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It was an extremely hot opening for the cross-country rally season! Baja Szczecinek - it is not an exaggeration - has fulfilled the dreams of many competitors about finally driving on rally routes. So, it was hot in every way – the field, the competition, the atmosphere and even the weather. Nearly a hundred vehicles lined up for the start of Baja Szczecinek, and the competitors literally fought for the seconds. Kuba Przygonski and Timo Gottschalk triumphed among the car crews, while Maciej Giemza was the fastest in the bike-quad competition.

Baja Szczecinek was supposed to unfreeze cross-country rallies in Poland, and not only did that, but it also warmed the competitors and fans to red. The fight in the special stages went literally for the seconds, with almost a hundred participating vehicles, so the atmosphere of the competition was really hot. The well-known names on the starting lists attracted crowds of fans who were also clearly hungry for such a rally spectacle. Even the weather set the high temperature because, despite the forecasts of rain and rather spring temperatures, Baja Szczecinek was a real summer race. Such a hot opening of the season, delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, was counted on by everyone - competitors, fans, media, as well as organizers who undertook the difficult task of preparing the rally in such uncertain and unfavorable circumstances.

“Organizing Baja Szczecinek 2020 was a big challenge, but in the end, it worked, and our entire team is very pleased. Great field, leading competitors, safe course of the event, a large group of media representatives. Pure fight on the tracks. We would like to thank all competitors for their trust, their presence and the fair play competition! We would like to thank our partners for their support and assistance in the implementation,” sums up Andrzej Derengowski, organizer of Baja Szczecinek.

The competition on the tracks of the rally was indeed extremely interesting and intense, as even after covering over 200 km of timed stages, some competitors were just seconds away. The crews fought their first, warm-up match on Friday's 5 km Qualifying Stage, which - as it turned out - had already identified the main contenders for victory. Then the competitors completed a 42-kilometer special stage twice at the training ground in Okonek, which was very demanding, as it led mostly along narrow forest paths. On Saturday, in turn, they tackled the sandy and open areas of the training ground in Czarne, where the decisive fight took place during two runs of the 61 km long special stage. 

The demanding routes of Baja Szczecinek did not disappoint the favorites, who showed from the beginning of the rally that they will count in the fight for victory. In the classification of the Central European Zone Championships and the Polish Championships, the leading Polish cross-country driver, Kuba Przygonski, driving a Toyota Hilux Overdrive accompanied by German co-driver Timo Gottschalk, had no equal. The duo gave their rivals only one of the five stages, ultimately winning the rally. For this crew, starting in Baja Szczecinek was primarily an opportunity to test themselves and the car after the long break caused by the pandemic.

“We are very happy that we were here at Baja Szczecinek. We were pleasantly surprised by the terrain and the organization, everything is really of a very high standard. The competition was very nice, well-prepared, we also had a lot of fun and what we really wanted to achieve, that is to drive good kilometers, we did. We refreshed ourselves a bit after this break, we are seeing what pace we have, and you can see that the pace is still there. So, I'm definitely happy about it,” said Kuba Przygonski at the finish line. His co-driver, Timo Gottschalk, a former winner of Dakar and Silk Way Rally, was also pleased with competing in Baja Szczecinek: “It was very nice to be back in the car after this long time and it was a really good rally to be back into business, with very nice organization, and, I must say, very good roadbook. The stages as well were very nicely selected, and we had a lot of fun in the car. Since we were there for the first time it wasn't easy, but Kuba and I managed it very well, and it worked very well from the beginning. For sure we are quite happy about the result, and now we are feeling much better prepared for the next rally,” summarized Timo Gottschalk. 

The main rivals of the ORLEN Team crew were Miroslav Zapletal and Marek Sykora, the reigning Polish Champions, who sealed their title last year at Baja Szczecinek. The Czech-Slovak duo, driving a H3 Evo II, was outperformed by Przygonski and Gottschalk by just 2 minutes and 10 seconds on the more than 200km route, thus confirming their good form in the opening round of the Polish Championships. Even less, just 11 seconds separated from them the 3rd placed crew, Pawel Molgo, who was this time partnered on board the F150 Evo by one of the most experienced Polish co-drivers, Maciej Marton. They also scored a victory in Stage 2. 

The podium of the T1 group was identical to the overall rankings. On the other hand, an SSV crew who made their debut in the Polish Championship finished 4th in the overall classification: Michal Goczal and Kamil Heller. They thus won the T4Nat group, ahead of Tomasz Bialkowski and Dariusz Baskiewicz in 2nd place and Grzegorz Skarzynski and Marcin Pasek, finishing 3rd. In category T2, Tomasz Piec and Michal Marczewski were the winners.

Parallel to the car race, bikes and quads also competed at Baja Szczecinek. For the first time, these competitors had the opportunity to compete for points in the Polish Baja Rally Championship, which started this season. Some riders, however, chose to participate in the Polish Cup. Additionally, Baja Szczecinek was also a round of the Hungarian Championship, for the first time in its history. 

A total of 40 competitors took part in this competition. Of them all, Maciej Giemza was the fastest, and he was also the fastest in the whole rally, as he even beat his Orlen Team colleague Kuba Przygonski by 27 seconds! At the same time, Giemza won the bike classification in the Polish Championship: “It's a great feeling to finally dust off the whole rally system a bit, get on a bike in rally mode, race, compete with other riders. Maybe it was not a long rally, but it gave a lot of cool emotions, energy and motivation to continue working this season, also some hope that the rallies will be unlocked for good and we can race. I think it will be positive news for everyone. Today's section was very fast, even faster than yesterday, I think the average speed was around 100 kph. After the first special stage, we made some minor changes on the bike so that its maximum speed would be even higher – it worked. We managed to win - both the prologue and yesterday's two stages, and today's two, so I'm very pleased. I am glad that other Orlen Team crews did just as well, and I am already looking forward to the next rallies,” commented Maciej Giemza. Tomasz Wikowicz took 2nd place among bikes in the Polish Championship, while the winner of the Polish Cup 2019, Tomasz Dabrowski, finished 3rd. 

In the Q2 group (single-drive quads), another Orlen Team rider, Kamil Wisniewski, was the winner, so this team won a hat-trick at Baja Szczecinek. Czech rider Tomas Kubiena, known from the Dakar Rally, finished 2nd, while Krzysztof Pankowski stood on the lowest step of the podium. The winner of the Q4 group (4x4 quads) was Jan Stolarczyk, who also turned out to be the fastest of all quad riders, and all but only two bikers in the entire Polish Championship.

In the Hungarian Championship, 4 competitors reached the finish line, the fastest of which was Juraj Varga from Slovakia. The motorcycle podium was topped by Rudolf Lhotsky from the Czech Republic, who finished in 1st place, Lajos “Laller” Horvath from Hungary was 2nd, while his compatriot and teammate Tamas Dervadelin finished 3rd in his first ever race in cross-country rallies.

The best competitors of all categories and groups received their trophies during the award ceremony, which concluded the hot Baja Szczecinek on Saturday evening.

Source: Baja Szczecinek press release

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