How in the world do you survive the Hellas Rally Raid for the first time?
You’ve decided to race, downloaded the Hellas Rally entry form, and are now hovering over that “send” button. You want to do it… but you’re just not sure what to expect, and you have no idea what actually happens during a rally, except that there’ll be dirt, speed, and roadbooks. If that sounds about right, we’ve got you covered: here’s a day-by-day Hellas Rally rundown along with some hacks and tips (tip #1: don’t overthink it; pack zip ties!).
What the Hell Is Scrutineering (And How Not to Lose Your Shit on Day One)
Once you arrive at the Hellas Rally bivouac in Nafpaktos, Greece, two things are going to happen. One, you might start feeling just a tad intimidated by all the rally support crews setting up their paddocks and working on all those shiny rally bikes, pro racers lounging on their camping chairs, cool as cucumbers, and other riders milling about looking like they know what they’re doing. And here you are, wild-eyed and a little dazed, unsure where to go, what to do, and who to talk to. The second thing that’s going to happen? You’ll realize that at least half of the amateur riders are just as nervous and excited as you are, and before you know it, somebody will offer you a cold one, a spare roll of packing tape, or at the very least, a friendly chat. A rally bivouac is essentially a dirt bike camp and a massive gathering of two-wheeled nutcases (sorry, four-wheelers), so guess what: you’ve just arrived home. You’ve signed up for the seven-day madness that is Hellas Rally, and you are part of it now. You do belong here, even if you’re feeling like a total noob.
Facing Hellas Rally Raid for the First Time
The first thing to do when you get to the bivouac is head straight for the admin office, where the ever-patient rally staff will explain things to you and where, chances are, you’ll meet other riders and start making rally buddies. Next up, locate a spot for your tent; if you’re staying in a hotel, now is the time to drop your stuff off, have some food, and head back to the bivouac to see what’s going on.
During the scrutineering day (a day before the rally officially kicks off), you’ll need to present the rally staff with all your docs: your driver’s license, racing insurance, and bike reg and insurance. Next up, you’ll get a GPS tracker you’ll need to rent. The tracker will be, well, tracking you throughout the whole rally so the organizers know exactly where you are at all times and, if need be, send help. Then, you’ll get your race number and your roadbook for Day One. Finally, the rally mechanics will go over your bike to make sure it’s mechanically sound and, if all is well, slap the “technical check” sticker on it. You’re ready to race!
Except, of course, you’re not. You’re freaking about changes in the roadbook, the time of the briefing, and that weird sound you think your rear wheel is making; you’re obsessing about some last tweaks on your bike, and losing your shit over the fact that you still don’t know your start time. The scrutineering day is, on the one hand, a pretty straightforward process. On the other hand, it’s long, there are queues and paperwork and waiting around and when it’s over, you’re stressed out, exhausted, and just want to start the goddamn rally even though you’re not entirely sure where the start actually is.
Take a deep breath. Hellas Rally is exceptionally well-organized, but at the end of the day, it’s a rally race with hundreds of competitors and support people and dozens of staff. It’s more of a controlled chaos than a Swiss clock type of thing, so don’t worry if you’re a little late to the briefing or if you forgot to pack energy gels. Whatever you do, try to avoid harassing the rally staff about every little detail and every change in the roadbook, the briefing time, or the fact that you can’t locate the tire truck. Hellas rally organizers are awesomely friendly and helpful, and they’re rooting for you – but they’ve also got a million things going on, from last-minute route sweeps and safety checks to fuel logistics; it’s a frenzy. By all means, ask questions and make sure you’ve got all the information you need, but don’t park yourself in the admin office for the entire day, and find the WC on your own.
Once you’re done with scrutineering and technical checks, find out when your start time is, go over the first couple of kilometers of your roadbook again, and load it into your roadbook holder. All set? Head over to the beer tent to grab a drink and chat to the other riders. Everyone here, whether they’re doing the FIM championship or racing in the Enduro Cup for the first time, are in the same boat as you. Talk to people, hang out, swap stories, and then hit the hay early so you’re well-rested and ready for the start. Don’t get carried away with all those beers: if you stay up partying late, you’ll pay for that the next day when it’s go-time.
Surviving Day One: The Prologue Stage
On the morning of Day One, start with a big, fat breakfast. When you’re racing, your energy consumption will be through the roof, so don’t skimp on meals. Even if you don’t feel hungry, shove some food down your throat because when you’re out there riding, an empty stomach will cause you to get fatigued and lose focus much faster. Sure, it’s the Prologue stage, which means it’ll be short; but you still want to finish it without crashing out or making too many navigation mistakes, and with a solid pace. A good run on the prologue day can set you up feeling great for the entire rally, so don’t dismiss it as a short and easy ride. It’s not.
If you’re camping at the bivouac, you’re all set. Double-check your start time when you get up, start up your bike to make sure everything’s working, and check that you’ve packed some energy bars or gels, your tools, some packing tape in case your roadbook tears, and a lightweight, windproof jacket (being freezing cold on the liaison stages is no fun). Fill up your camelback, shake out your hands, and ride over to the RedBull arch. If you’re staying at a hotel outside the bivouac, get here at least 40 minutes before your start time.
At the RedBull arch, you’ll see other riders warming up. You will be sent out in twos, one minute apart; as your start time approaches, rally staff will give you your timecard. Don’t lose it – you’ll need to show it again at the start of the special stage where it will be stamped before you’re counted down and released into the wild. Set your Ico to zero, and wait for the “go”.
Once you leave the bivouac, you’ll probably do a short liaison stage to the start of the special. As you ride the paved section, try to navigate using your roadbook instead of following other riders blindly. Get into the habit of reading your own roadbook, because you never know whether the guy or gal in front of you is actually heading in the right direction – and if they get lost, you’re in real trouble as you’ve now got no idea where you are.
Once you get to the start of the special, remember to breathe. As the rally staff counts you down, don’t wheelie out of the start line and into the first tree or rock – focus on the roadbook and the track ahead of you. On Day One, you’ll have a short, 70-100 kilometer special, and it’s designed to let you get your bearings, get used to the roadbook, and set a pace.
As you hit your first special stage, you’ll likely have some forest tracks, fast-flowing gravel trails, and mountain tracks. There might be some mud or sand sections, but the Prologue stage won’t be too technical. Ride your own ride, focus on the navigation, and get into the rally mode.
As you’re riding, ignore the other racers and the chaos around you and focus on your own roadbook and riding. Some of the riders will pass you, and that’s cool – don’t lose your focus trying to chase after them, because if your goal is to finish the rally, trying to ride faster than you’re capable and navigating at the same time is a recipe for a crash or a costly navigation mistake. If you are racing your first rally, and roadbook is new to you, just concentrate on the navigation and get to the finish line of the special – that’s all you need to do today, so when the adrenaline starts pumping, just remember to centre yourself, don’t lose your cool, and ride on. Of course, if you’re a great rider and navigator, and you’re here to race, by all means, race and get after it. If it’s your first rally, however, chances are, you just want to survive, so set yourself up for a finish and stay focused.
When you finish the special, your timecard will get stamped again, and you’ll head back to the bivouac on another liaison. Back at camp, go over your bike, get your roadbook for the next day, grab some food, and head for the briefing. Make sure you get all the roadbook changes that are typically posted later in the evening; get your start time for the next day, set the alarm, and go get some rest. You’ve just survived Day One of the rally – now, the real race begins.