The 25th Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles started in Nice only a few days ago, on 24th March 2015. Mercedes-Benz Vans is once again competing in this unconventional women’s rally through the Moroccan desert. Two German teams in the Mercedes-Benz Vito 4×4 and two American women duos in the Sprinter 4×4 have set out to defend the title. Last year, Astrid Ebermann and Sabrina Trillmann took first place in their Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4.
This year Andrea Spielvogel and Julia Salamon in the new Mercedes-Benz Vito 4×4 aim to follow in their footsteps. The two Mercedes-Benz employees form the “Daimler team” and are competing in the desert rally for the third time. Viola Hermann and Vanessa Wagner in the second Vito 4×4 may have less experience but they share the same anticipation and determination to win. The goldsmith and master heating technician qualified for the race during the selection training held by the “Deutsche Handwerkszeitung” and the “handwerk magazin”.
From the challenging gravel pit course to driving blindfolded (with only steering commands from the co-pilot): The two passed the casting competition in the southern German region of Allgäu with flying colors, beating 11 other competitors from the 61 applicants. In addition to the German teams, Mercedes-Benz Vans USA is competing with two experienced rally drivers. The first Sprinter 4×4 will be driven by the Mercedes-Benz regional manager, Shennen Marschner, from California and the journalist, Susan Mead, from Massachusetts. The architect, Chrissie Beavis, from California and the sports journalist, Alyssa Roenigk, from Florida are tackling the challenge in the second Sprinter.
The race finally begins for all of the Mercedes-Benz competitors on a Thursday in the middle of March. Following a farewell from Professor Joerg Zürn, the Head of Development Mercedes-Benz Vans, the Gazelles set out on the 12 hour journey from the Mercedes-Benz Museum to Nice. A range of technical inspections and health checks lie ahead before the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles officially begins here. The Mercedes-Benz teams and vans are perfectly equipped and prepared. Five days later the time has come: After the official “parade” along the promenade in Nice, the eagerly awaited race finally starts for the Gazelles. The off-roaders begin their journey to Morocco’s desert.
In contrast to other competitions, not the fastest driver wins the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles but rather the vehicle which has completed all of the desert checkpoints of the rally and clocked up the fewest kilometers. This makes skilled navigation through the dusty sand essential. Yet without the aid of GPS and technical navigation equipment. The around 180 competitors from 17 different countries only have a few old maps and a single compass to help them find their way. The Moroccan desert’s high sand dunes make navigating from objective to objective along each leg of the rally an incredibly difficult task. But that is not all! Driving on the soft, hot sand is another constant challenge. The vehicles have to be perfectly equipped with all of the right tools to ensure that they do not constantly get stuck in the desert sands. Naturally, Mercedes-Benz has ensured that the woman teams are perfectly prepared and have everything they need for the roughly 2500 km desert rally. The vans have been optimally prepared for the desert sand in accordance with the licensed options and equipped with all-wheel drive, sand tires, underbody protection, bucket seats and a roll cage to protect the occupants. The drivers have also trained in map navigation and completed a number of off-road training seminars in the stone crushing plant near Ulm. The women know that they can trust each other completely in the dusty desert and will give their very best to reach the finish line in the Moroccan desert with the Vito 4×4 and the Sprinter 4×4. However, until all of the Gazelles cross the official finish line at Essaouira beach on 4th April 2015, let us keep our fingers crossed for the teams from Mercedes-Benz Vans.