|Aïcha des Gazelles: Competitors experience difficulties in Erg Chebbi Dunes|
The third stage of the 2013 "Aïcha des Gazelles" rally in Morocco was one of the most anticipated days for competitors. The famed Erg Chebbi Dunes were a highlight of the rally and can reach heights up to 150 meters. They are one of two largest dune formations in Morocco, the other being Erg Chegaga which teams will traverse on the last day of the competition.
Saturday's course was extremely difficult this year with high dunes and navigational challenges. The sand was hard packed early in the morning from the cold night, but as the sun peaked, maneuvering became difficult in the softened conditions. The ideal mileage for the stage was 60-120km depending upon which route with an estimated time of completion of 9 hours, 30 minutes.
A unique aspect of the dune day is teams must choose a level of difficulty to commit to - beginner, intermediate or advanced. The route X takes teams to the highest peaks of the dunes, route Y takes the high valleys and Route Z is around sand cathedrals. A lot of pressure is placed on the teams as once they choose a level, there is no going back to an easier route or advancing to a more difficult one.
Team 136 Beavis/Hamilton were holding strong in 7th place overall at the start of the day, against the most seasoned teams. Their vehicle later became stuck on a steep side angle between checkpoints (CP), but with assistance from Team 167 and Team 147, the teams pushed the vehicle out. Beavis/Hamilton reached 4 of the difficult 6 X CPs. Many of the competitors who tried for all X CPs failed from exhaustion, getting stuck in difficult terrain holes or being blocked by other stuck vehicles.
The day for Team 178 Hall/Howells was smooth, as they made 5 out of the 6 Z CPs. Hall stated after the previous day's broken chassis and two flat tires, "it was a fun leg for them as their Isuzu D-Max performed very well in the sand. The first CP was easy, the navigation went smoothly for Sabrina and we helped another team that had rolled. All in all it was a great day in the sand."
First time competitors Team 182 Chiadmi/Klishevich reached their first CP only to became overwhelmed at the amount of vehicles clogging the routes into the dunes. Although Klishevich has long-standing experience in off-road driving, she noted that once they arrived, half of the teams were stuck and it made for a difficult scene to drive through.
Amy Lerner and Tricia Reina, top ten finishers in 2012 and Logica Challenge winner made it to CP1 and attempted to continue on to 2, but found the conditions too dangerous with soft sand and had to back out of CP2. Despite everything, they were enjoying the drive. Lerner stated, "The sand was super soft, and I have to be a lot more aggressive and muscular with the car."
Returning competitor Julie Meddows, navigator for Team #185, planned to go for the X checkpoints but due to navigation problems was not able to reach the goal after making CP1.
Former champs and several seasoned pros continue to perform at an excellent pace with navigational accuracy. The Gazelle Rally continues to prove it is a competition where experience counts. The top ranks include Team 160 comprised of professional racer Elisabete Jacinto and Valerie Dot and Team 187 including the 2011 and 2012 Gazelle Rally winner Carole Montillet and navigator Julie Verdaguer. The first Marathon Leg will be held March 24th-25th.
2013/03/24 | 19:17 CET | ARTICLE: MR/HS/KUHN