• French
  • English

The Gazelles pushed to the limit in the dunes


There was a real sense of excitement this morning on the start line of Leg 3, the “Tsarine leg in the vast dunefield of Erg Chebbi, better known as “the Merzouga dunes. Sandrine and Angélique of Team 163 (Angélique GENEVOIS / Sandrine MAGE-BONNABAUD - FCE 63) opted for Route X “to challenge ourselves all the way”. This year, Sophie and Camille of Team 140 (Camille BERCHON / Sophie Takenouti - Groupe BR MOTORS) have decided to “take things cool”, so their goal is to get all the checkpoints, without worrying too much about distance.

Sophie of Team 24 (Sophie GUILLAUME / Sandrine GALLAND - QUAD TOUT TERRAIN Essey les Nancy (54)) is nervous but is here “to push my limits”. “It’s really a magical day”, remarks the Gazelle, who has “wonderful memories” of her previous Rallyes. Mylène of Team 142 (Mylène LECIEUX / Céline BOGDANSKI - HYLA EVOLUTION), who did the Rallye in 2016, is delighted to return to the dunes. “I wasn’t very good at navigation at the time and left the dunes early, so I hope to go all the way this year”. The first dune is therefore a minor victory for her and her teammate Céline, who jumps in her arms once they make it to the other side.

“Tonight we will be the queens of the X”

But the Gazelles’ troubles are far from over. Dunes means sand, and sand means… getting stuck! The two Nathalies of Team 105 (Nathalie ROSSINI-RACAUD / Nathalie LEVERT - UMANOVE) take it lightly. “We took a photo to immortalize our cross axle and show it to our coach”, laughs the Gazelle, camera in hand.  Even the “seasoned” Gazelles are forced to get their shovels out. “The dunes are not lined up in the same direction, so it’s really difficult”, admits Hélène of 238 (Hélène GRAND'EURY / Charlotte ZUCCONI - AFFI MOBILE), last year’s winner of the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles with her teammate Charlotte.

The day is also a challenge for the SSV teams, who get stuck one after the other. It’s a first for Prune, with nineteen Rallyes under her belt. The Gazelle of Team 30 (Prune SALTI / Saadia CHAMALI - GCF FOURCHARD & RENARD EIFFAGE) blames “particularly soft sand”. But the Gazelles hold onto their legendary good humour. “Tonight we will be the Queens of the X”, jokes Marie of Team 22 (Audrey GANTELET / Marie LAMOUILLE - SOGIMM).

Teams allowed to drive together

In the face of this challenge, even greater than usual, reaching the first checkpoint is cause for celebration. Laurence and Marie perform an energetic tango. “This might be the only CP we find, so we’re making the most of it”, exclaims Laurence. After CP1, the teams take advantage of the fact that they are allowed to drive together in the dunes, such as Teams 25 (Véronique DE SYBOURG-SIFFERT / Laurence BRASEY - Michel Riedo&Fils SA) and 30 (Prune SALTI / Saadia CHAMALI - GCF FOURCHARD & RENARD EIFFAGE).

As the day advances, the shovels come out with increasing frequency. Camille and Sophie of Team 140 (Camille BERCHON / Sophie Takenouti - Groupe BR MOTORS) are waiting for “an easy dune to lift our morale”. Several generous Gazelles open the way for those who are tired and bit discouraged and advance at their own pace, CP after CP, until they exit the dunes.

Pride and accomplishment

The Gazelles are visibly proud and excited at the finish line. “I never thought I could do it”, exclaims Léa of Team 191 (Léa BAUDIER / Alia BOUCHAMA - BMCE BANK). “I’ve never driven in such a straight line through the dunes”, crows Véronique of Team 25 (Véronique DE SYBOURG-SIFFERT / Laurence BRASEY - Michel Riedo&Fils SA), at the wheel of an SSV for the first time after several editions of the Rallye in 4×4 Class. “We chose Route Y to try and hold onto the progress we made in the rankings yesterday; we hope it will pay off”, explains Danielle of team 117 (Nathalie DRAPEAU / Danielle BRIDIER - BRIDIER FRERES TOP GARAGE ET SARL BRIDIER LEVEQUE MENUISERIE). “It was impressive, it was scary but spectacular!” comments Chloé of Team 139 (Béatrice FOURNIER / Chloé FOURNIER - FEBRE).

Despite having missed their fourth checkpoint, Laurence and Marie of Team 123 (Laurence HOURTICQ / Marie DE TAYRAC) arehappy and proud” after “a super day!” The two Nathalies of Team 105 (Nathalie ROSSINI-RACAUD / Nathalie LEVERT - UMANOVE) are emotional, and burst into tears and congratulate each other before cheering on their friends of Team 120 (Virginie GRIZON-SAMIT / Audrey ANTECH) as they cross the finish line. “Come cry with us”, shouts Audrey to her teammate Virginie. After this intense day of challenge and accomplishment, the Gazelles are rewarded with a glass of champagne, compliments of  Tsarine, partner of the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc.




Dominique Serra has dedicated this 29th edition to Nasrin Sotoudeh – prominent Iranian lawyer and human rights advocate – who has been sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for “inciting corruption and prostitution” by defending women who took off their headscarves in public.

I encourage everyone to sign the petition for her release.