Sleeping outside of the bivouac tonight
…Teams 134, 205 and 215. Too far from the bivouac to make it back in the dark, these teams have set up their tents for the night. At their improvised mini bivouac, they will eat supper by the light of their headlamps and spend a quiet night in their tents… in the middle of nowhere!
But there is no need for concern: the Race PC has alerted the mechanical assistance teams who will spend the night close by, ready to intervene. Just a few hundred metres away, these Organizers will watch over our straying Gazelles tonight.
At first light, these Gazelles will be able to get their bearings and return to the Nejjakh bivouac. Their goal will be to start the 2nd Leg before 12:00, after which time they will be considered "unranked". A team that is unranked still takes part in every leg but is no longer included in the ranking.
We wish them an excellent night under the spectacular starry skies of the Moroccan desert!
Leg 1 Daily Report
Today the Gazelles are thrown in the deep end, with a first leg comprising 6 CPs (checkpoints) to find in a minimum time of 10:15, minimum (ideal) distance 135 km.
RACE NOTES 18:30 - Needles in a haystack
As the sun sets over the Moroccan desert, 9 teams are still in the area of CP3, 70km from the bivouac.
RACE NOTES 16:50 - the first teams are back!
The bivouac mechanics made quick work of the mechanical problem that forced Team 141 (Sylvie DENNINGER and Prune SALTI - Sunnydream) to return to the bivouac ahead of schedule. The truck is repaired, tested and ready to hit the road (or the trail...) Prune, here at the Rallye for the 15th time, and her teammate Sylvie decide to call it a day for this 1st leg.
Meanwhile, at the finish line, a first team is driving up between the tall red flags bearing the logos of the Rallye and its partners: First-time Rallye participants Team 207 (Sylvie DELWALLE and Isabelle POLY - Phone Contact) share their impressions in the heat of the moment: "People don't really know what the Rallye is". when it comes to driving, "I have to concentrate all the time, communicate constantly with my co-pilot to find the right compromise between obstacles and sticking to the heading we're trying to follow… I am not generally easy to impress, but here, we're learning all the time, everything impresses me!"
And the Rallye has brought out emotions that she did not expect to find here: "I've watched the Rallye on TV, but it never occurred to me for a second that I would become a Gazelle one day... after a chance encounter one day, I said to myself, 'Why not?' It took me 18 months to get ready for the Rallye, and even when things got difficult, I always knew that I would make it here... I could write an entire book just about those 18 months, and that's just the beginning of all that we will have to tell about the Rallye!" Before adding her final word: "I am sure that we will all have a great story to tell!"
RACE NOTES 14:50 - a tight competition
We will begin these RACE NOTES with a piece of good news: Team 232 (Thérèse LE BLEU and Marie MICHAUD - CEPPM - Expace), after setting out on an opposite heading, realized their error, retraced their steps and made for CP1. A CP1 where the 12 vehicles bringing up the rear can also be found.
On the extreme south of the map, Team 187 (Carole MONTILLET and Julie VERDAGUER - Axecibles) are still in the lead; they have clearly set their sights on winning the leg and entering the general ranking with as few penalty kilometres as possible. But there are no guarantees: Teams 101, 120, 122 and 150, all of whom have reached their CP4, are also driving an excellent 1st leg. Most of the pack can be found somewhere between CP3 and CP4.
There are three hours left to reach the remaining checkpoints and return to the bivouac before nightfall. 3 hours may seem long, but on a terrain that holds many surprises in store, time can pass very quickly. Will all of the teams sleep at the bivouac tonight? We won't have our answer for several hours yet...
RACE NOTES 11:50: team 187 already at CP3!
While 80% of the teams are somewhere between CP1 and CP2, Team 187 (Axecibles) is in the lead and has already reached CP3. On board her Buggy, ski champion Carole Montillet, winner of the 4WD class in last year's edition, is hoping to hold on to her title. She and teammate Julie Verdaguer are now heading for CP4. Behind them, about thirty teams are progressing towards CP3.
To the north, Team 232 (Thérèse LE BLEU and Marie MICHAUD - CEPPM - Expace), undoubtedly the victims of a navigation error, are wandering amongst the rocky hills of the north-east corner of today’s map, while the checkpoints are… in the south.
The Race PC recently received a request for assistance from Team 141 (Sylvie DENNINGER and Prune SALTI - Sunnydream). The mechanic who responded to the call recommended that they return to the bivouac to repair a problem with their fuel intake.
Under clear skies and a radiant sun, the competition continues through an idyllic playground: to the east looms an insurmountable barrier in the form of Hamada du Guir. To the west lies an impressive sight: the majestic Erg Chebbi dunes, commonly known as the Merzouga dunes, setting for the first part of Leg 3, first of the two Marathon legs!
RACE NOTES 09:50 - CP1 has fallen
Most of the teams have reached or are approaching their first checkpoint, where they receive the coordinates of the remaining 5 CPs of Leg 1. After losing a bit of time crossing a sandy oued, the teams are back on track and have CP2 in their sights. While the results of the Prologue do not count towards the ranking, they do set the tone for the competition to come and give some indication of the teams to watch.
In 4WD/Truck class, Team 132 (Pascale DEMBSKI and Marinette LANGLAIS - GAN Assurances), who finished the Prologue at the head of the pack with only 1.38 penalty points, drive too far south of a rocky outcrop. To reach their first CP, the team is forced to go around the obstacle, accumulating extra kilometres in the process.
In Quad/Motorbike/Buggy class, Team 20 (Dorothée LANGLOIS and France CLEVES - POLARIS BENELUX), leaders after the Prologue with 2.40 points, is in a similar situation: instead of following the oued, the Gazelles drive too far south and have no other choice but to plot new points to reach their 1st checkpoint.
Finally, in Crossover class, Team 310 (Sylvie HUSSON and Sophie GOSET - La Poste) are confirming their performance on yesterday's Prologue, which they finished with only 3.31 points: in choosing to pass to the north of a potentially tricky sandy zone, they save time and energy for the rest of the course to follow.
RACE NOTES: The start of Leg 1
05:00 briefing: Not a very difficult leg
At 05:00 sharp, the voice of the Sporting Director crackles through the microphone. The goal of the daily morning briefing: to take a look at the events of the previous day, and introduce today's leg. Now things are getting more serious: while the results of yesterday's Prologue do not count towards the ranking, from now on the penalty kilometres of each day's leg will be tallied up. And what do our Gazelles have to expect today: a leg that is "not too difficult", "various zones and obstacles to cross; some sand, especially between CP2 and CP3; a few long straight stretches, with somewhat unpredictable weather, possibly a bit of rain." Rain in the desert? Come on! Can you believe it?
A gentle awakening
At 04:00, it is still pitch black when Dominique Serra, creator and General Director of the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc, circulates amongst the tents in the sleeping area of the bivouac to wake up her Gazelles. Her call elicits a flurry of headlamps accompanied by a symphony of tent zippers: the competitors have an hour to get ready and eat breakfast before this morning's briefing, held every day at 05:00.
In the restaurant tent, breakfast is served: tired eyes open a little wider after a few sips of coffee or tea. Team 196 (Séverine ARNAUD and Corinne ARMAND-GALLION - Modern Optique), take this chance to plot CP1 of Route A, have this to say: "A bit hard to get up - we brought a more comfortable mattress this year...!" The two Gazelles, full of pep despite the early hour and the long day ahead, add: "We feel ready today! We didn't have a very good Prologue, we only found 1 CP - things can only go better today!"
LEG 1 - Thursday March 22
NEIJAKH / NEIJAKH – ideal distance 135 km – minimum time 10:15 - looped route
Up at 04:00, briefing at 5:00 and start at 6:00… this will be the routine for the 8 days to come.
A total of 6 check points (CPs) to find during this first leg… This is a warm-up leg, offering long open stretches presenting no major difficulties in terms of navigation or driving. The Gazelles will skirt the sand without actually having to cross it, with landscape features that are easy to recognise on the maps. A route designed to build confidence.
The return to the Neijakh bivouac will almost certainly take place by the light of the sun setting over the Erg Chebbi dunes...
The Gazelles’ "promised land" in the days to come...