March 21st, 2012 (Erfoud, Morocco) - Competitors in the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles began the anticipated Prologue stage today deep in the deserts of Morocco near the town of Erfoud. The Prologue is an essential stage of the rally, as it allows competitors to test their skills and learn the new terrain of the desert without accumulating penalty points. With the official start of the rally March 22nd, spirits were high as teams were eager to tackle the Sahara terrain in their rally competition vehicles.
Earlier in the day, teams participated in the required odometer check, verifying accuracy for each vehicle. Once completed, teams moved to the bivouac, also known as the tent city of the rally, southeast of Erfoud and north of the famed Erg Chebbi dunes. The bivouac housed the start line of the Prologue, where 150 teams revved their engines amongst an international buzz of media, press, and organization officials. Crossovers, quads, motorcycles, and 4x4s lined up at the start, as each team waited for their scheduled turn taking off in two-minute intervals. With road books in hand and three different check points (CPs) to hit, Gazelles took off in the early afternoon for their short loop of approximately 42 kilometers. Routes were not the same for each team, and as the Prologue was underway, gusty winds kicked up the sand, creating less than ideal visibility for competitors.
Teams found themselves on varied courses of extremely rocky terrain, thick camel grass, and a riverbed, all aspects preparing them for what is to come in the next eight days of competition. Some teams struggled to hit their first CPs, while others were able to navigate with ease. Team Lerner Reina #107 hit their first CP fairly quickly, and was moving fast in their orange crush Jeep Rubicon to CP 2. Reina stated,” The wind and sand storm posed a problem, but we were still able to hit all three checkpoints.” Additionally, both know a little more the second time around. “We were reminded of mistakes we made last year that we should be aware of. We had some fun, there was good communication between driver and navigator, and all in all it is good to be back.”
Team X Elles #109 had a bit of a challenging start initially hitting the wrong CP, but recovered quickly in their FJ Cruiser and managed the uneven terrain in search of the next check point. Returning after dark, they remain positive in what lies ahead. Julie Meddows states, “Our biggest challenge today was navigation. We learned to stop more, check out bearings, and figure out where we are.” Team X Elles also found the sand storm challenging as navigation includes seeing landmarks, but despite the conditions, stated “It was an incredible experience, and we look forward to a clean slate tomorrow, as today was merely a needed practice."
Starting classes will be established once all competitors have returned to the bivouac. The next two days of competition will be spent in the Nejekah, Erfoud and Merzouga area. Results will be posted as they are finalized.
Team X Elles # 109 navigate the terrain.
Gazelles eagerly await the start of the Prologue.
Gazelle teamwork in the unpredictable sand of the Sahara.
Team X Elles #109 reaching a CP
(Editors Note: Go X-Elles!)