Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles Kicks Off with Opening Ceremonies and Prologue Stage
U.S. teams overcome vehicle shipping issues
March 21, 2013 (Merzouga, Morocco) – The 23rd Annual Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles kicked off with simultaneous opening ceremonies in Paris and Casablanca followed by the transfer and Prologue in southern Morocco.
Over 125 teams from Europe and Africa gathered in Paris at Trocodéro Gardens across from the Eiffel Tower for their official ceremony while teams from the United States, Canada and Morocco convened at the new five-star Hotel Mazagan south of Casablanca. For Morocco, the country that has hosted the rally for the past 23 years, it was especially meaningful to have an opening in their homeland. With eight Moroccan teams this year to represent during the ceremonies and technical checks, the significance was as strong as the turnout. After the ceremony on the beach, teams then departed for Erfoud, Morocco where the start of the competition portion takes place.
The day began early Tuesday morning with 150 international teams participating in an exercise to test odometer readings to ensure scoring accuracy. The teams then started the Prologue from a location set against the backdrop of the iconic Erg Chebbi dunes. The approximate 80 km Prologue provided an initial opportunity for teams to test their skills without affecting their overall score. The test also establishes the starting order for the offical Leg 1 on Thursday.
Chrissie Beavis, navigator for Team # 136 stated, “We hit every other check point dead on. The way to the first checkpoint I realized my watch was throwing the compass off by 3 degrees. Our Isuzu D-Max Truck is really well prepared. The truck only had 520 km when we picked it up, and although not having many test miles, it feels very strong.”
Team # 136 Chrissie Beavis/Bethany Hamilton during Prologue
Unfortunately, for three American teams making their way to Morocco, their adventure began before the event started. A trans-Atlantic shipping fiasco beginning when mechanical problems forced containers to be transferred to other ships. Teams were not notified of the change – resulting in the vehicles not making the technical inspections in time. Teams were forced to look for plan B options at the last minute, which came through from the support and help of existing leasing agencies that provide rally vehicles and mechanical assistance to the rally annually. Amy Lerner and Tricia Reina, whose AEV built Jeep lead them to a strong top ten finish last year were able to secure a 2008 FJ Cruiser with full body armour, dual reservoir suspension, and much needed auxiliary fuel tank. Both Julie Meddows and Pat Klishevich were originally competing in Toyota FJ Cruisers and are now driving Isuzu D-Max pickups secured from the rally preparation company Novateam. The situation will be a true test of the drivers’ abilities to quickly learn the vehicle and perform despite the challenges.
Thursday the 21st marks the first day of full format competition. Over the week competitors will be cross through the famous Erg Chebi Dunes and travel southwest just north of the Algerian border and finish after traversing the haunting Dunes of Chegaga.