Road to Morocco: Some American Teams Falter, Some Persist in Marathon Leg of 2015 Gazelle Rally

2015 Gazelle Rally
Team 107 Hoehn/Hoehn in their Moroccan-inspired wrapped LR4. Photo by Nicole Dreon

Most American teams successfully completed their first marathon leg at the 2015 Gazelle Rally. The 2-day leg consisted of 13 checkpoints and no mechanical assistance or refueling was allowed.

Going into Leg 4, the USA had the following general rankings:

4×4 rankings-

  • Team 107 Hoehn/Hoehn: 13th
  • Team 182 Klishevich/De Sybourg Siffert: 16th
  • Team 180 Pitell-Vaughan/Combs: 18th
  • Team 218 Croft/Cahill: 21nd
  • Team 175 Saxten/Saxten: 28rd
  • Team 183 Donaghe/Fiorentino: 50th

Crossover rankings-

  • Team 317 Beavis/Roenigk: 1st
  • Team 316 Mead/Marschner: 5th

Side x Side rankings-

  • Team 23 Sacks/Price: 9th

Expert rankings-

  • Team 400 Howells/Lerner: 8th

Leg 4 had an ideal distance of 335km with an estimated time of 20 hours.

The Crossover route was changed at the last minute due to a logistical problem. Teams went south along the west side of the Merzouga dunes to CP4. There they received new CPs, which according to the tracker, sent them up north again, halfway to the bivouac, back south to CP4, and then to the west on the planned route.

Except for the Crossover class, teams started off going south on the east side of the dunes of Merzouga. The route then turned west, where the fun began. The terrain was incredibly rough and rocky, with many elevation changes. Organizers predicted some teams would have to double back to find passage, however, most of the American teams made easy work of it.

2015 Gazelle Rally
Gazelles often climb to the nearest highest ground in order to plan their route. Photo by Nicole Dreon

The Expert class had to conquer all this, plus the addition of 2 CPs in very soft and silty sand. Any mistake made here could have resulted in times spent shoveling. The Expert class had the most distance between CPs, and had to manage their time well if they expected to make all 13.

All classes had to cross the infamous Oued Rheris, a 6 km wide wash just outside of CP6. Teams more than likely encountered some mud here as this area has seen plenty of rain this season.

The marathon leg means there is no bivouac support for the night. Most teams congregate around CPs, but some are forced by the setting sun to stop alone, with nobody around for miles.

2015 Gazelle Rally
No, this is not glamping. Photo by Nicole Dreon

Teams 107, 180, 182, and 218 were all following Route E and were able to camp together at CP7.

Team 175, on Route B, were able to camp with a team of French sisters between CPs 6 and 7. Team 183 was also on Route B, but camped alone between CPs 5 and 6.

Team 23, following Route C, found a French side x side team and set up camp between CPs 6 and 7.

Teams 316 and 317 were both on the crossover route; 316 camped alone just outside of CP7, but 317 managed to make CP7 and was able to camp with the other crossovers.

Team 400, following the Expert route, found CP5 just before 7pm and continued for another 10 minutes, eking out every second of daylight possible.

Day two of the marathon leg brought the teams into the sandy plains of Hassi Bou Haiara. This area is not nearly as difficult as the dunes Gazelles faced on Leg 2, but sand is always treacherous.

Teams 23, 107, 180, 182, and 218 made it look easy, with 182 easily putting down the straightest lines of the group. Klishevich’s first rally in 2013 was marred by logistical issues and illness; she undoubtedly feels great to be doing so well. Seems like she and her Swiss navigator De Sybourg-Siffert, make an excellent team.

2015 Gazelle Rally
Team 182 putting down some excellent lines.

Team 317 in a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van also made short work of day two of this marathon leg. The team was ranked as first in class going into the marathon leg, with a 9 km advantage over team 319. If they keep on the same track, they may be the first Americans to ever win a class. However, team 319 brings 6 years of combined experience to the table, so expect it to be a very close finish.

Team 316, also in a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, struggled but ultimately found up to CP10 on day 2, but then timed out and had to return to the bivouac.

2015 Gazelle Rally
Teams 316 and 317, both sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, find time for a quick conversation. Photo by Nicole Dreon

Despite having a great first few days, team 175 learned Monday morning that things can quickly change. They got their car stuck right before CP7 and it took them over an hour to dig it out. They missed the cut off for the next CP and had to return to the bivouac.

Team 183 succumbed to a Gazelle’s worst fear and plotted one of their checkpoints in the wrong quadrant. They never made CP8 and had to return to the bivouac on the road. Competitors get very little sleep on the Rally where the daily wake up call is 4 a.m., which makes it easy to make mistakes.

Surprisingly, team 400 had a disappointing marathon leg. After falling behind on time on day one, the left CP5 at 6:30am, hit only one more checkpoint before having trouble with their tire. They headed for the road in the early afternoon. This kind of move is very uncharacteristic for both Howells and Lerner, so they must have had more problems than the photo below indicates. In a message sent from the bivouac, Lerner said they are ready to shake it off and start again tomorrow.

2015 Gazelle Rally
Amy Lerner of Team 400 fixing a flat.

After one night in the comfort of the biv, the teams embark on yet another two day marathon leg. Leg 5 will find them crossing another set of dunes, this one Erg Chegaga. While Erg Chebbi near Merzouga is full of rolling hill kind of dunes, Erg Chegaga is full of sharp peaks, deep valleys, and sand….lots of sand.

You can follow the Gazelle Rally live and send messages to the teams by going to

  • 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)

About:  The Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles is a grueling test of driving skill and navigation across southern Morocco’s most beautiful and challenging terrain. The rally is unique whereby teams are not allowed technological assistance. In the absence of GPS, communications and service crews, teams must find the shortest distance between the checkpoints over nine days of competition with only the aid of traditional navigation – compass, outdated maps, and plotters. The event is an incredible test of endurance, patience, and teamwork, pushing competitors to their limits.

Check out Roman and Nathan on Moab’s White Rim Trail in a Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk!

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Emme is a driver, reviewer, rabble rouser, and Gazelle who can be found online on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and either one of her blogs.