Rally Takes a Toll on Participants and Vehicles with a Surprise Finish
Over the course of the 9-day rally's fierce competition, the U.S. teams faced and conquered the dust tricky navigation, difficult off-road driving conditions -- especially in the Chegaga and Merzouga Dunes -- as well as a number of vehicle problems. It was the same for top two world-class teams in the rally that were bumped out of their winning positions painstakingly close to the finish, due to mechanical issues with their vehicles.
Teammates Emme Hall and Sabrina Howells struggled with a flat tire, navigational logistics, and their Isuzu D-Max suffered from a broken chassis from descending a dune and hitting a severe rock face during the rally that forcing them to have to baby the vehicle, while Hamilton and Beavis high-centered on a "Moroccan cauliflower" -- a compressed sand moss that's rock-hard if driven over -- got stuck in deep sand, and also broke a tie rod 1 km from the bivouac.
While these issues were difficult, two top Gazelles teams with professional drivers and seasoned navigators faced devastating problems after running in first and second position throughout the rally. Noted driver and Dakar Rally veteran Elisabete Jacinto and her navigator Valerie Dot had a commanding first place lead for the entire rally driving a factory-prepared VW Amarok pickup. On their heels was Olympic gold medalist skier and two-time Gazelle Rally champion Carole Montillet and her co-driver Julie Verdageur. Although these teams seemed basically guaranteed to win, in the final hours of the rally, both suffer major vehicle failures that removed them from the podium, after receiving they took penalty points for mechanical support.
As a result, it was contenders Syndiely Wade of Senegal and Florence Pham of Vietnam, who had held strong in third place throughout, that placed first. Wade is an experienced racer who has competed four times in the Dakar and won the Gazelle Rally in 2011. The duo took three categories: first place General Ranking 4x4 class, first place Isuzu Media Challenge, and first Place Africa Top Sports Challenge.
"There are lots of lessons learned. I think I will stop only when the lessons do...and that could be a very long time. The Rallye Aicha des Gazelles is an amazing community of passionate women -- and men -- which make this truly a special event," said Tricia Reina. Emme Hall added, "This competition is the hardest thing I have ever done. I won't go back [to the U.S.] the same person who started this rally. It's given me challenge and ultimate satisfaction at the same time -- knowing I can go anywhere, any place, and in any circumstance, and find my way."
For the Kirsten Kuhn, U.S. team liaison, the Gazelles is "life-changing. It blows my mind that these women, from all backgrounds from the U.S. to the Congo, Portugal, and Slovakia, sign up for one of the toughest all-female events on the planet without a monetary prize for first place. It's the perfect example where the journey is the destination. It takes guts to become a Gazelle, and it's obviously a very special event if it continually draws international women, most of whom are not professional drivers, to Morocco year after year. I'm proud to be involved!" Registration is currently underway for the 2014 rally, with dates set for March 14-29, 2014.
Rallye Aicha des Gazelles du Maroc: This 2500-kilometer-long rally that is a held in the deserted parts of southern Morocco is the world's only motorsports event restricted to women only. The three categories include Quad/Motorbike, 4WD/Truck, and Crossover. Participants compete for the shortest distance traveled over one prologue and competitive legs -- all off-road -- two of which are marathon legs, during which there is no mechanical support; the marathons last two days. The teams are constantly monitored by a satellite tracking system for safety.
History of the Ralleye Aicha des Gazelles: Dominique Serra organized the first women's rally in 1990. Head of the operating agency Maienga, she originally planned the rally to be an image campaign and to dispel prejudice, it is now one of the world's top motorsport events. In 2009, the rally gained the patronage of His Majesty, the Moroccan King Mohammed VI and, as a result, the coat of arms of the Moroccan Royal Guard is attributed to the event, which draws women from all corners of the globe.
Environmental responsibility: The RALLYE AICHA DES GAZELLES and its operating agency Maienga are officially certified ISO 14001:2004 since 2010; it is the only rally that has obtained this Environmental Management Certification. This international standard guarantees that MAIENGA has introduced an Environmental Management System (EMS) to integrate environmental policy into all actions and its global management strategy.
Coeur de Gazelles (Heart of Gazelles): The true "heart" of the Gazelles isn't about money; in fact, there is no prize money. "The rally isn't just any other race -- it's a commitment and dedication," says Dominique Serra, who started the rally. Proceeds generated support teams of doctors providing medical care for the people in the remote regions of Morocco. Annually, the infrastructure of the Rally is used to send out a medical caravan that includes a mobile clinic with 8 doctors; this year, 4582 people received free medical care. Aid for children's education has been set up as well as aid for an orphanage for children under six years of age.