The 2020 Red Bull Romaniacs stands ready to race in an Off-Road world still affected by Coronavirus. Race Director, Martin Freinademetz explains to Enduro21 why no prologue, video rider briefings and a possible August date change are all on the table.
With the 2020 Red Bull Romaniacs still provisionally set for July 21-25, and an ever-changing situation regarding Coronavirus, like anyone in charge of a major sporting event, Martin Freinademetz and his team have a lot to deal with right now.
As an international competition and a scheduled round of the WESS Enduro World Championship, Romaniacs’ success very much depends on competitors travelling from different countries to take part. “If we have quarantines then it would not make sense to make a race,” says Freinademetz who awaits government restrictions and border controls changing to make his race happen.
Despite everything, the spirit of the event lives strong with Martin and his team who continue to make plans as normal (as possible), albeit with some big changes in place including no opening City Prologue on the streets of Sibiu this year.
Enduro21 spoke to Freinademetz to get the very latest on how things are looking for Romaniacs 2020…
Hi Martin, where are things at currently with Romaniacs 2020?
Martin Freinademetz: We are still a little bit early to make a clear announcement because we want to make sure the government orders are in place. They have already discussed this subject in the Romanian ministry, and they rate motorsport as not dangerous in terms of Covid-19 because everybody is wearing helmets, gloves and are socially distanced so we have less restrictions than other sports. But we are waiting on the ministry to publish at the start of June and then we can make our final decision.
Obviously, the main concern is for people travelling. It looks like borders might open up for July but this is the problem right now, it is a lot of ‘mights’. Flights are supposed to be starting and so on but it is not certain and a bit sketchy.
The other issue for us is we haven’t had our international track helpers here because of travel restrictions. So, at the moment it is pretty much only me, Teo Isac and some other Romanians who are here in the country. To get 800 kilometres of race track ready to race it needs a bit more than just a handful of guys!
June 15 is your cut-off point, D-day so to speak when you will decide on a more definite plan of attack…
July is our preferred date but it is difficult. We have been always very positive and if things turn out positive we want to be ready from our side, which is why we spend so much time out there on the tracks in Spring, fine tuning and making sure. If it is possible then we are ready to go in July. But I think it does not move as fast as needed to keep the July date.
Every two weeks they are coming up with some news and I think by June 1 we will get pretty much all the information we need for how the event will look and work. But I think also to get clear instructions on travel restrictions it may continue until the next announcement and that’s why we have set June 15.
The ministry has told us we should not expect big news concerning travel before then because the countries are still talking with each other and it is quite unrealistic they will come up with big news by June 1.
We need to be sure we can get the majority of participants here. I am quite sure we cannot get everybody here but we need to look closely at the restrictions and see when we can get most here.
We have the opportunity to move dates to the end of August and also into October because some borders may remain closed until then. We can move close to the winter here in Romania and be the last event in the WESS series but we would prefer to stay in the summer, have longer days, warmer temperatures – we are working with WESS on this of course and between Hawkstone and Lagares is only three weeks and it is filled up with events. Also, we have issues in Romania – we cannot choose every date that we want to because of hunting season and so on. That is why August is our first date if we have to postpone from July.
Romaniacs is well-known for its international entry list. Will it be greatly affected if people cannot travel from different continents?
The majority of numbers come from Europe and close to European countries. In terms of the global participants we have one rider from Doha, one from Fiji and two from Korea but it is a small amount if you compare with 70 riders from Great Britain.
We of course have some strong nations like for example 30 participants from Australia or the US. So, we will see who can travel but also who will want to participate because not everybody wants to sit in a plane in close proximity to others and travel here.
Do you expect to run with different rider numbers this year?
For sure we expect to have less numbers. Some people already had to spend their vacations in the lockdown, so they run out of time, some others have run out of money because their job’s cut or they got fired or whatever. It is a complex situation and of course people will also make the decision they don’t want to travel or jump in a plane before there is proper medicine or whatever in place.
It is clear we will have less participants but there is not much we can do except to make everything safe, make proper tracks and give everyone a good adventure, like normal. It has happened before in 2008/2009, when we lost almost half of competitors due to the financial crisis. Sometimes other things are more important than spending money on racing motorcycles.
Moving to the logistics of the event – the sign-on process at Romaniacs is huge, a mass of bodies going to different desks, checking forms, GPS hand-over, medicals, bike checks and so on – how can all this happen in terms of social distancing?
Simply we will give people more time so there won’t be a big mass of people. For all the activities where we usually have a mass of people all together we have created different options to avoid that. For example, the riders briefing you won’t need to sit in a room with 500 other people you can do it on your phone in your room. We have this planned already.
When it comes to the event, you have decided to replace the Sibiu prologue with an extra day off road – to remove spectators – the prologue is such a spectacle…
Even though it is not yet announced about crowds at sporting events this much is clear, we cannot run the prologue like normal. It makes no sense. Even if we could have spectators it would be very few so from 10,000 spectators you have to tell 9,500 they cannot go inside. So, we added another off-road day with a time trial competition to replace the prologue so that every rider will have their starting position for the first off-road day proper.
What will the new ‘day one’ look like?
It will be around 15 or 20 kilometres, we can leave enough starting intervals to avoid any queuing. The time trials will be the same technical difficulty for each class like normal so not like Erzberg (with a speed-based time trial) otherwise we would have the motocross guys setting off first.
Everybody should be ranked as they should be for hard enduro so five classes do five routes and every class will have the difficulty level they would face on the next days, just much shorter. Nobody will be queuing because we will give a start interval of two or three minutes.
A feature of Romaniacs, in fact most extreme and hard enduros, is riders helping one another if they fall or get stuck on the hills. Can that still happen this year?
I think this will be an individual thing so you can be as close to others as you want to be. If you do not fear the virus too much and you stick together with your buddies in difficult conditions then you can help each other but if you choose to stay separate then it’s a choice everybody has to take. I have the impression that in general people are turning back to normal life, shaking hands again and so on.
If you genuinely cannot get up a hill, then ok, or you cannot make it to a time check, then, ok this is a reality. If someone wants to keep the distance then we offer them the possibility. It is the same with the finish each day you will arrive to drop your GPS to the place where only a few people will be stationed and if you want you can sneak away or you can go join others for a chat. This choice is available.
We are not going to say you cannot go in groups of more than three people or whatever unless there is a regulation to say so. We are not going to make more rules than are needed. We will just offer the possibility to keep social distancing.
Have you eased the tracks? Or will the event still be as hard as normal?
So far, yes the tracks remain the same. We can always make it easier if we need to. It is quite easy, for the Bronze or Iron classes, to make it easier or take some heavy sections out. This is what we do anyhow normally in case of changes in the weather conditions or if we think every rider is ready to retire.
If when it gets closer to the race we get the impression the majority of participants want a safer Romaniacs where you don’t need to help each other, then we can do that. But I don’t think people want this, I think people will want to go extreme as they always do but let’s wait and see. At the moment people are still at home or just starting to ride so let’s see how people feel when we get closer to the race.
Do you still expect to see Jarvis, Wade Young, Mario, Lettenbichler and so on?
Everybody is waiting, you just have to watch their Instagram feeds to know this! [laughs] Nobody wants to stay at home anymore, this is clear. Of course, if we still have quarantines then it would not make sense to make a race. Because then in the best-case scenario you would have a race with just professionals and this would not make sense because Romaniacs should always be for amateurs and professionals. Even if you had to make two weeks in quarantine in order to go back home it would not make sense to make the race.
I think things are changing and from my point of view some of the measurements were over the top, but of course nobody knew what was happening and the decision makers were playing it safe, which I can somehow understand. I don’t think we will have the same restriction soon, even if we have to live with this virus for a while.
Will you have to limit the numbers of people coming with riders, factory race teams and staff?
I don’t know yet. This is one point where we have to wait on the authorities. I don’t think so but we have very large service points this year so there is definitely enough space for vehicles to have a big distance between them. We will also possibly have to keep spectators away but, again, we need to see what the authorities have to say so I don’t want to get too into the details just now in case it is not correct and things change. But in any case, we have measurements in place which we can adapt to meet the requirements of the authorities and make sure every participant is safe.