The Istrian Peninsula in Croatia is loaded with history and legends. The earliest inhabitants, the Histri, were considered pirates and marauders by the Romans, and centuries later, well-known buccaneer Henry (Captain) Morgan was alleged to have used the area as a safe haven. The little village of Mrgany is thought to have been named after him, and fortune-hunters still regularly pop up in the area looking for buried treasure. For us, though, the treasure we were seeking in Istria was of the four-wheeling variety.
The Exide Istra Challenge, held each October since 2002, has attracted a growing number of international competitors over the years. Not surprising, because the event has been well organized, with a strong accent on safety. Good safety belts and a rollcage are musts, and a fire-extinguisher and a first-aid kit must be standard equipment of competitors' vehicles. Pilot and copilot have to wear helmets as well as gloves, both inside and outside the vehicles. The challenge itself takes place in steep canyons and dense forests near the Lim Fjord, with a great number of muddy notches, tight turns, and steep hillclimbs to navigate. Winching is frequent and rollovers happen regularly. Stages are run day and night over the course of two days. It's one of the more extreme four-wheeling competitions in the continent, and the photos here will give you a little taste of wheeling competition, Balkan-style.
The winners of the Istria Challenge are known for driving through the most extreme terrain. They're the Hungarian team of Csaba Boros and his daughter Melinda, who also won the '07 Transilvania Trophy with their well-prepared Jeep Wrangler. Four weeks before Istra, Melinda lost the tip of a finger while winching at another event. Despite this, she was participating the next day, and while her hand hadn't healed completely at Istria Challenge, it didn't stop her from having fun. True wheeler spirit, we'd say.