Road to Morocco: American Teams Complete Marathon Leg 5 at 2015 Gazelle Rally

2015 Gazelle Rally
Team 180 clears a dune. Photo by Nicole Dreon

As we are busy at the New York Auto Show, this update comes from the official USA Gazelles newswire. 

With barely a moment to rest and recover after tackling the first marathon leg, competitors packed up all of their belongings again and headed out for the second marathon leg of the 2015 Gazelle Rally. During Leg 5, teams tackled the majestic Chegaga dunes and slept outside under the stars before returning to the bivouac just outside of the town of Foum Zguid, Morocco.

Going into Leg 5, the USA had the following general rankings:

4×4 rankings-

  • Team 107 Hoehn/Hoehn: 9th
  • Team 182 Klishevich/De Sybourg Siffert: 11th
  • Team 180 Pitell-Vaughan/Combs: 12th
  • Team 218 Croft/Cahill: 14th
  • Team 175 Saxten/Saxten: 40th
  • 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: 14th

The ideal distance for Leg 5 was 280 km, with an estimated time of 18 hours.

The region of M’Hamid is known for its “blue men”, its sand, its hills, its Oued Draa… and its sandstorms! Navigation in this area is not easy as an endless series of small dunes makes it next to impossible to stick to a straight heading. At sea this phenomenon is known as “drift”, but there is no undertow here, just small piles of sand no more than two meters high that push, push, push. The distance between points is measured in time rather than kilometers.

2015 Gazelle Rally
The desert is very green this year…which goes well with Team 400’s bright orange Jeep. Photo by Nicole Dreon

On day two, competitors made their way out of the dunes and across Iriki Lake, a dried lake bed without a drop of water, just mile after mile of smooth flat terrain where you can almost see the curvature of the earth. The mountains in the distance appear baseless, seeming to rise directly out of an immense watery plain.

After a rough start to their first Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles, Team #23-Sara Price and Erica Sacks-who are competing in a side-by-side, bounced back nicely during the second marathon leg when they breezed through the Chegaga Dunes. It only took the team 10 minutes to reach the first CP in the dunes and then they quickly went on to reach the others.

2015 Gazelle Rally
The Kawasaki Teryx made easy work of Erg Chegaga. Photo by Nicole Dreon

“I grew up in the dunes,” said Price, who grew up in Southern California. “I practically lived in them when I was a little kid down in the Glamis Dunes. The dunes here (Chegaga) are predictable because the wind goes one way and there are peaks only on one side, so you know what’s coming. Erica pretty much took a heading and whatever dune it was, we would just straight shoot it there. We felt confident in the dunes because we’ve been doing it all our lives. You definitely have to look ahead and crest everything and get a flow. You just can’t stop and go-that’s always a bad thing.”

The only place competitors are allowed to work together is in the dunes. For the second time during the 2015 Rally, Team # 107, Jo Hannah and Susanah Hoehn and Team #218, Rachelle Croft and Rhonda Cahill, teamed up—this time for the Chegaga Dunes.

“I think the Rally is a competition within yourself more than even the other teams because its such a challenge,” said Susanah Hoehn. “It’s not about winning the Rally, it’s about finishing. It’s such a puzzle. If you finish, you’ve won already, so helping other people out, it’s really satisfying.”

2015 Gazelle Rally
Teams 107 and 218, making good time in Erg Chegaga. Photo by Nicole Dreon

It was a bit of a rough one for Cahill and Croft, though, who struggled with some mechanical issues. One of their tires had a slow leak and their coil spring was still broken, so they didn’t have as much compression on the right side. To top it off, Cahill suffered from a stomach virus during the second day and Croft had to both drive and help with the navigation. “I appreciate what she does so much more now,” said Croft about Cahill. Despite the difficulties, the women still made all of their checkpoints.

Competing in the Crossover class, Team #217-Alyssa Roenigk and Chrissie Beavis-weren’t supposed to go into the Chegaga Dunes, but an accidental wrong turn put them right into the heart of them.

“It was the moment when you realize that a certain person is drawn to this event,” said Roenigk about getting stuck in the dunes. “We would be digging, towing, running. It was hot! I think most people would think it was miserable, but we just laughed and had fun. We couldn’t stop talking about how good it was to be in there. Later we found out that if we had followed the route on the road it would have only been 15 minutes, but we were in the dunes for three hours. We will always remember that. What if we had taken the road? We never would have had that day. It was the best wrong turn ever.”

2015 Gazelle Rally
This Sprinter is not where it’s supposed to be…but it got there!

Beavis also gave big props to the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van “We just aired down, put it in first gear and it just went. “Honestly, I didn’t do anything differently today that I didn’t do two years ago in the 4 x 4 class.”

What was the lesson of the day for first time competitors Susie and Sarah Saxten of Team #175? Don’t follow the herd! “There would be hoards of Gazelles going in one direction, and we would still be navigating,” said Sarah. “You start to question yourself then. But we would triangulate, look at landmarks and match them up and we would be like ‘they can’t be going the right way’. It makes you question yourself, but we stayed the course and we made it. Just trust your gut.”

2015 Gazelle Rally
Team 175 gets some help from fellow Gazelles.

Tomorrow marks the 8th and final day of competition. The route will be on the short side, and when teams return to the bivouac they will find it strewn with carpets and pillows, inviting them to sit back with a frosty beverage to revel in their accomplishments.

We wish we could be there with them.

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 our mashup of the 2015 GMC Yukon and the Land Rover LR4, the same vehicle Team 107 is driving in the Gazelle Rally.

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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.