The Budapest-Bamako rally


If you have a lot of money and want to compete in a car race then you might enter the Dakar Rally. But if you are less well of and still looking for real adventure, you might choose the Budapest-Bamako rally, a new low cost and - we're told - wacky race through the Sahara. In two weeks, they pass through Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, France, Spain, Morocco and Mauritania, before they finish in the capital of Mali, Bamako.

The race is pure adventure, challenge and charity, says the main organiser, Andras Szabo Gaal:

"It was one of the greatest challenges for all who took part in this incredible race. It started from Budapest on December 27 and went all the way to the capital of Mali. It started off as a nice little ride on European highways in the cold December sun and it got increasingly harder and more difficult as we reached the heart of Africa. Towards the last couple of days it was pure hell because the participants had to drive on a really unpredictable dirt road and some really rough terrain. Thankfully, the locals were all very nice and very friendly. It was a very hospitable group of people in Mali and Mauritania."

How would you describe this race? Some people say it's an alternative to the Dakar rally...

"Yes. It is absolutely an alternative. I like to call it a low-budget Dakar. The race was created for those people who have always dreamt of going on the Dakar, who have dreamt of driving in Africa, who have fantasised about experiencing those cultures in these parts of the world. But it doesn't cost as much as the Dakar."

Apart from the costs, what are the other differences?

"In many ways the Budapest-Bamako is harder than the Dakar. I'm not afraid to say that. I saw the Dakar, I visited the camps of the Dakar a couple of times and the Dakar people have a tremendous advantage. They have an assistance vehicle, there are medical helicopters, if your car breaks down there is a trash collector truck at the end of the race that picks up the broken-down vehicles. There is someone always there to help you. The Budapest-Bamako is a minimal or zero-assistance race, where everybody has to rely on his own resources. So, if your car breaks down in the middle of the road or in the middle of the desert, you're on your own. Solve your problems, get out of trouble alone or find your own resources. So, in that respect it's harder.

"In other respects it's easier because in the Budapest-Bamako you don't have to race against time. There are two categories. There is a racing category and there is a touring category. In the touring category, all you have to do is just get to Bamako. Your time doesn't matter. If you miss a stage or a finish one day, then you're not out of the race. So, in some ways it's easier and in others it's harder."

How long does it take to get to the end of the race?

"On the way there it took us 15 days, on the way back the fastest team made it in 5 days, which is unbelievable, considering it is 8,000 kilometres."

You gave out special awards?

"Correct. The most important special award in the touring category was the Mother Theresa charity award. It went to the team, which did the most outstanding in the field of charity in Africa. This year it was the No.39 team, sponsored by Hungary's TV2. They did some really fabulous charity work such as distributing medicine in remote villages and bringing soccer balls to street kids in Mauritania. But everybody did well in the area of charity, so it was a very hard choice to award the Mother Theresa Award."