Third Place in the T 1.1 Category. Greece offroad rally 2019 (Kastoria)

Despite great challenges, “Autolife Team: Starikovich-Heskes”, the first ever Dakar crew of Cypriot origin, clinched the medals at their opening international competition after a two-year break.

Despite great challenges, “Autolife Team: Starikovich-Heskes”, the first ever Dakar crew of Cypriot origin, clinched the medals at their opening international competition after a two-year break. How was their quest for bronze unfolding? Let’s find out! The 7th consecutive edition of Rally Greece Off-Road held within 6-7 June in Kastoria has become the biggest and longest automobile race to be conducted in Greece in terms of number of days and distance that competitors had to accomplish. In four days of the race almost 800km from which 520km comprised of Special Stages were completed. Unexpected high temperatures, the absence of wind and the increased humidity posed as a tough opposition to the competitors’ best efforts and for this reason each and every one of 31 participants of Rally Greece Off-Road 2019 deserves a warm round of applause. And “Autolife Team” undoubtedly stands among them! The team assembled in Kastoria in full force on June 5, one day prior to the official registration. On a beautiful summer evening every team member was occupied with work: Roman Starikovich (pilot) and Bert Heskes (co-pilot) were thoroughly studying the road books, Maxim Egorenkov (team manager) was making organizational arrangements, while Roman Tsurkan, Krzystof Pindela and Theo Munchoff (mechanics) were running last-minute checks on the team’s racing vehicle, Toyota Hilux Overdrive, “The Mighty Bumblebeast”. June 6 saw the scrutineering take place in the techno park, where the cars were inspected by the rally’s organizing committee and technical superintendants on their compliance with rules and regulations of the race. “Autlofe Team” passed the test with flying colours and was awarded the racing number 5. It proved to be a tad unlucky for a time but ushered success at the end. Finally, in the morning of June 7 the light turned green, the motors made a long and loud roaring noise, and the wheels spun rapidly throwing chunks of dust and dirt all around – Rally Greece Off-Road 2019 has began! And it began with the Prologue stage, a short but extremely dangerous and windy track with only 3 laps of 800 metres in which “Autolife Team” qualified in the 3rd position (T1 Category). After the prologue, the teams engaged in a long mountain drive characterized by serpentine dirt-tracks. Bert Heskes’ navigational skills proved essential to the team’s performance keeping the third spot in the category at the end of the first day. June 8 started with a series of special stages featuring rocky terrain and even river-crossing ford sections. Roman and Bert decided to experiment with the car’s settings and their efforts materialized in moving them up to the second position (T1 category) before the surprise final act of the day. Following a popularity the Prologue stage had with the local audiences, the organizers decided to conduct the closing of every racing day in the same manner. Readjusting the breaks for the speedy ride, Roman and Bert were unstoppable and demonstrated astonishing results after the first lap. On the second lap, however, new settings turned against the team when the rock got under the front wheel while the car was on a 180-degree bend and caused the vehicle to capsize and flip. The spectators and technical support ran to the vehicle and helped Roman and Bert out of the car. It was then put back on its wheels. Thankfully, neither Roman nor Bert were injured, but despite completing the stage the team was now 5th in T1 category with a large handicap to overcome and had the car in dire condition, with its left side smashed in and the windshield completely broken. The situation began to look bleak. However, overnight the mechanics achieved the impossible: the worked for hours without sleep, rest or food and by next morning “The Mighty Bumblebeast” was back on track. With the windshield missing, the pilots decided to wear protective goggles and drive on. But in the middle of the third racing day Roman and Bert experienced another setback: one of the wheels slipped on wet grass and the car slid down a 10-meter gorge into the mountain stream. With the help of a tug, the team’s Toyota was recovered. Having received a penalty and having lost precious minutes, Roman and Bert embarked on the toughest driving stretch of their careers since Dakar Rally 2017. But the luck returned to the team and they managed to hop to the 3rd position (in T.1 category) again holding on to it until the finish line. Thus, through hardships “Autolife Team” made it to the stars, received the bronze medals and raised the flag of Cyprus at the podium of Rally Greece Off-Road 2019. The eventful Greek rally has tested the courage and stamina of the team, and it seems that the hardest exam is passed. Now the fast lane to Dakar 2020 is open for our Cypriot heroes and en route there we may even see them taking on a few CAA Rallies and, who knows, mayhaps, on the desert-based Baja Jordan this September as well. “Autolife Team” would like to thank their fans in Cyprus, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia and Spain for their belief and support. These key factors really kept Roman and Bert from giving up when it seemed all hope had been lost. Special thanks also go to the media crew and in particular to Stephanos Melidikidis (videographer) and his incredible visionary skills and to Maira Peirce (photographer) for her amazing pictures that captured the most important moments of the rally. Additionally, the team would like express their gratitude to their Platinum Partners: «RoboMarkets», their Golden Partners: «ReLux Estates» and «Orpheus Group».