American Expedition Vehicles
Thursday, 26 July 2012 13:16

Amy Lerner Talks About Her Experience in Morocco With an AEV Equipped Jeep Wrangler

Once my sister Tricia and I decided we would compete again in the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles, I started my research to try to find what would be the perfect vehicle for such a unique competition.  We competed the first time in a rented 2007 H3, which unfortunately suffered electrical problems mid-competition leaving us with no controls for any of the functions you'd want to use off road.  When we got home, I spent hours poring over stats and reviews and kept coming back to the Wrangler.  I had driven one for the first time during our initial off road training with Rod Hall. It was nimble and capable, but seemed a bit underpowered.  After learning of the upgrade to the engine and transmission for 2012, I decided the JK was the way to go.  Our experiences with the H3 taught me that there were some modifications needed to make the Jeep even more suitable for the Rally.  Back to my research… countless hours on Jeep forums and many news articles later, I had my wish list of names to build our Jeep.  It had one company on it: AEV.  After what I'm sure felt to Dave Harriton like a thousand daily phone calls, AEV got on board to build the Team Lerner Jeep.

The objective of the Gazelle Rally is to take the shortest path possible from checkpoint to checkpoint, which makes the ability to drive over – instead of around – any terrain you encounter an important key to success.  Another major factor is comfort.  The Gazelle Rally is 9 days of competition, days that start at 4 am and can end 14 hours later, with up to 250km of rough terrain in between.  Minimizing driver fatigue definitely helps a team's performance and decision making.  Knowing what we would be facing in Morocco, AEV's ability to modify a Jeep and significantly improve it’s off road performance while still maintaining its integrity and comfort was something I looked forward to experiencing.
In terms of the specifics of our build, every AEV component gave us benefits.  The Heat Reduction Hood (aside from being a thing of beauty from the driver's seat) and Snorkel meant we never were one of the teams waiting at a checkpoint with their hood up for their engine to cool down.  Overheating was just not an issue.  I was a tad nervous about the 3.5" DualSport Suspension, having never spent time in a 'lifted' vehicle, but I could not have been more pleased with the performance.  The Suspension made crossing fields of camel grass a breeze compared to the struggle we had in the H3.  Tight, quick turns at speed at the top of a sand dune felt stable and secure.  We had none of the 'seat of the pants' sensation we felt last year.  The right tires (BFG All Terrains) made a difference as well.  Having our recovery gear secured yet easy to access on the Rear Tire Carrier freed up valuable storage space inside the vehicle.  Even the Rear Bumper’s water reservoir made us happy.  It stored our required 5 liter emergency water supply much better than that leaky plastic container bouncing around the back.
Here's how the Prologue (half day warm-up) went in the Team Lerner Reina Jeep:

Tricia: "There's some sand, let's go around."

Amy: "No, I want to try it."

Tricia: "That looks really rough up there, let's go around."

Amy: "No, I want to go across."

By the end of the first few hours, we both had the confidence in our AEV JK to know that our competitive strategy was going to be "Just go straight".  That's what we were able to do.  The driving was so enjoyable that by the last couple of days, I was looking for terrain challenges and hoping our route would take us there just for the fun of driving them.   We finished 8th out of 129 teams in the 4x4 category.  To make the top ten means that you kept up with professional drivers, custom built vehicles, automotive manufacturer sponsored teams, and some very experienced Gazelles.  In the Gazelle Rally, your vehicle really is your third teammate, and our AEV built Jeep performed well above our expectations.  It was easy to drive, it was fun to drive, and I never felt our route choices were constrained by our vehicle.  Wherever we needed to go, the Jeep went with ease, confidence and a heck of a lot of enjoyment.