“I haven’t pushed that hard since I used to race motocross 5 years ago, but those races usually only went for 15 minutes not 6 hours.”
That was Andrew Houlihan’s comment after the final day of a challenging 5th round of the 2023 FIM Baja World Cup in Hungary.
The SPEEDCAFE supported rider has maintained his convincing lead in the Veterans Class and also still sits 3rd in the 450 class, now just 18 points behind championship leader Mohammed Al Balooshi.
The Hungarian Baja is typically a shorter but very intense event, with a short Prologue on Friday morning followed by two 110km special stages, and two 123km stages on the final day.
Houlihan was forced to compete on a near stock standard KTM 450 after his regular KTM Aurora Rally Baja bike couldn’t be transported from Valencia in time.
The bike was shipped there after the last round in Aragon, and plans to have it trucked to Hungary for this event went astray. Custom suspension parts from Sweden that were going to be fitted to the replacement bike also didn’t get to Hungary in time.
In the lead up to the event, it played on Andrew’s mind. “Riding this bike will be a challenge as I am so used to the specific set up and suspension on my Aurora Rally Baja bike”, he said.
“As I’m on a completely different bike I decided to pay the 200 Euro to ride the 7km test / shakedown course. 7km on this bike is nothing like 7km on my Baja race bike. The handling and power of this bike is something that I will have to be very wary of in the race.”
The terrain is a major factor in this rally as well. The event is held in the largest active military shooting range in Middle-Eastern Europe, situated between the mountainous region of Bakony and Lake Balaton.
“You can see the destruction caused from the military and the firing ranges so I might need to rethink my strategy for this race.” Houlihan had injured his shoulder in the last round in Aragon just 3 weeks ago.
The terrain took its toll, with the extreme vibration breaking the mount point for Andrew’s Aurora rally tower on the first day. He rode the final 15km of that stage one handed while he held the tower in place. It had to be secured with cable ties for the rest of the rally.
The final day was, in his words, “crazy hard”. The bikes rode the previous day’s course in reverse with a few additional routes over tracks that had been destroyed by cars and trucks the day before.
“I took some big risks today that I would usually not take and rode at close to my limit in some sections.”
“It was extremely hot for the last 100km of the day and the fatigue set in. I had a very close call with a deer at about 130km/h on one of the fast forest sections.”
“With such a stacked world class field in the 450cc World Cup Class it was always going to be a hard race but I am so happy to come away without any major injuries and with great results, 2nd overall in the vets World Cup Class and 7th overall in the 450cc World Cup Class.”
Andrew Houlihan now carries a 31 point lead in the Veterans Class going into the next round on Portugal on the 6th October.