Every year since 1990, 300 women from all over the world head to Morocco to compete in the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles. It is the only all women’s off-road rally in the world. Armed only with a compass and map, participants choose their own route to reach the finish line but must drive the shortest distance to win.
On March 25th, the competition started and on April 2nd, they finished up with an awards ceremony in Essaouira, a town on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Seasoned off-road competitor Chrissie Beavis and ESPN senior writer brought home a first place in the Crossover class, just ahead of Sue Mead and Shennen Marschner.
“[At] no point did I want to be anywhere else but there doing what I was doing in Morocco in the countryside, challenging myself mentally and physically,” said Marschner, “it’s awesome.”
For Mead, a local RacingJunk supporter and automotive journalist, the Moroccan rally was a first, but she’s no stranger to racing. In 2011, she was a Dakar class winner and is an inductee of the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame. Teammate Marschner is a regional manager for Sprinter vans, the same vehicle the two competed in. She noted that she “cannot wait to show the world what Sprinter Vans are capable of in some of the world’s toughest terrain – known as the great Sahara.”
Within the “First Participation” teams, Americans Nicole Pitell-Vaughan and Jessi Combs drove their Toyota Tacoma to first place with 180 points, coming in 10th in their 4×4 class. For the Quad/Moto/SSV class, Sara Price and Erica Sacks placed 7th.
Competitors, called Gazelles after the animal for their obvious agility and hardiness, range from 18 years old to 65 and have varied auto experience. Sara Price is the youngest American ever to compete in the rally and as an X Games medalist, she is no stranger to the automotive world. She is also the first female to be factory supported under Kawasaki and Monster Energy. She hopes to be a “positive role model for the younger generation with a message that, even in a male dominated industry of motorsports, a girl who still likes to wear heels can compete with the best of them.”
Overall, twenty women from the US trekked across the Sahara Desert; twelve individuals in the Auto/Truck class, Price and Sacks in Quad/Moto/SxS, one team in the 4×4 Expert class, and two teams in Crossover. The event website stresses that the rally is not about marketing or speed, but sportsmanship. Every year the course changes, with six new legs, which includes two marathon and totals eight days of competition covering more than 800 miles across the Moroccan desert.