If you’ve been following our Road to Morocco series, you’ve read all about the 10 American teams that are competing in the 2015 Gazelle Rally. But you may not understand much about this event, which many consider to be the toughest all-female motorsports event in the world.
The Gazelle Rally, under the patronage of His Majesty the King Mohammed VI, is a one of a kind adventure; 8 days off road in the Moroccan desert with no GPS. All navigation is done with a compass and an old map…in French. Points are awarded for shortest distance between checkpoints, not fastest time, making this a true navigational rally. Additionally, it is the only rally raid just for women. Since 1990, the event has been bringing together women between the ages of 18 to 65, from 33 different countries.
With determination as the only selection criterion, whatever their age, social background, nationality or experience, the participants in this rally come to experience a competition that respects the local populations and the environment. The rally is certified ISO 14001, which guarantees the rally has introduced an Environmental Management System (EMS) for integrating environmental policy into its actions and its global management strategy.
All rally participants, known as Gazelles, leave this adventure marked forever by the experience. They push their limits and have to face themselves, far from their sometimes difficult daily lives as women. There is also a strong element of sharing and mutual aid with their teammate as well as with the other Gazelles.
But while the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles is a return to the roots of adventure, it is also on the cutting edge of safety. Although the Gazelles can’t use GPS, each team is tracked via satellite. This means the organizers know where each team is at all times. It also means fans can follow each team during the rally and cheer them on from home.
Another unique aspect of the Gazelle Rally is the Coeur des Gazelles (Heart of Gazelles). 25% of rally fees go to this non-profit arm of the rally that provides medical and educational services to people in the most remote parts of Morocco.
- Medical: providing access to medical care for the populations living in the remote areas of Morocco,
- Helping children: Orphanage: building a better life for the most vulnerable; helping the children of Morocco to grow up in the best possible conditions,
- Education: fighting illiteracy; building schools,
- Environment – Sustainable development: increasing awareness through education; helping with sustainable development,
- Reintegrating single women into the workforce: through income-generating projects,
- Improving the quality of daily life: through donations of clothing, shoes, personal hygiene products,
- And last of all, making children happy: through gifts of toys.
The Rally begins in France, with technical verifications. Usually held in Paris, this year the Gazelles are meeting in Nice. After the trucks are scrutinized, competitors board a ferry for Nador, Morocco, arriving at 6am this Monday, March 23rd. From there they will travel to Rabat where the Canadian, American, and Moroccan teams will be undergoing their verifications. They will then travel across the Atlas Mountains to the area around Erfoud, where they will begin with the prologue on Wednesday, March 25th.
Most teams participate in the 4×4 class, which includes pickup trucks, Jeeps, Land Rovers, etc, as well as large trucks with 4, 6, or 8 wheels. There is also a Crossover class and a Motorcycle/Quad/Side x Side class. 2015 marks the debut of the Expert class. Expert teams must have at least 2 previous rallies behind them and will be faced with tougher terrain, more checkpoints, more distance between checkpoints, and more time in the dunes.
Each night Gazelles camp in the bivouac. The biv is a moving city, complete with a mess tent, computers and internet for the many media personnel, flush toilets, hot showers….even a bar. Days start at 4am, when drivers awake to get their trucks out of the secure parking area, and navigators plot their first checkpoint of the day. Breakfast and briefing is at 5am, and vehicles start off the line at 6am.
Although some checkpoints are common for all competitors, Gazelles are put into different groups to ensure that not everyone is going to the same checkpoints. Gazelles navigate to their first checkpoint of the day where they receive the rest of their checkpoints for the day for their particular group.
Many may be familiar with a Dakar Rally style of roadbook. The Gazelle roadbook is quite different in that it lists map coordinates. Gazelles plot them on their maps, then determine the heading and distance to that checkpoint.
Since the point of the rally is to achieve the checkpoint in the shortest distance, not fastest time, Gazelles must drive in as straight a line as possible, navigating around any obstacles. There may be a mountain, a wash, a farm, a field of rocks, or a cliff in the way. Gazelles can choose to go around the obstacle, adding more kilometers but probably keeping their vehicle safe, or attempt to cross the obstacle, keeping the kilometers down but risk damaging their vehicle.
Since the rally is not based on speed, competitors are free to spend their time in the field how they choose. They can stop and rest, eat, or help another team, if they are so inclined. Most Gazelles are very generous with their time and it is no uncommon to see teams of different nationalities all working together to free a stuck vehicle.
Ranking is determined by adding each team’s extra kilometers, or the difference between actual kilometers driven and the “as the crow flies” distance, and the penalties for not reaching any checkpoints.
There are no chase crews, but teams have a few options if they break while in the field. They can of course fix their vehicles themselves. If they have the part in their vehicle, they can call for mechanical assistance, but they will incur a penalty. Teams can also call for the part and mechanical assistance, but they will officially be out of the rally. They can continue, but they lose their official ranking.
Each night teams return to the bivouac after anywhere from 10-18 hours or more in the field. Navigators check in with their odometer reading, while drivers gas up and report to the mechanics. The Gazelles must be able to describe any problems to the mechanics, who then work all night to fix the issues. The vehicles are then left in a secure parking area to ensure that odometers are not tampered with overnight.
Most teams are able to make it back to the bivouac every night, although it is not unheard of for a team to spend the night out in the field. However, everyone must spend the night in the desert on the marathon legs.
The marathon legs usually incorporate the hardest terrain. Refueling is not an option for the trucks, although fuel is available for the quads and motorcycles.
The marathon legs are usually when the Gazelles must face the dunes for the first time, and this is the only time competitors will have a choice of routes. They can take up to three routes of varying difficulty, and varying rewards. Choosing the most difficult checkpoints will take Gazelles deep into the dunes, but those checkpoints are worth the most points. These checkpoints will test their navigation skills to the limit.
After a prologue and 8 days of competition, the Gazelles travel from the southeast corner of Morocco to the coastal town of Essaouira, where they have a ceremonial finish on the beach, an awards ceremony, and an evening of celebration.
The cost for one team is 14,800 Euros, which is currently around $16,000. This includes rally fees, fuel, food, water, mechanical assistance, medical assistance, the bivouac, satellite tracking, and CO2 offsets.
Teams can expect to spend about $30,000 total. This includes the above, plus a rental vehicle (or shipping one’s own), transportation, navigation tools, insurance, pre-Rally lodging, and any training and supplies.
We will be posting daily updates of all the American teams right here on TFL Car. You can also follow the rally live and write to the teams by visiting www.gazellerally.com and click on Visit the Live Website 2015. You can also write to the teams. Messages from friends and supporters are always welcome, although teams will most likely not have time to write back.
- 23 Sara PRICE/Erica SACKS (Side x Side)
- 316 Susan MEAD/Shennen MARSCHNER (Crossover)
- 317 Alyssa ROENIGK/Chrissie BEAVIS (Crossover)
- 107 Jo Hannah HOEHN/Susanah HOEHN (4×4)
- 175 Susie SAXTEN/Sarah SAXTEN (4×4)
- 180 Nicole PITELL-VAUGHAN/Jessi COMBS (4×4)
- 182 Pat KLISHEVICH/Veronique DE SYBOURG-SIFFERT (Swiss) (4×4)
- 183 Rebecca DONAGHE/Barabara FIORENTINO (4×4)
- 218 Rachelle CROFT/Rhonda CAHILL (4×4)
- 400 Amy LERNER/Sabrina HOWELLS (4×4, Expert)
You can see the Gazelles in action here:
And check out this mashup of two excellent Gazelle Rally choices, the 2015 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro and Tacoma TRD Pro.