Work Trucks and Mechanics truly make the 2015 Gazelle Rally
Made Possible with Mercedes-Benz support!
What do you call four support staff (mechanics and engineers), two Mercedes-Benz Sprinters, one trailer, and a bevy of suspension parts, along with front and rear axles, electrical and fuel systems, extra wheels and tires, filters and fluids, brake pads, a new generator, a starter and a turbo, a welding machine, and a computer with development software for the vehicles? Winners!
Most, if not all, of the fanfare of any rally or race goes to the racers. However, as any race finisher worth his or her salt will tell you, it’s the mechanics and support team that help make the finisher—and it’s this support crew that is seldom recognized on the podium. After two Dakar Rallies, six Baja 1000s, a collection of other assorted off-road race events throughout the United States, and most recently the 2015 Gazelle Rally, I’ll be the first to say where the credit goes.
When the dust settled in Morocco for the 25th annual Gazelle Rally—the toughest all-women’s sporting event in the world—it was Chrissie Beavis of San Diego and Alyssa Roenigk of Los Angeles who took top honors in the Crossover category. Germans Andrea Spielvogel and Julia Salamon placed Second, while Third Place went to Viola Hermann and Vanessa Wagner. Shennen Marschner and I took home Fifth. However, the awards should have also gone to our German support team consisting of Sascha Belca, Benjamin Besslich, Reiner Schobert, and Timo Hertrampf of Mercedes-Benz (Daimler AG). The two United States women’s teams represented Mercedes-Benz, motoring two Sprinter vans, while the two German teams drove Mercedes-Benz Vito 4x4 119 CDI Bluetec vans. This smaller-sized van, already popular in Europe and other international markets, is now available in the U.S. as the Metris.
While the race-prepared sheetmetal that wins or places well in a race is often touted for its attributes, it’s the behind-the-scenes builders, constructors, and race support team—along with the vehicles they drive—that are equally important. After all, they transport the tools, parts, supplies, and the support team during the competition. It almost goes without saying that these vehicles are typically vans, sport utes, and light- or heavy-duty trucks of some type.
Our support team prepared our vehicles and then drove their support Sprinter vans, shepherding us on the nearly 3,000-km-long transit from Stuttgart, Germany, to the jumping-off point of the rally in the Sahara Desert of Morocco. Next, they followed along on the nine-day event to provide mechanical prowess each night, with the exception of a pair of two-day-long stages during which competitors were not allowed to get support, except from other Gazelle teams.
“For each vehicle, you need two drivers, because the journey from Germany to Morocco is long and hard,” explains Sascha Belca, a long-standing veteran of providing support for the Rally. “You need to have a vehicle with a low-range gearbox, LED roof lamps, and sleeping quarters inside. We designed our vans with cabinets, shelves, and two refrigerators in each, plus a converter to 220-volt for the coffee machine and a charger for the batteries. In addition to the tools and parts for the race and support vehicles, we need to carry food, water, and tents for our team. One of the biggest items of importance is an iPod with good music,” he adds with a laugh.
“As for the people who go as the support team, they have to be really good at what they do; they need to be self-working, but they also have to be funny guys (have a sense of humor),” Belca says. He was playing Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” as we talked about the Mercedes support teams and support vehicles while motoring through the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, following Arabic signage, in a German vehicle.
Belca has all the attributes he describes in a good teammate, plus a compelling assortment of European and international music on his iPod. He also brought a delightful array of German sausages for the 20-day journey that he and the mechanics completed in order to support the rally. Following the finish, they drove both race and support vehicles back to Stuttgart, and the American teams flew back to the U.S.
“All the members of our team on the Rally have been 12, 13, and 14 years working in development at Mercedes-Benz, but Timo is joining us for the first time, from the body shop—but we are well-acquainted with him,” Belca explains as he speaks about the quartet that not only maintained the Mercedes vehicles but also lent a hand with wrenching and gave extra parts to the other mechanics on the Rally when there was a need.
Few teams have the luxury of a private mechanic’s team such as the Mercedes-Benz support team. The entrance fees for the Gazelles included some support from a team of rally mechanics that followed and set up a mechanical workshop in the bivouac every day, with 32 mechanics on hand to provide resources, servicing, and repair for the 220 vehicles of the Rally. If there happened to be too many needs, not all vehicles would be serviced, which could make the difference between finishing—and not.