Firstly we’re happy to say that of the twelve teams that didn’t arrive at the bivouac by the end of Day 1 and spent the night out in the desert on their own, all made it in time to continue their participation in the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles; except for Team 196 (Fany Lumiere/Ambre Pitaud Boulate). Their Isuzu D Max was stuck in Moulay Aamar. Eventually an organiser led them to the bivouac but it was unfortunately too late for them to race in the second leg.
The extreme tardiness didn’t go unnoticed by officials. During the morning meeting, Ludovic Taché, the event’s Sport Director, advised that “teams should start planning their return at 5 o’clock even if it means not reaching all of their checkpoints.” All the vehicles’ locations are constantly monitored by GPS even if the racers can’t use such technology. Still anything can happen out there. Teams should know by now the difference from being slightly off-course and hopelessly lost, especially when sand storms are involved.
The racers encountered rough terrain on Day 2. The course is described as “a stretch of flat easy terrain, or maybe even a section of road” followed by “a completely different landscape of wide empty spaces alternating with rugged terrain dotted here and there with old mines.” Crossing the Ziz halfway along the route would pit the women against “treacherous cracks and crevices.” The ten Expert class teams went into sand and dunes from the start.
Some teams seemed to take Taché’s advice to heart and crossed the finish line early in order to rest up for the next leg. This might have been a solid move since Day 3 is the start of a marathon stage which means there will be no mechanical assistance and competitors will spend the night in an “improvised camp.”
The day ended marvellously for Syndiely Wade and Claudine Amat with their #410 Isuzu DMax in the Expert Class. The previous day’s winners, Team 407 (Sylvie Freches and Carole Montillet) settled for third place; while the second spot was claimed by Karima Laaroussi-Mouhyi and Florence Deramond in their #405 Toyota FJ Cruiser. The crossover class had new winners too as Viola Hermann and Vanessa Wagner won the day with their Team 318 Mercedes Benz Vito. This is the second Gazelle rally for the German duo. Team 323, Céline Véga-Roïatti and Sophie Fabri slipped to second place with their Dacia Duster.
Team 27’s Betty (Elisabeth) Kraft, better known as Queen Betty, continued her master class in Quad/Motorbikes with a Polaris Scrambler 1000. This French native has won this race nine out of eleven times on the Quad. She’s more than capable but there are nine other teams in that class who would gladly take the throne.
American Team 180 (Nicole Pitell-Vaughan and Chrissie Beavis) continued to dominate the 4×4 / Camions class in their Toyota Tacoma. Of course the problem with being first as that everybody is trying to beat you. Régine Zbinden and Ela Steiner of Team 179 from Switzerland finished in very close second place. Here’s a detailed report on all teams representing the USA:
Americans standout competitors at Rallye Aicha des Gazelles
Three U.S. teams enter Day 2 in Top 10
ERFOUD, Morocco (Friday, March 25, 2016) – Rough, rocky terrain, deep sand and the first dunes of the competition greeted the eight American teams on Day 2 of the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles.
Despite the challenge of new terrain, the U.S. competitors were more than holding their own in a tough international field. In the hotly contested 4×4 division, three American teams ranked in the Top 10 after the opening day of competition, with the #180 of Nicole Pitell-Vaughan and Chrissie Beavis leading after Day 1.
But the duo returned to camp Friday evening unsure that their Day 2 performance would be enough to keep them on top. “It was a really hard day today,” said Beavis. “There were a lot of rocks and rock crawling and we found it really challenging. The terrain on the map was really hard to read. There were ledges and cliffs and there was stuff you have to crawl over. Hopefully we stayed in the top five after today, but I doubt we won it.”
No American team has ever won the 4×4 division in the 26-year history of the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles. Beavis and her 2015 teammate Alyssa Roenigk won the Crossover division last year.
Also in the Top 10 after the opening day of competition were Southern California sisters Jo Hannah and Susanah Hoehn in the #107 Land Rover LR4, in sixth. Emme Hall and Sabrina Howells were seventh in the #178 Land Rover Defender.
“We were super excited with our ranking when we got up, and that powered us through the first few checkpoints. But then, from Checkpoints 6 to 7, we got sloppy,” said Jo Hannah Hoehn, who has a career best finish of 12th in the event. “Today was a little bit of an emotional rollercoaster.”
Saturday’s competition will take teams into the notorious Erg Chebbi sand dunes for a two-day marathon leg. Over the weekend, teams will cover more than 230 kilometers with no mechanical assistance and make an improvised camp alone in the desert. There will be no daily update on Saturday due to the remote conditions in the overnight stop.
Considered the most prestigious all-women’s motorsport event in the world, 162 international teams took the line in 2016. The unique competition is an off-road test of dead reckoning navigation across 1,500 miles of rugged desert terrain.
Rally Aïcha des Gazelles
USA Teams Notes and Quotes
March 25, 2016 – Day 2
Location: El Beida
Ideal distance: 115 km
Estimated time: 9 hours
RANKED 1st at Day 2 start: Team #180 Nicole Pitell-Vaughan (Corona, California) / Chrissie Beavis (San Diego, California): Toyota Tacoma
After starting the day in the lead, Friday’s rocky topography posed a challenge for Chrissie Beavis and Nicole Pitell-Vaughan in the 180 Toyota Tacoma. Beavis said she struggled to read the terrain on the map and they wound up at a checkpoint out of sequence. “We were getting tired. There were ledges and cliffs and there was stuff you have to crawl over, which made it really difficult,” said Beavis. “Tomorrow is going to be a different story though. Nicole is super comfortable in the dunes, the truck is comfortable in the dunes, and they are easy to navigate.”
RANKED 6th at Day 2 start: Team #107 Susanah Hoehn (Carlsbad, California) / Jo Hannah Hoehn (Carlsbad, California): Land Rover LR4
Southern California sisters Jo Hannah and Susanah Hoehn were sixth in 4×4 after the first day but struggled to keep up the momentum through Day 2, admitting to getting tired and losing focus late in the day. “We started doing the ‘magic map’ thing where we didn’t have checks and balances,” said Jo Hannah Hoehn.
RANKED 7th at Day 2 start: Team #178 Emme Hall (Oakland, California) / Sabrina Howells (Los Angeles, California): Land Rover Defender
After a strong start, Emme Hall and Sabrina Howells had to dig out twice and made a compromise in their route, taking a segment of paved road to make up for lost time. Even so, they achieved all of their checkpoints Friday. “We were behind on time after getting stuck,” said Hall. “We decided to take pavement to Checkpoint 4, which saved us time but cost us kilometers.”
RANKED 11th at Day 2 start: Team #184 Susie Saxten (Encinitas, California) / Ivy Cass (Encinitas, California): Jeep Wrangler
The difficult terrain challenged Susie Saxten and Ivy Cass. Saxten reported getting stuck in dunes and in camel grass on Friday, before making a misstep that put them some kilometers off the ideal line. “It was a really hard day,” said Saxten. “We did the best we could, but a few of the checkpoints were really hard to find.”
RANKED 17th at Day 2 start: Team #182 Teresa Stewart (Kauai, Hawaii) / Sara Jehn (Oahu, Hawaii): Jeep Wrangler
The mother-daughter team of Teresa Stewart and Sara Jehn were successful in achieving their checkpoints, but reported that the endurance challenge was beginning to take a toll. With early mornings, long days in the desert, and overnights spent camping in a tent, the pressures of the event are intense. “I think the rally is starting to catch up with us,” said Jehn. “We were more tired today. We had to search for three checkpoints because our headings were off, and we went through some small dunes and difficult ‘oueds’ [dry riverbeds], and it threw us off our headings. I think yesterday was harder on me, but today was harder on my mom. I know something is up with my mom when she’s not talking, but we found all of the checkpoints eventually, and we were back to the bivouac at 5 p.m.”
RANKED 32nd at Day 2 start: Team #181 Karen Hoehn (Del Mar, California) / Maureen Gibbons (Del Mar, California): Land Rover LR4
First-time competitors Karen Hoehn and Maureen Gibbons made a plotting error near the fourth checkpoint and ended up back at the bivouac. Instead of heading back out on the course, they decided to stay put and conserve energy for Friday’s marathon leg.
RANKED 42nd at Day 2 start: Team #188 Elaine Newkirk (Rancho Santa Fe, California) / Keely Sellers (Kihei, Hawaii): Jeep Wrangler
The 188 team of Elaine Newkirk and Keely Sellers achieved all of their checkpoints for the second day in a row, despite a difficult afternoon in their Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. “We drove up a river bed; I thought I saw a flag and then when we were almost to it, we drove back. And then we realized it was a flag and had to go back for it again,” said Sellers. “I’m learning that my teammate is very patient. Every time we have to dig, I keep telling myself, ‘I choose this… I choose this.'”
RANKED 101st at Day 2 start: Team #127 Catherine Chiadmi (St. Petersburg, Florida) / Cecile Vinson (Vaucluse, France): Jeep Wrangler
Catherine Chiadmi and Cecile Vinson achieved five of the day’s eight checkpoints before an issue with their Jeep Wrangler forced them to return to camp for mechanical assistance. They will take a penalty for the missed checkpoints but are expected to return to competition Saturday. Soon after she last competed in the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles, in 2013, Catherine Chiadmi was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She is determined to press on. “I’m doing the rally again because I want to prove that nothing is impossible. I know I’m pushing it by being here, but I’m a fighter in nature. I needed to do this. I missed 2014 because I was still recovering but now I’m back in 2016 and plan to keep coming back.”
A Final Word
We highly recommend visiting the official live page that tracks the teams via satellite on a topographical map, if for no other reason than it’s really cool: http://www.rallyeaichadesgazelles.com/en/Rally/2016/live/. As always you can get live updates and photos from the race via the event’s official social media channels.