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GP Week : Issue 54
1978 Zlatni Piassatzi Rally winer Franz Wittmann Senior T HE 2009 running of Rally Bulgaria is already a special occasion for Bulgarian motor sportsmen who are celebrating the 50th year of organised motorsport in their country and the 40th year of their premier rally. Rally Bulgaria was first admitted into the FIA’s European series in 1972 and, if all goes well, will be suddenly become a lot better-known. From Zlatni It Started In December 2007 the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council announced that Bulgaria was scheduled to run a World Championship rally in 2010, subject to the usual formalities. There was no time to waste. Notwithstanding the success of running a major rally every year since 1970, there was an enormous workload before the World Championship rallying scene would be allowed to descend on the Balkan land of the Bulgars. The final hurdle is a successful inspection of the 40th Rally 0 Bulgaria which is to be run this weekend (16-18 July). If the FIA authorities agree that everything goes well, the 2010 event will be confirmed and the World Championship will discover its 31st new destination. Notwithstanding the World Championship opportunity, 2009 is already a landmark year in Bulgarian motor sport. The country’s Touring Club was founded in 1957 and two years later it organised the country’s first motor competition, the Tour of Bulgaria, designed to challenge motorists’ slalom and parking skills. In the early ‘60s an international element arrived in motor sport when the Belgian organisers of the Liege-Rome- Liege sought new horizons. They revamped their event into an amazing four-day, virtually non- stop version called the Spa-Sofia- Liege, which was run four times from 1961 till 1964. The local impact of the event is still recalled. Alexander Boshnakov, for many years a respected sporting steward, says: “People came from everywhere to watch the rally cars arrive in Sofia. There was a range of foreign cars on this event that people here had never seen before. And one of the most curious factors was that there was a lady taking part”. This was the late Pat Moss. Having won the last of the old Rome events the year before, she was considered the favourite to win. “The sight of this large lady climbing out of her car took everyone by surprise. The fact that the competitors had been driving two-days non stop, had only a two-hour rest in Sofia, then headed back for another non-stop two days was more than our people could hope to comprehend”. The traditions of Rally Bulgaria as the country’s major motoring event began in 1970. For a long time, the rally was based at the Black Sea resort of Zlatni Piassatzi, ‘Golden Sands’. In two years, the event had been included in the calendar of the FIA’s European championship, then the sport’s premier series. Surfaces of the stages were both asphalt and gravel, but the popular showpiece of the event was always the rally cars racing around the streets of nearby Albena. Downtown stages were very unusual in those days, and the nation’s Presidents and Prime Ministers frequently flew down from Sofia to the event to be there. The Albena/ Golden Sands events continued until the rally moved to its present base of Borovetz in 2002, with an all- asphalt format. The rally itself is the most important annual sporting event in the country even nowadays. Borovetz is situated about 60km from the country’s capital, Sofia, and is a mountain resort serving the Rila mountain range. The service park is at a local airport some 25km away from the headquarters. International observers have become very familiar with what this region can offer the