian government repeatedly had assured us of our security. The participants who drove through Mauritania were amazed by the level of security. Even in the remote Saharan areas we had armed escorts. Over 3000 soldiers guarded the event this year. Mauritanians were also very grateful to us for giving their country a vote of confidence in times of trouble."

MR: "The Budapest-Bamako is also famous for its humanitarian work. What are the charity plans this year?"

Szabo: "With over 500,000 Euros worth of aid delivered, the Budapest-Bamako is now the largest charity rally in the world, but we know that we could do a lot more. Last year teams dug a well for a Saharan village and delivered medical supplies to various hospitals. We donated an incubator to a clinic that delivers a 1000 babies every year, but they had never seen an incubator. This year each team is encouraged to plant a tree in Mauritania to help stop the spread of the Sahara. We’re bringing wheelchairs, canes and medical supplies to handicapped children who were abandoned by their families. There will be other charity announcements on our website during the year.

For more information visit the official website at [ ].

2008/05/06 | 14:24 CET | Editor: MR/HS

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