Would You Race Across the Desert for Nine Days Without a GPS or Cell Phone?

4 years ago

Teams of women do it every year in Morocco as part of the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles. Starting this week, the 24th edition of the Gazelles kicks off as teams -- including four American teams -- participate in the most prestigious all-women’s motorsport event in the world. This year’s Rallye includes 318 women from 25 countries around the world!

Each year, the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles is a grueling test of driving skill and navigation across southern Morocco’s most beautiful and challenging terrain but the event is especially unique because teams are not allowed technological assistance of any kind. 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distance between the checkpoints over nine days of competition with only the aid of traditional navigation – compass, outdated maps, and plotters.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. 

Following are short introductions on the performance of the American teams as they warmed up during the first day, or “Prologue” for this year’s Gazelles Rallye, which allowed teams to practice their driving and map reading skills while establishing the departure grid for the start of the race, which is underway right now. You can find out more about this year’s amazing Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles on the Gazelles Facebook page, or learn more about last year’s Gazelles event here at AskPatty.com. The “prologue” for this year’s race was held on March 19th, with the actual daily competition being held from March 20th to 27th, and the Finishing Ceremony will be held on March 29th. Rankings from each day’s stage are not official until noon (local time) the day after each leg and will be posted at the official Gazelle website at www.rallyeaichadesgazelles.com


American Teams Begin Gazelle Voyage!

Team #107: Jo Hannah (driver) and Susanah Hoehn (co-driver)

Hometown for both: San Diego, CA

At their first Gazelle Rally (and their first car race period), this sister team had a close call before the rally even began when they were working around the clock to source off-road tires to fit the vehicle--they didn’t arrive until 24-hours before the start. “I think we aged about 12 years,” said younger sister Susanah as they waited for the tires to be installed.

Driving a 2014 Range Rover Sport Supercharged—the same car that won the 2014 Pikes Peak (stock class)—the sisters were the first American team off the line. Overall, it was a good start for Team Hoehn. They reached all three checkpoints and were back at the bivouac by 6 p.m. According to Jo Hannah, the team struggled at first to find checkpoint two, and she thinks it cost them approximately five kilometers. “I think that we are really glad that we had the prologue to figure out how the features on the map corresponds to real geographic features,” Jo Hannah said.


Team #182: Rachelle Croft (driver) and Rhonda Cahill (navigator)

Hometown for both: Bozeman, MT

These super moms from Bozeman, Montana suffered front-end issues and made two out of three check points. Luckily, the prologue doesn’t count toward their overall ranking and they are currently working on the vehicle to ensure it is ready for the opening of the race.  Competing in her first Gazelle, Cahill said, “I found out today that I need to trust my instincts more than I have been. I’m extremely surprised by how quickly I can swing from loving it (the rally) to feeling stressed out.” While this is Cahill’s first Gazelle, Croft competed in 2012 with partner Julie Meddows. Both Cahill and Croft came together out of a mutual love for driving and because both were victims of sexual abuse. Their campaign is “1 in 4” as it is the number of women who have been affected by sexual abuse.


Team #183--Emme Hall (driver) and Sabrina Howells (navigator)

Hometown: Hall: Washington, DC; Howells: Silver Lake, CA

Competing in their second Gazelle Rally, team “Indiana Joans” were one of the last teams to leave the line, as the more experienced competitors ran toward the back. They were having a solid prologue, but then struggled to find checkpoint three before it closed at 6:30 p.m. “When the sun started going down, we felt a lot of pressure to get to the next checkpoint and we started rushing,” said Howells. “We weren’t being as precise as we should have been and we lost our heading and missed checkpoint three.” They will take the line at the start of the race knowing they must be as precise as possible to capture all the checkpoints.


Team #171: JoMarie Fecci (USA) and Isabelle Nikolic (FRA)

This team started the rally in Paris and then boarded the boat in Barcelona to head to Morocco. Competing in their first Gazelle Rally, the two trained very intensely with land navigation and driving exercises in the deserts of the southwestern United States.  A colorful team, the two met back in 1992 when Fecci was working as a photojournalist and Nikolic joined her to cover the Armenian-Azeri war in Nagorno Karabakh. The team completed two of three checkpoints during the prologue.


Jody DeVere
AskPatty.com, Inc.

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