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Aïcha des Gazelles: Competition continues tough after first marathon-leg.






The first of two Marathon legs of the "Aïcha des Gazelles" rally in Morocco began early Sunday morning at dawn and continued well into Monday evening as teams battled to make it to the bivouac.

Marathon legs consist of a two-day stage with more than 300 kms off-road in total optimum distance. The legs are a grueling part of the rally as teams camp in the desert and are alone without overnight mechanical assistance. With the longer distances and no refueling, pressure is on the navigator to be dead accurate.

An additional rule mandates tems to make CPs in order. If teams do not make CPs 1,2,3 and 4, they must start at CP 5 before 10:00am on Day 2. If they do not arrive to CP5 by that time, they must return to the bivouac and can not move forward to the remaining CPs - a total of 10. Conditions ranged from light wind, rocky terrain and camel-grass ridden areas - where picking lines carefully is key.

Amongst the international competitors, experience was the name of the game. Team 187 Montillet/ Verdaguer's skill was evident throughout the two day leg. Also in the lead group are Team 161 James/Borg, who drove exceptionally straight in an attempt to chip away at the leaders. James is a five-time competitor and this is Borg's 4th participation. Making for an interesting competition is 2011 winner Syndiely Wade and Florence Pham of Team 188 whose strong, precise moves make the rally anyone's game in the top ranks. A mere eight points separate the top three at the close of the Marathon leg.

Team 107 Lerner/Reina showed improved perforamance as three-time competitors by making every CP both days and keeping fairly straight lines throughout the 10 CP course. A great pace on the way to CP 8 at around noon displayed the balance of navigator Reina's focus and Lerner's smart driving. Reina stated, "We had to go over mountain passes and areas with smaller sand dunes. Overall it was a good run for us."

Team 178 Hall/Howells, whose vehicle suffered from a broken chassis from descending a dune and hitting a severe rock face days before, forcing the team to baby the vehicle. Despite the setback, they were still able to reach 7 of the 10 CPs before heading back to the bivouac.

Team 185 driver Claire Barone used her off-road experience to prevent the issue of getting stuck during the marathon. "There was a point we could have gotten stuck, but I was able to utilize the four wheel drive system to maneuver carefully and eventually find the traction we needed. The name of the game here is traction." On Day 2, they were the 2nd team to arrive at CPs 7 and 8, skipping 9 and 10 to avoid driving back in the dark.

Team 182 Driver Klishevich found the leg to be a physically demanding part of the rally, but not difficult to drive. Day 1 the team made 4 CPs but ran out of time the following morning to make the 10:00am deadline.

Team 136 Chrissie Beavis was in her element during the Marathon leg and Hamilton held a steady driving pace. The team made all of the checkpoints in time, only to break a tie-rod 1 km from the bivouac.

Beavis stated "After CP 10 we had to go around an oued (dry river bed) and we were looking good and feeling comfortable. As we hit a sandy section on the way to the bivouac our truck lost four wheel drive. I tried 2H, 4L and without a locking differential on our car, it's tough. We literally had one-wheel drive which is like driving a Camry in the dunes. We then hit a small rock and broke a tie-rod."

The team is working with the rally mechanics and anticipate fixing the four wheel drive by Tuesday morning's start. By the end of the leg, the team was able to move from 13th position to 10th - a highly respectable position given their first year attempt.

2013/03/26 | 16:57 CET | ARTICLE: MR/HS/KUHN











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