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Sunday, 01 April 2012 10:07

Leg 6 Marathon Recap

The final marathon leg of the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles was marked by a torrential downpour in the Sahara creating muddy conditions, sandstorms and difficult driving situations. Competitors were faced with difficult decisions in a field where the top ten were exceptionally close in the ranking. 2011 Gazelle winner, and Olympic Gold Medalist, Carole Montillet and navigator Julie Verdaguer clinched the win with a stunning 122.39 points, a course record.

The final marathon leg caused a significant change in the top ten standings. U.S. Team Lerner Reina #107 chose a route around the dunes to reach the first X CP, adding kilometers to their score but saving their vehicles from possible resulting mechanical issues and navigation errors in extremely difficult terrain. The choice cost #203 of Jacinto and Carvalhosa second place as the third place team #170 of James and Pham (also VW) chose a much more direct line. However, the decision proved the right one for Team Lerner Reina who moved from 10th to an impressive 8th place in the highly competitive 4x4 category. The team of sisters entered their first Gazelle Rally in 2011 with minimal off-road and navigation experience. Their stunning top ten finish was the result of solid training, the capable AEV equipped Jeep Rubicon and making smart decisions every step of the way - both driving and navigating. They are the second US team to place in the top ten after the US reached the podium in 2011.

The last and final leg, which took place Wednesday and Thursday between the towns of M'Hamid and Foum Zguid, covered an optimal 255 kms over dunes, dry lake beds, and roads. The first check point on Wednesday was difficult for most teams, as acceleration over the wet dunes with poor visibility lead to extreme challenges. A crash occurred between Teams 163 and 172 as they advanced to Checkpoint (CP) 5X, unable to see even a few feet in front of their hoods.

The Heart of Gazelles is a non-profit organization founded in 2001 dedicated to bettering the lives of the people of Morocco through access to clean water, education, orphanage support, job creation for women, and extensive medical services. The Moroccan government and Moroccan Ministry of Health support the organization and its admirable mission, and work with the non-profit to find the most remote areas in need.

The concept is simple - every year during the length of the Gazelle Rally, the Heart of Gazelles runs alongside the event providing much needed services and support to remote areas of the country. Amongst those services is an extensive medical caravan distributing medical equipment, providing medical consultations (over 20,000 to date), corrective glasses, labor assistance, and women’s health care support.

In addition to the medical caravan, the organization also provides orphanage support, and has dedicated monetary funds to assist local youth on the streets.

The Heart of Gazelles strong support of job creation for women has directly assisted with the building of a workshop where local women are able to earn a living and support themselves.  To find out more about the Heart of Gazelles and the work they do, log on to:


Wednesday, 28 March 2012 07:52

Leg 5 Recap

Leg 5 of the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles brought the top competitors closer together in the standings, leaving little room for error between the three as the finish draws near.

Team Lerner Reina #107 finished strong once again, but fell two positions in the overall to tenth after placing 16th in Leg 5. With only two more days left of competition, they are staying cool despite the pressure as the only U.S. team in the top ten. Amy Lerner, driver, stated "We were a little off yesterday, and today both of us made an effort to make this one count. The only expectation we set for ourselves was to improve, and we've taken a lot of time this past year to learn and practice our skills."

Wednesday's Marathon leg will take the teams for two days through a 255 kilometer course, with nine CPs and two advanced "X" CPs in the high dunes of M'hamid, known as Erg Chegaga. The first day of the leg is known as one of the most difficult of the rally due to navigation challenges in the open, featureless landscape and tedious driving conditions. Old dune remains create sand traps, cratered silt and dried mud, making a straight line nearly impossilble.

Driving with a cracked seal, U.S. Team Amy Lerner and Tricia Reina #107 maintains an impressive top position at ninth place in an international field of 150 teams, making all of their CPs. The course today was fairly intermediate but came with a few challenges. "The area we were in today was completely new to us. The weather was very hazy, and it was difficult to see, but we took our time and felt good about the choices we made," noted Lerner. Visibility is important to accurately read the detailed map features.

The top teams will be in serious competition mode the next few days to close the gaps as the event weeds out contenders. The rally is known for wearing down teams as they have now competed sunrise to sunset for multiple days.

The first of two Marathon Legs in the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles has just come to a close, and Team #107 from the U.S., Amy Lerner and Tricia Reina, are holding solid in seventh position overall. The sister duo, new to off-road after completing the 2011 Gazelle, is impressing organizers and competitors with a strong performance since the initial Prologue stage on Wednesday.  Piloting the AEV modified Jeep Rubicon, Lerner successfully nailed the difficult checkpoints in the famed Erg Chebbi Dunes, the largest dunes in Morocco.

Lerner feels the AEV modifications on their Jeep Rubicon impacted their results this year, helping them leap into the top ten. "Suspension was key, as well as the electronic sway bar disconnect and heat reduction hood -  I didn't have to worry about it overheating out there despite the rough conditions. The Jeep's added lift made it tackle the camel grass well, and the handling and comfort level has been phenomenal. When you're out there for 14 hours a day, that's highly important."

Monday, 26 March 2012 06:23

Photos From Leg 2

Check out these great photos from Leg 2 of the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles!
Friday, 23 March 2012 22:20

Leg 2 Recap

Leg 2 of the Gazelle Rally started early when teams lined up in their respective groups at 6am. A hazy grey skyline served as the backdrop for 150 competition vehicles and their eager participants.

The day started rough, which competitors were warned may be the case at an early morning briefing. Teams were instructed to bring plenty of water, food and shelter incase the day ended while still out on the leg. With a course of eight checkpoints total that equaled roughly 175 kilometers, leg 2 was not excessively long, but a difficult one. The smaller sand dunes of Nejjakh immediately posed a challenge, with two teams calling in for mechanical assistance, and numerous vehicles stuck in the smaller soft sand dunes of checkpoint 1. This leg was a warm-up for the larger dunes of leg 3.

At the end of Leg 2, Team Lerner Reina was able to hit all eight checkpoints, an impressive feat for the sister duo in their second Gazelle Rally. Tricia Reina, navigator, mentioned the day did pose a few challenges. "There was a lot of haze out there. Features were disappearing and reappearing, so we were just trying to go slow and steady." Team Lerner Reina is also anxiously awaiting leg 3. "We're looking forward to getting through the dunes, an interesting landscape that is equally tricky for both driver and navigator."

Saturday will bring the first of two Marathon legs in the dunes, Nejjkah to El Fecht. The marathon leg involves two days of competition and spending the night in the desert rather than returning to the bivouac. On a "dune day," teams have the option to hit the hardest "X" CPs (no penalties), or easier ones (penalities). In addition, competitors can avoid the dunes all together, but with an automatic penalty.

Stay tuned for photos of Leg 2!

Friday, 23 March 2012 06:30

Photos from the Prologue & Leg 1

There is certainly no lack of beautiful landscape in Morocco. Team Lerner Reina tackle Leg 2 of the Rally today. Stay tuned for updates!

Thursday, 22 March 2012 20:08

Leg 1 Recap

Competition was in the air as the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles began Leg 1 this morning. Rain was in the forecast the prior day, but pleasant, clear conditions greeted the teams under blue Moroccan sky.

After yesterday's Prologue, teams were anxious to get started on the first day in the race where penalty points and kilometers count. From here, dead-on navigation accuracy is key - testing the patience and endurance of most. Even with a start time of 6:00 am, teams woke up ready for the day after a cold, late night in the bivouac. Leg 1 consisted of six checkpoints plus the bivouac, and competitors knew the day was going to be a long one with the distance for their respective courses at roughly 135 km. As they took off from the start for six different courses amongst them, teams were anxious to get on the first leg of the Gazelle Rally.

Once at their first checkpoints, the teams received their road book for the day, and many stayed put at the CP plotting their next new move. The expected elements were occasional large mountains mixed in with slightly rocky, and at times extremely bumpy, conditions, all which ran alongside the backdrop of the famous dunes the teams will soon tackle in Leg 3 Marathon.

Team Lerner Reina #107 smoothly transitioned into their first day, nailing all of the checkpoints and being some of the first five to arrive at each CP. "We were feeling good," Reina stated. "But we are still anxious about the Leg on the dunes - it's going to be challenging, and we are mentally preparing for it as well as surveying the obstacles. It's definitely in the back of our minds." Lerner was also in the lead, as of Prologue Day, in the Logica Challenge.

This is a challenge for drivers to promote eco driving habits during the rally. Personal driving style is measured with four distinguished tests:

  1. Abrupt acceleration
  2. Sudden braking
  3. Excessive idling
  4. Excessive speed (over 80 KMph)

Logica installs a device into the engine of the competitions vehicles that collects information from the tests, and once the teams return to the bivouac, the device is removed and analyzed. The challenge shifts the conversation from merely the responsibility of the manufacturer to the responsibility of the driver.

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