TOUGHEST ATV RACE IN THE WORLD: Richard Cecco’s experience

CFMoto-Hunt-the-Wolf is one of the toughest and most challenging ATV races in the world. It is held in a place of vampire legend—Transylvania, a historical region located in Romania. If mythical creatures or the might of a wolf doesn’t frighten you, the terrain racers are required to ride through will do so. There are near-impossible climbs through dense forests, riverbeds littered with boulders that snap axles like twigs, murky mud holes and much more. Only brave ATV riders should enter this race. Many competitors don’t make it out of the forests with their quads in one piece. Eighty-three racers from 16 different countries competed for HTW’s ninth year running. There are three classes: Adventure begginer, Crossover novice and Extreme expert. After eight years of Hunt-the-Wolf’s existence, for the first time an American accepted the challenge and traveled to Transylvania to compete in its harsh conditions. Richard Cecco, a Pro 4×4 ATV racer, traveled to Romania and battled the elements with 27 other competitors in the Extreme class. We caught up with Rick to find out about his HTW racing experience.

Dirt Wheels: When/how did you first learn about Hunt-the-Wolf and start thinking of doing the event?
Richard Cecco: Sometime back in 2012 I read a Dirt Wheels online article about the hardest ATV races in the world. A few familiar ones were listed, like Baja, GNCC Blackwater and Dakar, but the one that stuck out the most was Hunt-the-Wolf, because the region of Romania it was located in was Transylvania. It just stuck in my head, and I searched it on Facebook, liked it and started following the feeds for the races. In 2012 I put it on my bucket list of races I would like to do.

DW: Explain what Hunt-the-Wolf is to you.
RC: HTW is being the wolf—the joy for wild nature, wild driving over rocks and roots, in forests, canyons, and open fields. It’s a combination of technique, speed and adrenaline. The wheels of your ATV are the four paws of a wolf, which runs nimbly and quickly in packs, or alone through the woods and streets of Cluj-Napoca.

DW: Who did you contact about shipping a quad all the way to Romania? Tell us about some of the hurdles it took to get your equipment there.
RC:  I coordinated much of my questions and concerns with Oliver Renzler, who is partners with Mihai Concioiu for HTW.  We chatted about different machines and modifications needed. I was first going to build a Polaris Scrambler XP since I had a few here from my GNCC contract; however, I was concerned about parts availability since only a few Polaris’ entered the race. My next option was a Can-Am, which 85 percent of the entries use, so finding parts or assistance would be easier. I was also familiar with the Can-Am platform, so the decision was made and my plan was simple—build it, ship it and sell it in Romania when the race was over.  Long story short, shipping time was 30 days at sea. Cost was not too bad at $1000 for a one-way ticket. The race was at the end of April so I needed to ship it by mid-March. I estimated a five-day build, so all I had to do was find a machine to race. While searching for a machine, my shipper called and stated the 30-day ship was now 30–90 days because of labor issues trickling over from West Coast dockyards and all of the sudden I was dead in the water. I contacted Oliver and said maybe 2015 shipping is too risky, and I would hate to show up with my ATV still on a boat. Oliver and Mihai had another plan for me: to rent and race one of their old race ATVs—a 2011 Can Am Outlander X XC. I was relieved, and we were back in the race.

DW: How much are the entry fees, transponder/GPS rental, etc.?
RC: Entry fee is around $450 Euros or $500 U.S. HTW had a promotion going on that the first entry from each country was free, so I took advantage of that. There are no transponders for the race or GPS rentals. You must bring your own GPS, which is suggested to use a Garmin Montana or 60CSX; I would suggest using two at a time—one zoomed in at 80 meters and the other at 120 meters—that way one was good for more detailed track changes and the other gave you a broader outlook of turns ahead. Plus, having two GPS’ gave me a backup if I broke one, which I did smash my Montana on a downhill crash on the second day.

DW: How did your race go?
RC: The race went well. The pace is around 20–30 mph in most areas. The first two days we did a lot of backtracking on missed turns, but by day three I think a majority of new competitors made the adjustment to read the GPS better. The main track that both the Crossover class races and shares with the Extreme class was absolutely beautiful: imagine busting through snow drifts for a few miles, then, before you know it, you’re riding a grassy ridge passing farmers herding sheep to riding on logging roads that at times were jammed with tractors or horses dragging logs.

DW: What kind of crazy obstacles did you have to ride through?
RC: The Extreme sections of the track were the hardest obstacles I have ever faced. In the USA racing GNCC and desert, the biggest obstacles are speed—you have to go extremely fast for two hours to win. At HTW you have to make your ATV last 5–6-hour days so the pace is slower, but the obstacles are absolutely crazy at times. There are areas you have to winch, areas you have to get off and help walk your ATV across an off-camber hill, rocks with very tight passages you have to go through just right or you’re jammed, and hillclimbs/downhills that will make you think twice and possibly want to just quit for sheer fear—almost terrifying. I remember one hill-climb that was about a mile long twisting through trees at about a 45-degree angle the whole time. You had to stay on the gas the whole time. My feet were supported by my rear fenders, and I had to lean up over the bars the whole way to only find another racer stuck, so I had to slow down but lost momentum and traction. You simply could not pull out from there at the angle we were at. The fastest way up it was to go back to the bottom and start over again. I would have had to winch it 15–20 times to make it from that point to the top, which would have lost me valuable time. Before turning around to head back down I cleared a path, and I asked the rider to keep an eye out as I was coming back up; he was going to winch it the rest of the way. I made it and kept moving forward. That’s the key—to just keep moving forward and don’t let a hang-up get you flustered, as you had plenty of time to catch up or capitalize on others’ mistakes or breakdowns.

DW: We noticed you had overheating and mechanical issues. Aside from that, would you consider the race easy?
RC: Not at all. I would pick only a few riders from GNCC to be a contender in the Extreme class in Huntthe-Wolf. You have to have the right machine/setup, know how to fix your machine on the trail, be physically fit to pull the winch line four to five times to climb over obstacles, and be able to pick up your 800-pound machine at least 12 to 18 inches off the ground, then do it again for five days straight. Two of the days were 3–4 hours and three of the days were 5–7 hours long. The 5–7-hour days you had to stop at designated checkpoints to refuel. It’s the hardest race I have ever entered.

Cecco stepped onto the podium with a second-place finish among the seven riders who finished the race in the Extreme class. If it wasn’t for his machine’s mechanical difficulties, we bet he would have taken first place! CFMoto-Hunt-the-Wolf is a brutal yet exhilarating race in the heart of Romania’s beautiful landscape. We plan to join Rick next year at HTW’s 10th year running. If you feel you have what it takes to conquer the mountains, valleys, rocks and trails like a wolf, we hope to see you in Transylvania! For more information on the event, go to www.hunt- the-wolf.com. You can also catch up with Richard Cecco on Facebook via www.facebook.com/rickcecco or Instagram at #RickCeccoRacing.