Promoting Croatia with a Vision: Nikola Tesla EV Rally Kicks Off in Rovinj

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The world’s quietest (and arguably most beautiful) rally began in Rovinj on June 3, 2018, as almost 50 Teslas begin a luxury tour of the birthplace of the great inventor, as the fifth edition of the Nikola Tesla EV Rally gets underway in Istria. 

Some people just have a vision. 

Back at the beginning of 2014, Croatia had just five registered electric cars and four electric car charging stations, hardly the background or infrastructure to hold an electric car rally, but husband and wife team Igor and Tina Kolovrat were determined to spread the word about the benefits of e-mobility in their native land, expand the almost non-existent infrastructure and promote the beauty of Croatia to new luxury tourists. And so the Nikola Tesla EV Rally was born in 2014, a unique rally showcasing the very best Croatia has to offer, and showing what can be achieved with e-mobility in Croatia with a little creativity. 


And while the majority of people in the country had no concept or official interest in what they were trying to achieve, there were plenty of takers from abroad to explore this exciting new frontier in the electric car revolution. None other than Maye Musk, the mother of the modern Mr. Tesla, Elon, took part in the rally in 2015 (and subsequently returned to Croatia on holiday the next year). In 2016, electric supercar legend Mate Rimac made an appearance, and his Concept One took part in the whole event, driven by American Paul Runge, the first ever buyer of the Rimac Concept One, for a cool million dollars. 

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Just four years later, the growth of e-mobility in Croatia is starting to take shape, with a very large part of that due to the efforts of the Kolovrats, who have personally been responsible for over 170 charging stations in Croatia – remember there were just four in the country 4.5 years ago. Their vision is far beyond Croatia’s borders. Electric cars will be a reality for the majority in the coming decades, and countries will need to have the infrastructure in place to meet the demand of modern tourists. Driving from Western Europe to places like Greece and Turkey with an electric vehicle is currently a real challenge due to the lack of charging options, but the Kolovrats have an outstanding new project for a green electric highway which we will write about next week, and the 2019 rally will push down into Montenegro for the first time, breaking through new barriers. 


Most of the electric car story in Croatia understandably surrounds Mate Rimac and his exceptional supercars. Apart from wowing the world with his Concepts One and Two, he also played a part in the electric Jaguar used by Harry and Meghan at the recent Royal Wedding. This year’s rally also included Sasa Cvetojevic, part of the three-man team who were the first to drive an electric car through the Sahara on the Budapest to Bamako rally earlier this year. We will have a full video interview of Sasa’s Sahara Tesla experience shortly. 


As with almost all visionaries, official understand and support has been very slow in coming, if at all. So poor has the official support been that the organisers are now seriously looking at taking up the many international offers to stage the rally elsewhere, with Argentina, China and several European countries in contact with a view to hosting this exceptional event. 

Perhaps some small awakening is beginning to happen in Croatia with the fifth edition of the Nikola Tesla EV Rally. Croatia’s Minister of Environment will take part in the rally this year, driving from the village of Smiljan, birthplace of Nikola Tesla, to UNESCO World Heritage Site and natural wonder, Plitvice Lakes. There has been a marked increase in media coverage, both national and international, and the Kolovrats were busy doing the rounds of national television before the rally, and for Croatian and Austrian television on day one. Local tourist boards (who have previously mostly shown no interest) have started to get in touch, not because they have suddenly found a love of this excellent event, but because tourists from Finland, Austria and beyond are asking them for information about where they can see the event. Crucially, the state electric company, HEP, has agreed to let the rally plug into its transformers to make charging a lot easier. Charging for 50 cars at once can be a challenge at the best of times, especially on Croatian islands, and for the first few years, the rally had to come up with creative solutions which did not include a partnership with HEP. Even Croatia’s dynamic Ministry of Tourism has promoted the rally in the Croatian version of its website (although not, for some reason, in English), although financial support remains a pipedream. 


This year’s rally officially started on Sunday night with opening presentation and party at luxury Hotel Lone in Rovinj. Tina Kolovrat welcomed all to the rally, a mix of returning participants and many new. Some 45 electric vehicles will take part in the 2018 rally. The rally can be grown if certain constraints can be overcome, among which is the availability of luxury accommodation, and Hotel Lone was fully booked with the existing participants. Of the 45 vehicles, almost all of them are Teslas, with a converted Mazda and two electric scooters also taking part. 


The rally is a mixture of tourism experience, skills testing and racing. The first stop was Vrsar Airport, a tiny strip which is open all year and which was the base for the Red Bull event in Rovinj recently. Open all year, it is a fascinating little place, with a very welcoming and entertaining crew, and airplane enthusiasts will delight in the truly eclectic collection of historical planes. 


Meanwhile on the runway, preparations where underway. 


The reason for our visit was the first skills test on the runway, as each participant battled his way through the cones of the slalom course. 

This is what it was like from the passenger perspective. 


A drive through the Istrian country brought us to lunch, where host Bruno Trapan gave a warm welcome to all. One of Croatia’s leading winemakers, Trapan is known for his strong and innovative marketing, as well as outstanding wines. Where else would you find a piano sitting next to barrels of wine.


An excellent spread of Croatian tapas helped the wines go down, before we headed on to the next stop – the main square in Porec. 


Home to one of Croatia’s 11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which the rally participants got to discover as part of their walking tour, Porec has been the strongest supporter of the rally from the beginning, and the Tesla parade and welcoming words from the mayor has become a fixture in the rally itinerary. A very pleasant few hours was had by all, and the perfect introduction to the first of Croatia’s historic stone towns. 


And after a rewarding and eye-opening day, a return to Hotel Lone for dinner and a night of rest before getting ready for the challenges of day two, one of the most challenging logistically for the organisers who have to charter a ferry to move the rally to the first of Croatia’s islands on the rally, Mali Losinj. Last year’s pictures of about 50 Teslas on a Jadrolinija ferry were shared by the Tesla company on social media, one more great promotion for Croatia. 


Time for bed for the Teslas too, left in the good care of the rally charging team overnight at Hotel Lone.

To learn more about the Nikola Tesla EV Rally, visit the official website. You can also follow the livesstrean of the rally by Losinj TV on the TCN homepage. 





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