The first edition of the Rally Marrakech Sahara on behalf of the British Moroccan Society which took place the 1st week of May 2016 is now over. Six teams were taking part, found through a combination of Twitter, LinkedIn, friends, family and word of mouth.
Created by someone who had competed 3 times in the all women Rally Aicha des Gazelles du Maroc, and who each time, had come back raving about the magnificent sceneries of the Moroccan desert, this rally was meant from the start to be a voyage of discovery, to enable participants to go where few people go, to remote and difficult of access parts of South East Morocco. The competition side came a close second, very much enjoyed by all.
On Saturday 30th April, most of the competitors met up in a hotel in Marrakech to take possession of their pre booked 4x4s (Mitsubishi Pajeros sport from Baroud Terre du Sud).
putting stickers on the cars
For some of them, it was also a time to discover or enjoy Marrakech briefly
Dinner Place Djemaa El Fnaa
Departure was the following day (Sunday) from Villa Dinari and all the cars followed in convoy from Marrakech to Merzouga.
Crossing the Tichka pass can be an adventure in itself (although the road is much wider than it used to be) with breath taking sceneries. The road between Ouarzazate and the huge Palmeraie of Agdez is also gorgeous.
Sunday night, Lawrence the organiser was waiting for us to give everyone a briefing over dinner. All the participants were given a road book and explained how this works.
They found out that the winners of the competition are not the team doing the least amount of kms but the one following the road book closest. There is no speed involved.
1st day, cars waiting to depart
Over the next 4 days, that’s what they tried to do with more or less success. The first day was difficult as participants were getting used to the book (it might look simple but with tracks going all over the place, it is anything but!)
but by the second day they were all enjoying what is effectively a treasure hunt over some rough tracks and not always easy access to checkpoints.
The atmosphere in the evenings was boisterous with competitors exchanging stories of their daily experiences. They were all quite keen to hear about their daily performances and as days went by, things started to hot up. And then one day, team 06 decided to cut corners instead of following the piste and ended up breaking their car.
This being Morocco, the car was repaired same night,in 2 hours, from 8 to 10pm
The teams first stayed 2 nights in a hotel at the foot of Erg Chebi, then spent 2 nights camping in remote areas
Chez Zaid, Et Taous
Samir, team 01, finding his inner Tuareg
There was time for meditation
The official rally ended in Tagounite on Thursday.
They did it! Team 05 came 2nd
Team 03 came 3rd
And the winners, team 06
All the participants agreed that they would never have known about the magnificence of South East Morocco hadn’t they taken part in the rally.
M’Hamid El Ghizlan is a small village in the Zagora region of Morocco, 98 km after Zagora, one of the two places in Morocco where the Sahara begins (another is Merzouga where the Rally begins).
It is about 7-8 hours by car from Marrakech and 5 hours from Ouarzazate. It is “The end of the road” (the last point of the route national N°9), after that it is only the sands of the Sahara, shepherds and caravan trails.
M’Hamid El Ghizlan where the Rally Marrakech Sahara finishes, means “the plain of the Gazelles” in reference to the times long gone when gazelles used to roam the area.
M’Hamid is next to a vast oasis where nomads, some with up to 5000 camels, trading between Sudan and Morocco used to come and rest, protected from the sand storms and winds. Aridity, drought and borders have put an end to this activity with only a few semi-nomadic people left.
The big palm grove extends from the Kasbah or dry earth fortress to the Oued Draa, an Oued being a partially dry river bed.
There are fewer visitors to M’hamid than to Merzouga and Erfud, giving the place a more (arguably and in my opinion) authentic feeling.
Nowadays, a lot of cars call themselves 4x4s. It is important before you go rallying in the desert to distinguish what is a “real” 4×4 from a SUV which can also function in 4 wheel drive, meaning that the power of the engine is distributed to all 4 wheels at the same time.
First of all, a proper all terrain vehicle must be extremely solid as it will be driven on difficult terrain. A 4×4 must be high enough in order to go relatively easily over rough terrain , which means that beyond having a high car body, it must have good attack angles to go up slopes and good outgoing angles in order not to drag the car bottom on the ground.
It must also have the compulsory differential locking in order to allow wheels on the same axle to work independently, something that is necessary when your wheels are bogged down (in sand or mud); also to overcome forces generated by the weight of the vehicle (rolling resistance), steep grades (gravity) and resistances created by material pushed by the tires (sand, mud, etc)– best combined under “Load”, the vehicle needs to generate sufficient torque by combining engine torque and adequate gear sets.
In order to generate torque, a counter force is needed: Traction. A proper 4×4 will provide a lot of traction to make the vehicle move in difficult terrain.
And last but not least, a powerful engine will be of great use enabling the driver to move forward softly in low rpm without having to press the accelerator to its max, something rather dangerous when you suddenly find yourself past the difficult zone.
And now in French :
Ce qui caractérise un bon véhicule tout terrain
De nos jours, de nombreux modèles de véhicules se disent « 4×4 ». Il est donc important de distinguer les éléments permettant de faire la différence entre un véritable 4×4 d’un SUV qui eux peuvent être aussi en quatre roues motrices. Tout d’abord un véritable véhicule tout terrain doit être extrêmement solide car il est amené à être utilisé sur des terrains accidentés. Un véhicule tout terrain doit être suffisamment en hauteur afin de franchir des terrains accidentés de façon relativement aisée, pour cela outre la hauteur de la caisse, il doit avoir de bons angles d’attaque (pour monter les pentes) et de bons angles de sortie (afin de ne pas racler le derrière en descente de pente). Il doit aussi avoir des options indispensables en conduite tout-terrain comme le blocage des différentiels (afin de permettre aux roues d’un même axe de tourner de façon indépendante, ce qui s’avère utile lorsqu’une des roues est embourbée par exemple), le rapport de réduction (comme une « super première vitesse ») est aussi nécessaire pour progresser sur des terrains difficiles nécessitant au véhicule une grande force de traction pour avancer. Enfin, et non le moindre, la puissance disponible dès les plus bas tours (ceci permet de franchir un obstacle avec force mais tout en douceur, sans être forcé d’appuyer à fond sur l’accélérateur – ce qui se révèle extrêmement dangereux lorsque l’obstacle est franchi).
As a competitor in the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles Morocco and sleeping in a tent, I got to see one of the clearest skies ever, along with over 300 women and 400 journalists/mechanics/organisers, every night and every morning for 8 days. You’d think I’d get bored with it but I don’t. This is why, this time as an organiser, I was keen that participants in the Rally Marrakech Sahara spend 2 nights in a (comfortable) tent under this magnificent sky.
Most of us live in areas with high population density and light pollution which obstruct the natural starry sky.
The Arabs have been observing the stars above the desert for thousands of years. Many stars were named by Arabs who navigated in the “sea of sand” with the help of the stars. Almost every night in the desert the sky is so clear that you believe you were in space.
The first night is at Riad Zaid: we will sleep in Berber tents in Erg Ouzina and well be able to admire the sunset over the dunes. The second night is on a sandy peak looking out into a valley. It’s wild and magnificent.
You will not need a huge amount of preparation for this rally. Knowing how to drive a 4×4 will be an advantage but you will quickly learn while driving. The organisers will be there on the terrain to explain how to use the long and short gears which are mostly necessary when driving in sand. There will be some driving in the sand if not in the dunes themselves. We are in the Moroccan desert after all! My recommendation when hitting the sand is to accelerate to avoid sinking the car. If you must slow down, change gear but do not brake.
The participants should learn to use their compass before the rally. Most smartphones have compasses nowadays but if yours doesn’t then you need to buy a compass (Amazon has a big choice of them. A simple one is all you need).
Physically, you need to be in good shape as there might be some walking (especially for the navigator ) but there is no prior training necessary.
And take a good camera/gopro with you. The sceneries will be breathtaking. The atmosphere around the camp fire will be great. And if you’re an instagram fan, photos of the food prepared in the desert will be the best.
Having competed 3 times in the biggest women only off road rally in the world, Rallye Aicha des Gazelles, taking place in the Moroccan desert every year for the last 26 years, I have come to love and admire the magnificent sceneries of South East Morocco and the hospitality of its people. I also enjoy driving difficult terrain, crevasses and dunes, while trying to find the shortest way possible between checkpoints. I love the camaraderie, all the more necessary when finding yourself in some difficult situations. I admire the vast sky at night full of stars you don’t see when living in town.