On the eve of the first marathon leg, five teams will sleep in the Erg Chebbi dunes.
Team 129 will spend the night in the erg, accompanied by a team of Rallye mechanics.
Teams 182 and 143 are camping together at CP3X.
Teams 148 and 186 are camping together halfway between CP3X and the edge of the erg.
All of the other teams have already returned, or are on their way.
After seriously damaging the front of their vehicle going over a dune this morning, Team 192 (Sophie RUBIO and Gwenaelle GARRIGUE - PACK SYTEME) is making good time and is about to reach CP4X..
Team 174 (Valerie BYROTHEAU and Delphine CAILLAUD - CHADOTEL) has returned to the bivouac after attempting the X route and finding it too difficult. What with the soft sand, the stifling heat and helping to dig other teams out, the Gazelles are too tired to continue today. Other teams are also on their way back to the bivouac.
At the head of the pack, the first teams are reaching CP7: Teams 121, 124, 159, 172, 109 and Quad team 22.
Team 122 (Isabelle CHARLES and Dounia BENNANI - DACIA) has been immobilised by a mechanical problem. The technical assistance team is on location, helping them to get moving again. This breakdown could cost them 4th place in the general ranking.
Surf the dunes, that's exactly what the Gazelles have to do...in trucks weighing over 2.5 tons!. Under a blazing sun, the sand becomes soft and the slightest driving error will result in immobilising the vehicle. What next? Out come the shovels and sand ladders, the sand is cleared away from the tires and underneath the vehicle, and the team tries to advance...
The spectacular scenery does not seem to be distracting the teams with their eye on the podium.
Team 124 (Syndiely WADE and Carole MONTILLET-CARLES - AXECIBLES) is in the lead, out of the dunes already and heading for CP6 in a perfect straight line, while Team 140 (Sophie HEWERTSON and Julie KOHLMANN - JET SOLUTIONS TRAVEL), the novice team that put in an excellent performance yesterday, is heading for CP4X in the heart of the Erg Chebbi dunes.
And they are far from alone: many teams are in the same area, their progress slowed down by the mountains of sand.
Encountered in front of the Race PC, Babeth of Team 185 - RB 4X4 told us about her night spent outside the bivouac: "We were 3 teams, we all ate together, no worries, in fact a great atmosphere!". Naturally, they are in a hurry to join their fellow competitors in the dunes, but a leak in their steering column is delaying their departure. Over in the dunes, some sixty teams decided to take the most challenging "X," route, and about thirty the intermediate "X-bis". Conclusion, the Gazelles are not intimidated... by the highest dunes in Morocco.
Reversal of the situation: Team 129 (Jeanette JAMES and Anne-Marie BORG - MERCEDES BENZ), running second in the general ranking, tipped over while circumventing a dune. Impressive but not dangerous, as the vehicle has a reinforced cabin. The two Gazelles are uninjured and are doing fine. The Mercedes Sprinter held up well to the shock: only the started is having problems, which prevented the team from continuing. A technical assistance team is on site to turn the vehicle back over, while Anja Schwegler, mechanic with the Daimler team, is on her way with the necessary spare part.
Having a spare part delivered from the bivouac means that the team is now considered "unranked", as specified in the Sporting Regulations. Which is a great shame, because the U.K.-France team was in second place in the general ranking. Now the important thing is to get the Gazelles back on course. As the recovery operation is still underway, there is a good chance that the team and the mechanics will spend the night in the dunes.
Last night, in addition to checking all of the vehicles, the mechanics welded a coil spring on an HDJ 100 and fixed the wheel of Team 153 (Loeticia MPASSI-MOUBA and Edna PANNETIER DIAMPAKA - TOTAL E&P CONGO), who managed to get back to the bivouac on their own.
In the end only 4 teams spent the night away from the bivouac and not 5 - the 5th arrived in the middle of the night. Teams 187, 128 and 185 are now heading for the bivouac.
Out on the terrain, the first teams are approaching CP2X, a chance to test the difficulty of the X route before committing themselves to the path through the heart of the dunes, which only the boldest will dare to do.
After this morning's lovely 04:00 wakeup call, it is time for the Gazelles to get ready for this special day. Over breakfast, Caroline and Aurore of Team 146 - BASSIN PIECES AUTOMOBILES share their experience from last year's Rallye with Elodie Gossuin of team 172 - VOLKSWAGEN: "We can't wait to get there, we couldn't go in the dunes last year because the truck was broken". Don't worry, you'll get there this time. At the briefing, the Sporting Director explained that each team chooses its route according to the level of difficulty: regular CPs, "X-bis" (intermediate) CPs and "X" (difficult) CPs. Obviously, choosing the easier CPs will earn a penalty for the team. "An unforgettable experience that will change your life, and a decisive leg for the leading teams", explained Jean-Pierre Berthet. The Merzouga dunes, providing a fluidity of movement across the fine sand... today the dream will come true for many Gazelles...
What could be nicer than being woken up by music so lovely that you no longer know if you are awake or dreaming? This is what our Gazelles experienced this morning: they had the surprise and privilege of a private concert by André Manoukian, who had set his alarm clock... "an hour too early, because of the time change in France!" he said with a smile. To the sound of "What a wonderful world" by Louis Armstrong and Mozart's "Clarinet concerto in A Major" (featured in the film Out of Africa) with a Manoukian touch, everything was rooted to the spot, intoxicated by the music, every note of which resonated across the calm and serenity of the desert. "A magical moment..." that died away to a thunder of applause. What a calm way to start this much-awaited day amidst the sand giants of Erg Chebbi!