Road to Morocco: All American Teams Cross the Finish Line in 2015 Gazelle Rally

2015 Gazelle Rally
Some American Gazelles at the finish line.

The US teams have all successfully crossed the finish line of the 2015 Gazelle Rally. While some teams may be satisfied with their performance, others may feel that they have further to go and have not yet reached their limits.

Going into Leg 6, the USA had the following general rankings:

4×4 rankings-

  • Team 180 Pitell-Vaughan/Combs: 10th
  • Team 107 Hoehn/Hoehn: 12th
  • Team 218 Croft/Cahill: 14th
  • Team 182 Klishevich/De Sybourg Siffert: 23rd
  • Team 175 Saxten/Saxten: 42nd
  • Team 183 Donaghe/Fiorentino: 58th

Crossover rankings-

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

Side x Side rankings-

  • Team 23 Sacks/Price: 7th

Expert rankings-

  • Team 400 Howells/Lerner: 14th

Today’s leg had an idea distance of 120 km, and an estimated time of 7 hours.

After two marathon legs, it must have seemed like an easy day for the Gazelles. The 7 CPs were scattered throughout varied terrain: wide plains, steep valleys, and sections of very difficult driving. However, time was not an issue so the women could be very careful and go for the straightest line possible.

Going into Leg 6, Team 180 was sitting at 10th in the general rankings in the 4×4 class. Today they put down very straight lines, but they were off course a few times.

2015 Gazelle Rally
Team 180, looking happy to be finished. Photo by Nicole Dreon

Team 142 of France was only 1.16kms behind Team 180. They too had a very good day, and they may have surpassed Team 180 to nab a spot in the coveted top ten.

However, the women have the top spot in the First Participation Challenge guaranteed. The closest competitor was over 100km behind, and they seem to have gotten lost on Leg 6 between CPs 5 and 6.

The competition also looks close between Team 182 sitting at 23rd and the French Team 234, trailing by 1.55kms. According to the tracker Klishevich and De Sybourg-Siffert missed two CPs, and Team 234 obtained all 7. Hopefully Team 182 doesn’t drop too far in the rankings.

Team 23, who had an excellent Leg 5, got off their mark quite a bit. They made CP2 with no problem, but then navigated nearly due east around a mountain. It looks like they tried to circle around to CP3, but at some point they shredded a belt. Calling for help would have given them a severe penalty, so the ladies got down to fixing the problem. They didn’t make any more CPs, but arrived at the bivouac at 5:45pm local time.

2015 Gazelle Rally
The Teryx Girls leaving a CP.

Teams 107, 175, and 183 all achieved all 7 CPs and will more than likely retain their ranking from Leg 5.

Team 218 had a rough Leg 5 and 6. After suffering from heat exhaustion during Wednesday’s marathon leg, Rhonda Cahill was still hooked up to an IV when cars left the line for the final leg at 6 a.m. It wasn’t until 10 a.m that Cahill and her teammate Rachelle Croft gathered up their maps and left the starting line.

“It was harder because no one was around so you couldn’t judge where you were,” said Croft, who had to both drive and navigate. “Usually you have a bunch of cars around. We laughed a lot, and once I owned the role of navigator as well as driver, it got easier.”

2015 Gazelle Rally
Team 218, the epitome of teamwork. Photo by Nicole Dreon

Despite their challenges and delay, the team still made all of their checkpoints and were back to the bivouac by 7:30 p.m.

In the crossover class, Team 316 finally came into their own, hitting all 7 CPs and arriving at the bivouac at 6:30pm local time. Team 317 continued with their winning streak, and unofficially is the first American team to win their class.

2015 Gazelle Rally
Team 317 Alyssa Roenigk and Chrissie Beavis. Photo by Nicole Dreon

Leg 6 for the Experts had an ideal distance of 260kms, and went back into the dunes. One of 14 teams who stepped up to do the Expert class, Amy Lerner and Sabrina Howells were the only American team to enter the class. While they had several legs where they finished right in the middle of the pack alongside teams that had several more years of experience, they suffered mechanical difficulties on the final leg.

The team started out with a broken sway bar and then after CP2 they had a low tire. Once they hit the dunes, they experienced issues with their transmission.  To top it off, it was high noon and the sand was very soft. With limited traction, the team decided it wasn’t worth the risk of having a mechanical problem in the middle of the dunes. They turned around and returned to the bivouac.

2015 Gazelle Rally
Team 400, Sabrina Howells and Amy Lerner. Photo by Nicole Dreon

“I’m proud of us just for doing the Expert class,” said Lerner, who competed in her fourth Rally. “It made me understand that things happen and you improve your life by figuring out how to deal with it. You have to give it a moment to digest and feel how bad it is and then move on. We really bonded through that.”

“The Expert class made me become a better navigator,” said Howells. “Some of the women in the class had done it 15 times.  Conferring with them and seeing what they did gave me confidence and I learned tricks by watching them. It inevitably makes you grow.”

The teams now have a transit day to the coastal city of Essaouira, where they will have a ceremonial finish on the beach and a black tie awards ceremony.

The official rankings, which will include Thursday’s final leg, will be announced on Saturday in Essaouira.

  • 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.

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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.