The Sahara Challenge 2015
October 5-14 2015
The Sahara Challenge drove the road to Morocco during the first two weeks of October. This ten day event from Toledo to Marrakesh proved to be an ideal shake-down for Peking to Paris 2016 but more than that it was a fantastic rally experience in its own right.
The Sahara Challenge 2015
Have you imagined seeing rural Morocco and the vastness of the Sahara through the windscreen of your classic car? Or wanted to try one of the longer Endurance Rally Association events but could never spare the time? Or fancied driving a “mini-Peking Paris”? Or do you need a shake-down of your car and crew for tougher things to come? Then join us for the Sahara Challenge 2015. This will be a fantastic opportunity to enjoy 10 exotic driving days with a touch of desert adventure thrown in, and all within easy reach of the UK and the rest of Europe.
The Endurance Rally Association Team were the first to pioneer the rallying of historic cars in Africa, driving to Marrakesh in 1993. Since then we have returned with the Casablanca Challenge, a previous Sahara Challenge, and two World Cup Rallies as well as a section of the Around the World in 80 Days. On each visit we think we have got a good grip of what Morocco has to offer. But, it proves time and time again to be a land full of surprises…
From Toledo, we strike out south into the lonely roads of Castilla – La Mancha. Stopping for the night in the ancient Moorish city of Cordoba, the next morning sees us taking to the hills of Andalucia before we catch the afternoon ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier and our first experience of the flavours, sights and sounds of the Maghreb.
Once into Morocco, we will drive through unforgettable open spaces on truly empty roads that unravel over distant horizons. Along the way, we take in the best the country has to offer – from the ancient kasbahs and medinas of market towns like Fez to the Alpine-like mountains around Ifrane, then on through spectacular hidden canyons like the Todra Gorge where Indiana Jones galloped on horseback to the quiet grandeur of the Erg Chebbi dunes, before reaching our destination in Marrakesh, that trendiest and most talked about Moroccan destination since the Sixties. Those who want to stay on for a few days can do so, as this will be where we will hold our prizegiving, with an easy route back to the ferry at Tangier.
Like our longer Peking to Paris and Road to Mandalay events, the Sahara Challenge is open for cars in the Vintageant, pre 1941, category and Classic cars of a type in production before 1975.
Tell Me More
The Sahara Challenge entry is now full. To find out more about the Sahara Challenge or any of the other ERA rally events, contact any of the Rally Office team.
Contact the Rally Office for more information
Phone: +44 (0)1235 831221
Email: [email protected]
The Sahara Challenge 2015 – Participants
Updated 17th September 2015
|Vintage cars (1920 to 1931 type cars)|
|1||Charlie Bishop(GB) / Nellie Bishop(GB)||1925 – Vauxhall 30/98||4250|
|2||Charles Stuart-Menteth(GB) / Sophie Stuart-Menteth(GB)||1924 – Vauxhall 30/98||4224|
|3||Keith Ashworth(GB) / Norah Ashworth(GB)||1927 – Bentley 4½ Le Mans||4500|
|4||Rupert Marks(GB) / Leonie Marks(GB)||1928 – Ford Model A||3300|
|6||Willem Voorvaart(NL) / Susanne Levy(GB)||1928 – Ford Model A||3285|
|7||Bill Cleyndert(GB) / Jacqui Norman(GB)||1928 – Ford Model A||3300|
|8||Jeff Urbina(USA) / Chris Pike(NZ)||1929 – Rolls Royce Phantom I||7668|
|9||Nicholas Phillips(GB) / Barbara Phillips(GB)||1928 – Ford A||3285|
|10||Michael Strasser(A) / Arno Schenk(CH)||1931 – Rolls Royce Phantom I||7668|
|Vintageant cars (1932 to 1941 type cars)|
|11||Paul Hartfield(GB) / Chris Hartfield(GB)||1937 – Packard Super 8 Sedan 120||5240|
|12||Nigel Gambier(GB) / Hugo Upton(GB)||1934 – Lagonda T7||3000|
|14||Jean Steinhauser(LU) / Anne Steinhauser-Collard(LU)||1937 – Bentley Derby Open Tourer||4410|
|15||Tim Eades(USA) / Willie McNickle(USA)||1938 – Chevrolet Fangio Coupe||4000|
|16||Peter Thornton(GB) / Robert Maxted(GB)||1939 – Ford Coupe||4818|
|17||Joe Robillard(USA) / Matt Peckham(USA)||1939 – Chevrolet Coupe||3800|
|18||Jan Pettersson(SE) / Katre-Helena Ibrus(SE)||1940 – Ford Deluxe Coupe||3622|
|19||Richard Thomson(GB) / Paul Dilley(GB)||1940 – Studebaker Coupe||3800|
|Classic cars up to 2Ltr (1942 to 1975)|
|28||Tim Wheatley(GB) / Matthew Wheatley(GB)||1966 – Volvo 122S||1780|
|30||Jose Romao de Sousa(PT) / Maria Romao De Sousa(PT)||1968 – Volvo 142S||1993|
|32||Ludovic Bois(F) / Julia Colman(GB)||1969 – Volvo Amazon||1986|
|37||Nigel Farmer(GB) / Stephen Lovell(GB)||1971 – Ford Escort Mexico Mk1||1601|
|38||Gavin Henderson(GB) / Diana Henderson(GB)||1965 – Porsche 911||1991|
|39||Gianmaria Aghem(I) / Rossella Conti(I)||1971 – Lancia Fulvia Coupe||1584|
|43||Richard Phillipson(GB) / Catherine Phillipson(GB)||1978 – Opel Kadett C Coupe||1990|
|44||Owen Turner(GB) / Rachel Vestey(AUS)||1972 – Austin Mini||1275|
|Classic cars over 2Ltr (1942 to 1975)|
|5||Hok Kiang Sia(MY) / Eric Kuan Rong Sia(MY)||1961 – Mercedes Benz 300d Adenauer||2998|
|20||Luc Maruenda(F) / Ian Robertson(GB)||1953 – Jaguar XK120 (FHC)||3442|
|22||Adrian Hodgson(GB) / Richard Mills(GB)||1970 – Morris 1800 S||1950|
|24||Richard Martin(GB) / Travis Cole(USA)||1959 – Jaguar XK150||3800|
|26||Jan Hradecky(CZ) / Dana Hradecka(CZ)||1965 – Mercedes Benz 230SL||2334|
|31||David Roberts(GB) / Jo Roberts(GB)||1968 – Triumph TR250||2498|
|33||Barry Nash(GB) / Malcolm Lister(GB)||1969 – Rover P5b||3500|
|34||David Hartley(GB) / Stephen Hardwick(GB)||1970 – Datsun 240Z||2393|
|40||Manoj Saxena(USA) / Jesus Mantas(E)||1971 – Datsun 240Z||2393|
|42||Mike Velasco(GB) / Peter St George(AUS)||1971 – Mercedes 280S||2746|
|45||Edmund Peel(GB) / Sara MacDonald(GB)||1973 – Porsche 911||2700|
The Sahara Challenge 2015 – Route Outline
Route Survey News
Over the winter the ERA team was hard at work with the initial route surveys and planning meetings in Morocco and Spain for October’s Sahara Challenge. Early in November, Anthony Preston teamed up with Chris Bruce – a veteran of many previous ERA adventures in Morocco – for the first route survey. Flying in and out of Marrakesh, they spent a busy week exploring many remote mountain roads from Fes in the north to Tafraoute in the southern Atlas and all manner of places in between.
A few weeks later, Anthony headed out to Spain accompanied by Georgina Clark to map out the first few days of the event and also to meet up with our local helpers and fixers in Madrid to start the process of obtaining permissions and other administrative processes.
With the planning behind us the route plan took shape:
Day 1: Toledo to Cordoba. 430 kms
Following advice from our Spanish friends and after our initial route survey, we have decided to move the start of the event to the fabulous medieval city of Toledo. This is a short motorway run of just over an hour from Madrid and we are arranging a car collection point close to Madrid Airport for those who prefer to fly in and have their car transported to the start.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986 for its extensive cultural and monumental heritage, Toledo is an ideal start location. Our base is at the luxurious Parador, located on The Emperor’s Hill and affording wonderful views of this beautiful city.
From Toledo, we strike out south into the lonely roads of Castilla – La Mancha as we make for the Montes de Toledo for the first competitive action of the event. We then pass the mighty Extramaduran Embalses – reservoirs – on fast roads before the day’s action ends with some testing roads in the Cordoban Sierra.
Our home for the first night will be another very comfortable and evocative “Parador on a Hill” – this one overlooking the ancient Moorish city of Cordoba.
Day 2: Cordoba to Tangier. 340 kms
Leaving Cordoba, we quickly get some miles under our belts before taking to the hills of Andalucia for some exciting mountain climbs and fine vistas dotted with the characteristic Pueblos Blancos – white villages.
Our destination for this half day’s run is the ferry from Algeciras and an afternoon sailing across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier and our first experience of the flavours, sights and sounds of the Maghreb. We stay the night in one of Morocco’s luxurious coastal resort hotels on the Malabata Coast, just north of the city.
Day 3: Tangier to Fes. 400 kms
Forsaking the lure of the Mediterranean coast, we push inland as we begin our journey south to the Sahara. This will be a relatively short day with a sprinkling of competitive motoring as we all get accustomed to our new surroundings and the different cultures on offer.
The short drive will also allow us to get to Fes in a reasonable time to allow a visit to the world famous Medina. Our hotel, the 5* Palais Medina, is a short taxi ride away from this labyrinthine cultural adventure.
Day 4: Fes to Ifrane. 320 kms
From Fes, we head east to explore the cedar forested Parc National de Tazekka and the Massif de Tichchoukt – regions that will be largely new to people who have driven this way before. Certainly they are places that we have rarely visited on previous ERA events.
We will enjoy quiet tarmac roads with the odd gravel section thrown in that are full of diversity and interest. One minute, you would swear you were on the testing Monte Carlo Rally roads of the Ardeche but half an hour later you could be mistaken for thinking you were driving through the wide vistas of Montana in the States. So there should be something for everyone on this variety packed day.
Our destination – Ifrane is quite unlike anywhere else in Morocco, more akin to an Alpine resort than the surroundings we have become accustomed to. Our home for the night is the fabulous Michlifen Hotel – simply one of the finest hotels in Morocco following a complete multi-year rebuild since the last time an ERA event came this way.
Day 5: Ifrane to Erfoud. 410 kms
Suitably pampered, we set out on the longest drive of the event as we head south to the Sahara. For the crews using this event as a Peking to Paris shakedown, this will be good preparation for the longer days that are to be expected on that epic adventure.
Leaving Ifrane, we are quickly into the competitive motoring as we wend our way through the Cedar Forests of the high plateau towards Khenifra and then on into the mountains of the High Atlas.
We eventually emerge from the hills in the remote staging post of Rich and from there take the flowing main roads to Erfoud – the “Door to the Desert”, where we stay the night in a fine Kasbah-style resort on the edge of town.
Day 6: Erfoud to Erg Chebbi. 150 kms
After the long day from Ifrane, we enjoy a much later start for a short but action packed desert day to the edges of the Sahara with four dramatic tests in the shadow of the mighty Erg Chebbi dunes. The first test is followed by an exotic Palmerie lunch break at Tissardmine before the action really gets going with the Derriere des Dunes test including some unavoidable soft sand patches to test the particpants mettle. 4x4s will be on standby to help any crews unfortunate enough to become stuck.
A visit to an extraordinary car museum and a couple more desert tests round out the day’s rallying before we reach the very special overnight halt at our Erg Chebbi desert camp. There should just about be time for a camel ride or even some quad bike driving for the motoring addicts before dinner under starlit skies. We know the campfire chatter is going to be animated tonight. The day should be a fantastic experience on its own and what better introduction to desert driving and camping for those preparing for Mongolia on next year’s Peking to Paris….. although tonight it will be more like ‘glamping’ as crews don’t have to pitch their own tents on this event.
Day 7: Erg Chebbi to Ouarzazate. 460 kms
Having “enjoyed” a night under the stars, we begin the seventh day with a further desert test before heading north to explore the hidden gorges and canyons of the Middle Atlas. These culminate with a run through the spectacular Todra Gorge, where Indiana Jones once galloped on horseback…
From there, we make our way along the southern flanks of the Atlas Mountaims via a series of attractive Kasbah towns to the bustling town of Ouarzazate – nicknamed Ouallywood as it is the home of the famous Atlas Film Studios. We stop the night in the luxurious Berbere Palace Hotel, where the film stars usually hang out…
Day 8: Ouarzazate to Tafraoute. 400 kms
An early morning test section should provide the necessary wake-up call before a long run west on good roads through some spectacular desert vistas. We are heading off the regular tourist trail and making for a little explored area of Morocco – the Anti-Atlas Mountains around Tafraoute. Our route winds its way into the hills on good tarmac roads with many a photo opportunity on the way and one or two timed sections for us to enjoy.
On arrival to Tafraoute – the almond capital of Morocco, we take a detour to visit the unique Pierres Peintes – painted rocks, one of the area’s must-see attractions.
Our overnight hotel is a bit more rustic than some of our previous stays but is the “best place in town” and the perfect spot to enjoy the tranquillity of this mountain oasis with the setting sun providing an atmospheric backdrop as it lights the surrounding hills in a riot of colour.
Day 9: Tafraoute to Marrakesh. 480 kms
Leaving Tafraoute, it is straight into the action as we head north through the Anti-Atlas via a series of testing climbs and descents on empty roads with only the occasional herd of goats to slow progress. This is the Morocco of old… and should provide a few hours of pleasurable motoring to start the day.
We then cross the plains of the Tifnout Valley before taking to the hills again for further sections through the Western Atlas mountains en route to Marrakesh – that most evocative of Morroccan destinations since the Sixties.
Our hotel for the next two nights is the luxurious Sofitel located in the pleasant Hivernage district, just a stone’s throw from the main action. Encircled by salmon-pink ramparts, the heart of Marrakesh is a heady mix of mysterious labyrinthine medina, hidden palaces and atmospheric bazaars virtually unchanged since the Middle Ages. At its centre is the Djemaa al Fna, where you can wander amid the hustle and bustle of the world’s most exuberant marketplace.
Day 10: Marrakesh to Marrakesh. 180 kms
Rounding off the event, we enjoy a short half day of competition in the mountains south of Marrakesh before returning for the grand finish and evening Gala Prizegiving.
We start the action before even leaving the city limits with a couple of laps around the local race circuit followed by an easy run along the Ourika Valley and on to a “sting in the tail” with a string of fabulous tarmac roads that wend their way through the Toubkal Mountains to Asni.
A chance for a quick breather in Ouirgane precedes the final competitive sections near Takerkoust before returning to Marrakesh to celebrate what has hopefully been another epic ERA adventure…
Day 0 – Pre-start in Toledo
The last Rally of a very busy year for the ERA is about to start.
Nearly forty crews are here in the ancient Spanish city of Toledo for the start of the ERA Sahara Challenge, that over the next ten days will take them south through Spain to Cordoba and on over the Straits of Gibraltar to Marrakesh in Morocco. The mighty Atlas Mountains and the vast Sahara desert will no doubt become the crucible in which many personal rally legends will be forged.
This afternoon the carpark of the exquisite Parador de Toledo was transformed from a sleepy scenic viewing point into a hive of frantic pre-rally activity. High above the Tajo River, within the elegant three-sided courtyard of this magnificent old hotel, the sweep crews of Andy Inskip, Tony Jones, Andy Actman and Simon Ayris were seconded temporarily to carry out scrutineering duties for the competing crews that will be flagged away tomorrow morning. Among many other formalities, fire extinguishers were checked, lighting was inspected and documents were issued before all the cars were signed off as being fit for purpose.
There’s a fabulous mix of cars on the start list, from the oldest, the well-travelled 1925 Vauxhall 30/98 of Charles and Nellie Bishop, to the newest, a 1984 Renault 4GTL driven by Rupert Marks. In between there is all manner of motoring exotica including our smallest vehicle, a 1972 Austin Mini driven by sometime ERA sweep mechanic Owen Turner along with Rachel Vestey on the maps. The word is that two weeks ago this car was nothing more than a bare bodyshell and to the best of our memory it’s the first time in recent years that we’ve had a Mini so we’re all very keen to see how it acquits itself. At the opposite extreme, the ‘big car’ contingent includes a Bentley Le Mans, two Rolls Royce Phantoms and a mighty Mercedes 300d Adenauer that has come all the way from Malaysia.
It’s great to great to see so many old friends here again and to welcome an interesting selection of new ones as well. The list of well-travelled crews is too numerous to list suffice to say that we have representation from competitors who have criss-crossed the world us on previous ERA events from London to Cape Town, Peking to Paris and across the Americas on the Trans America and Cape Horn Challenges.
There were a few dramas in the car park as the cars rolled off their trailers and growled up the driveway. The sweep mechanics reported dealing with plenty of minor and some not so minor electrical issues. Among other difficulties Nicholas Phillips was seen wrestling with a recalcitrant carburettor on his newly acquired Ford Model A but the biggest disappointment was felt by Paul and Chris Hartfield who had already ‘sat out’ the Trans America Rally in a Land Rover 4×4 because their Packard Super 8 wasn’t quite ready. Today they found that this very same car had a damaged wheel bearing that could quite possibly mean that they won’t be able to take the start in this event. We’ll know more in the morning.
The measured distance was put to good use with many crews taking more than one lap of the course to fine tune their trip meter calibration until satisfied that they had it spot on.
Once all the frantic car park activity shut down for the night and crews scrubbed themselves clean it was time for the pre-event welcome drinks and a rally briefing held on the hotel terrace by rally director Fred Gallagher and joint Clerks of the Course Georgina Clark and Anthony Preston. An excellent dinner of smoked salmon and duck with a few bottles of very agreeable Vino Tinto followed as the Rally relaxed with the stunning night-time panorama of Toledo twinkling far below.
There’s a gentle 08:30am start tomorrow morning as we point our noses south towards the ancient city of Cordoba, the onetime capital of the Islamic Caliphate way back in the 8th Century.
Day 1 – Toledo to Cordoba
Cold pressed extra virgin. Never has an Endurance Rally Association event seen so many olives.
Dawn comes late at this latitude so it was in the blue grey dawn that the last minute tinkering, packing and adjusting was carried out by the light of one hundred head torches in the carpark of the Parador Toledo.
Overnight rain had made the cobblestones slippy and the resultant cool damp atmosphere made some of the cars a little more reluctant to fire up. But fire they did and as the light levels rose so did the barking, popping and roaring of rally. It was also a blustery start to the day and our very own arch maestro, Jim Smith, had to keep a tight rein on his overinflated charge as Rally Director Fred Gallagher waved the cars through it with “la Rojigualda”. Truly this was a five star send off for the last hurrah of 2015.
The first Regularity of the day came within 16km of the start. But even getting to the start of this section proved tricky for some crews as we witnessed more than one wrong slot on the way out of Toledo and into the countryside. No matter though there was enough time in hand to absorb any minor navigational errors on the way although by its very nature the short gravel based Regularity itself was a pretty unforgiving start to proceedings.
From here the road twisted and turned its way through miles of olive groves (heavy with fruit) and sleepy towns as all around us we felt the full force of nature. These olive groves gave way to almonds as the road climbed upwards, along and over the Rio Pusa to the passage control in Piedraescrita where the gravel started once again.
Any weakness in either the steering or the braking department would have been shown up by now and most of the drivers were enjoying a full upper body workout as they manhandled their machines along a tight and rocky corniche.
Meanwhile, clouds; heavy black and pendulous loomed large in both our rear view mirror and the windscreen and, the accompanying strong crosswinds gave the open top crews something of the Donald Trump makeover by the time they rolled into the coffee halt and time control in Sevilleja de la Jara where we enjoyed a delicious infusion of fruit tea.
From here there was short test on the old road to Antigua Carretera before the long run to an excellent lunch of cod or pork at the Pueblo de Alcocer at an altitude of 628m in La Alacena del Castillo.
Satisfactorily fed and watered the Rally was properly equipped to tackle the afternoon’s driving over the plains and rolling hills of Castilla La Mancha and Andalusia. There was gravel, naturally but there was also a Regularity. This time a Tarmac one looping for some 14km through the woodland and olive groves around Villaviciosa in and out of the mist which hung from the hillsides and the mountain tops all around us. This led us pretty much to our night halt at the Parador de Cordoba where the crews were able to catch up with themselves and the necessary spannering needed to keep a rally car on the road.
It has been a great first day for most but sadly there were some problems out on the road. As feared Paul and Chris Hartfield weren’t able to start. They’ve gone to look for some spares for the Packard and we’ve got our fingers crossed. The two Datsun 240z’s suffered with a bit of ‘rough running’ today but the sweeps are keeping an eye on them and trying the obvious things first like swapping and cleaning air filters. The Model A Ford of first time Rallyists Willem Voorvaart and Susanne Levy broke a fan which was swiftly attended to by the AA sweep Time of Simon Ayris an Andy Actman.
We’ve got an early start tomorrow as we head out of Europe and into Africa.
Day 2 – Cordoba to Algeciras and Tangier – The rain in Spain falls mainly on.
Eat your words Eliza Doolittle. We had rain on the plain and in the mountains …..and lots of it.
Never mind being up with the larks, this morning it was a case of keeping some very soggy owls company. To make sure the Rally reached the ferry to Morocco in good time here was an early start at a time when the torrential overnight rain had become a mere intermittent but very annoying drizzle.
The roads may have been damp but spirits were still high helped no doubt by an excellent Parador breakfast.
There was 122km of fast road to get us to the first Regularity on the Puerto del Zamorano, which was a sinuous, mainly tarmac, hill climb that included the briefest excursion onto the gravel which caused a herd of wild boar to scatter as we approached. They weren’t expecting to see us and the sentiment was mutual.
None of the crews bar one managed to keep a clean sheet through this slippery little section however, indeed our overnight leaders Jean and Anne Steinhauser in their Bentley Derby and Owen Turner and Rachel Vestey in the Mini lost three and one seconds respectively. It was the Mercedes of Mike Velasco and Peter St George however who showed them all how it was done.
Coffee, regular or decaffeinated if you preferred was taken in the Hostal El Cortijo amidst dozens of hanging hams, slowly maturing and marking time by dripping their excess fat into their conical collecting cups below.
Then, the second regularity and here the route designer, Anthony Preston, did us proud having found the Puerto de las Paloma in the Sierra Margarita. Rising to beyond 1,200m from the village of Zahara de La Sierra the views from this rocky and precipitous road would have been stunning if it wasn’t for the cloud / mist / rain / fog which covered the whole mountain for most of the morning.
Eagles soared high above us but given the weather situation we wouldn’t have been surprised of a penguin had waddled across the road.
This was a tough climb indeed and by the top of it only Owen Turner and Rachel Vestey along with Mike Velasco and Peter St George managed to stay penalty free.
From the top of the Regularity section there only remained the San Roque Time Control before we turned our attention to the other important business of the day, the ferry crossing. And, as we plunged through thick cork forests towards the coast the weather began to clear and some blue sky made a welcome appearance.
Everyone who should have made the 3.00pm sailing did so except for the Rolls Royce of Michael Strasser and Arno Schenk who had lost their engine fan at the start of the day and had to divert to find a new one. It’s almost certain that they’ll rejoin us tonight and take the start tomorrow.
The crossing to the new port of Tanger Med was a mere two hours and in no time at all we found ourselves on the African continent and heading west towards Tangier and the Movenpick Hotel complete with a sumptuous poolside buffet.
Tonight then we have a slightly different leaderboard. The Turner / Vestey Mini still leads the classic category but Mike Velasco and Peter St George are in second place with David and Jo Roberts sitting pretty in third in their TriumphTR250. In the Vintageant category Jean and Anne Steinhauser hold the high ground with Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman in second place. Jo Robillard and Matt Peckham are looking good in third place in their yellow Chevy.
Tomorrow we’re off to Fes.
Day 3 – Tangier to Fes – Heaven Scent
An action packed schedule had been set for the first full day in Morocco. We were to take in a test, an Atlas time control section and a regularity on the way down to Fes.
The first action came within 18km of leaving the hotel, the Wind Farm test also known as the Route des Eoliennes. This was a fantastic gravel hill climb set among the massive steel pylons and the whirling blades of the generating sets.
As well as a great view we were treated to the delicious scent of acres of wild herbs, mint, thyme and sage, it was at times like walking through a kitchen garden.
This was a section well suited to the Porsches and both Gavin and Diana Henderson and Edmund Peel and Sarah McDonald seemed to be flying up the slope although in the final reckoning it was the Mighty Mini of Turner and Vestey who took the laurels once again. The Vintageants were led home by Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman in the silver Model A who really seem to have got the bit between their teeth now.
From here the Rally turned south, through the Rif mountains to another agreeable coffee halt in Chefchaouen whereafter the route rolled over the bridge at Pont de Loukkos which historically separated the two parts of Morocco. The French side and the Spanish side.
Soon after taking in this little piece of history, it was back into hills for the first Atlas time control section and on the way there we passed through more stunning scenery, sleepy villages and donkeys carrying water to remote farmhouses up seemingly impossible slopes, a crowd of cheering schoolchildren had even turned out in one town to wave the Rally through.
Once through the mountains and the Atlas section we passed through the town of Ouazzane where turkeys and guinea fowl shared the road with us.
Shortly afterwards we came upon Richard and Catherine Phillipson who’d lost a mounting bolt for one of the rear brake calipers of their Opel Kadett. As Catherine pointed out, “There are worse places to be stuck. There’s coffee toilets and clean flat concrete to set the jack on”. They didn’t have a bolt to fit in their spares kit and despite the efforts of one time sweep Jim Allen they had to wait until Andy Inskip arrived with his big bag of nuts and bolts before they could get back in the road.
One of the cultural highlights of the day was a visit to Volubilis and the Roman ruins. Crews were allowed some time away from the wheel to take in the sights of this ancient monument now in ruins but still well worth a visit.
Morocco takes road safety very seriously and has invested a considerable amount of time money and effort in policing the highways and byways of this fine country. Today we saw this in action and the Rally encountered more radar activity than Heathrow airport on an August Bank Holiday.
It’s been a day of mixed fortune for some of our crews. Michael Strasser and Arno Schenk have retired their Rolls Royce due to another issue with the fan. Jan Pettersson and Katre Helena Ibrus are looking for brake pads for their Ford. Peter Thornton and Robert Maxted have retired after their Ford Coupe had a slight altercation with an earth bank while avoiding a local bus that was on the wrong side of the road and Nicholas and Barbara Philips were slightly delayed when one of the wheels on their Ford Model A collapsed.
Charles and Nicola Stuart Menteth arrived at the night halt on the end of a tow rope due to clutch failure. Andy Inskip and Tony Jones were in attendance and there is hope that they’ll be able to restart later in the morning.
The Classic category leader board now stands with Owen Turner and Rachel Vestey still leading by eleven seconds from the evergreen Gianmaria Aghem and Rossella Conti in their bright red Lancia Italia. Ludovic Bois and Julia Coleman now hold third place in their Volvo Amazon. Jean and Anne Steinhauser lead from Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman in the Vintageants with Jo Robillard and Matt Peckham still in third.
The Hotel Palais Medina served up another Moroccan feast this evening and after dinner many crews were seen departing for bright lights of downtown Fes.
There’s a later start tomorrow so they might just get away with it.
Day 4 – Fes to Ifrane – Higher and higher
So, today was billed as an easy day with a very welcome 9.00am start before we enjoyed a good & fast – but don’t forget the Traffic Police – run out of Fes on a brand new autoroute. We were just about the only traffic on it and most crews felt that it was 16 Dirhams well spent to knock off something like 55km from the day’s total of 347km.
Once off the autoroute we headed straight for the Atlas Section and started climbing through a dramatic red sandstone gorge pocked with high level caves populated by birds.
The road was good if narrow and in no time at all we were in the Jael Tazzeka National Park. We corkscrewed upwards and onwards through hairpin after hairpin running through a thick and wild looking cork tree plantation before we popped out at the top at almost 1,000 m.
We kept a lookout for the resident Barbary apes and leopards in the cedar trees but most of the drivers sensibly only had eyes for the road which really gave a rollercoaster ride.
The broken Tarmac, the altitude (1489 m) and the mist shrouded hills gave this morning an epic and eerie feel. Certainly it’s a sparsely populated area but as we made our way down from the hills we traversed a dry rocky plateau with mud brick and tin houses served by donkeys carrying firewood and water as they have done for centuries.
Gradually the landscape softened and we found ourselves driving through fields of recently harvested onions neatly piled into rows waiting to be collected. Apples were also being picked and loaded into ancient wooden crates.
This Rally was partly billed as a Peking to Paris shakedown and today it certainly lived up to its billing. The stunning Mongolia like landscape of the 2000 m. high Almis du Guigou plateau was as challenging as anything we’ve ever seen in Central Asia and most crews pulled into the end of test time control with grins as wide as the views.
Sadly though this sort of terrain didn’t suit the smallest car on the Rally. Rachael Vestey and Owen Turner are now pretty much out of the running for a win. Their rear suspension collapsed on this, the last test of the day but with the help of the AA – Actman-Ayris – sweep team they scraped into the night halt time control to begin the night shift of car repairs.
As a result of the day’s action the leaderboard has changed somewhat. The Classics category has had a total shake up with Mike Velasco and Peter St George now leading from Ludovic Bois and Julia Colman whilst Nigel Farmer and Stephen Lovell steered their Ford Escort Mexico Mk1 into third spot.
Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman now lead the Vintageants in their silver bullet Ford Model A whilst Jean and Anne Steinhauser drop to second. Joe Robillard and Matt Peckham riding high in the big yellow beast of a Chevrolet Coupe sit in third.
It’s great to see Paul and Chris Hartfield back with us. They’ve pulled off an heroic bit of fettling fixing and chasing to get their Packard this far. There’s still a bit of work to do on the car but they reckon that they can sort these ‘minor’ issues out en route. There’s a slight oil leak, a slightly worse after leak and a dodgy wheel bearing. By the time they get to Marrakech it’ll be as good as new.
Charles and Sophie Stuart-Menteth have sorted their clutch and are back with the pack. Similarly we welcome Michael Strasser and Arno Schenk who are now travelling in a Dacia rental car following the demise of their Rolls Royce.
Our hotel for his evening is the stunning Michlifen Suites & Spa. Like the rest of the town of Ifrane it has a very European Alpine feel to it and the bar is certainly as well stocked as any apres ski establishment.
When we finally sat down to dinner we were entertained late into the night with an accomplished cabaret duo supplemented by an impromptu and splendidly artistic baton twirling display by the Mercedes Adenauer co-driver Eric Sia.
Tomorrow we journey through more cedar forests on the way to the edge of the Sahara at Erfoud.
Day 5 –Ifrane to Erfoud – On top of the world
“We’re loving it. We just came for the experience. We’re total rookies. You could come here in a Range Rover and drive the same roads but it just wouldn’t be the same. Being in a classic car….. there’s more of a connection with the country and the people.” Jo Robillard. Chevy Coupe.
So as today dawned we began the difficult process of dragging ourselves out of the five star bosom of the Michlifen Suites & Spa to begin the journey to the desert. Breakfast was every bit as good as last night’s dinner although there was no cabaret which gave us a chance to chat and, Luc Maruenda – Jaguar XK150 – spoke to us briefly over a mint tea and a muffin and reported that whilst he’d had a fantastic day yesterday he was waiting for his mechanic to phone and ask what the ‘hell was he doing with that beautiful car.’
Despite the fact that we were heading for the heat, the Rally enjoyed a chilly start to the day as it passed through orchards filled with cherry trees and camp sites! This is of course a very European part of Africa, which was further reinforced by the a rocky and broken Cevennes like landscape. Overhanging branches slapped the windscreens as the cars crunched their way through a tunnel of trees; the last ones we’d see for quite a while. Lichen and moss evidenced the altitude and the dampness which must hang here.
Ramshackle farmsteads with tiny strips of rocky earth under cultivation sat behind ancient roadside aqueducts which were full of clean clear running water. On the way through this Shangri-La, Mansoor Khan and Matt Wordsworth were lucky enough to see a troop of Barbary apes going about their (monkey) business and, at his lonely time control, Rally Director Fred Gallagher broke out the primate repellent spray.
The first section, an Atlas one no less was rocky and demanding in places. Speed had to be judged against car preservation to arrive at the next control within the required minute.
Our overnight leaders, Mike Velasco and Peter St George however were trailing the field early on because of a simple navigational error which sent them spiralling down the field. They looked a bit sheepish as they pulled into the timing point, but they’re both tough old ex P2P warriors and they’ll take it on the chin and dust themselves off.
Dana Hradecky also made an error or two during the following regularity and coming into lunch she exclaimed “Today I’m all over the place. Call me Peter Pan”. Rachael Vestey and Owen Turner had more Mini problems in the morning and were last seen parked up and looking for spares. David and Jo Roberts were also late through Atlas section because of a dodgy gearbox but made it into lunch in plenty of time for the delicious couscous, tagine and roast chicken with olives.
We were well above 2000 m for most of the morning and after the Atlas section we enjoyed a wide and fast flowing gravel track which was a real taste of things to come. It was a real shame then that we had to rejoin the boring old blacktop for the run to the regularity at the Pays d’Itzer.
The Patagonian coffee and fishing party comprising Charles and Nellie Bishop, Barbara and Nicholas Philips along with Hugo Upton and Nigel Gambier had assembled just before lunch down by a muddy oued but hadn’t even bothered to get their rods out.
Lunch for the Rally was taken in the Hotel Taddart in Midelt. The last time the ERA was here was in 2009 during the London – Casablanca Rally and was good to be back even if it was only for an hour.
The excellent main road out of the lunch halt saw us continue our heading south and east over the 1907m. Col du Zad and then through the Tunnel du Legionnaire, before arriving at the Gorges de Ziz both forming part of an old French military road network used to ferry troops to and from the frontier. We passed many roadside fossil sellers alongside stalls piled high with dates and glazed clay tagines.
There was a Time Control at Errachidia, a neat and well ordered large town with public gardens, traffic lights and snooker club but as far as fun and games are concerned the highlight of the afternoon was the Ziz test. A short one at less than 3km this desert piste, at the gateway to the Sahara was a real blast and one of the ERA team, a Paris-Dakar veteran no less was heard to mutter, “Now this is what it’s all about”.
Gian Maria Aghem, in his hard charging Lancia was seen galloping up behind the Austin 1800 of Adrian Hodgson and Richard Mills before the latter spun off and shredded a tyre. Gavin Henderson locked up temporarily and sent plumes of fine red dust skywards although his wife Diana remarked that most of it ended flying up her nose.
The drive from the test was also a delight. A narrow road clung to a rocky cliff face, threaded its way alongside an oasis and pushed through a bustling village full of exquisitely dressed locals with smiling and waving children. A hairdresser and cycle repair shop marked this out as a village of some significance.
As we approached Erfoud, the gateway to the Sahara, we also saw our first sand dunes with the sun setting above them. There’ll be plenty more to come in the next few days, but these ones looked pretty good to us.
The hotel carpark was a hive of activity this evening. Richard Martin, happy with his Jag’ nevertheless feels it’s a bit too low for what we’re doing here. “The old girls taken quite a beating but she’s still going strong” he remarked whilst carrying out the daily spanner checks.
David Hartley and Stephen Hardwick discovered that their Datsun 240z had lost a bolt for the sump guard. As reported earlier, David Roberts has suspected gearbox issues and Keith Ashworth is rushing to finish the daily checks on his Bentley to lend a hand.
This is a tough Rally and after a day like this the Classics leader board has changed once again. Nigel Farmer and Stephen Lovell in the throaty Ford Escort Mexico lead from Ludovic Bois and Julia Colman in their Volvo Amazon whilst Richard Martin and Travis Cole are third in their Jaguar XK150.
Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman still lead the Vintageants in their Ford Model A whilst Jean and Anne Steinhauser hold onto second place. Joe Robillard and Matt Peckham are still enjoying the ride in third.
Our hotel this evening is the fabulous Kasbah Xaluca which is a real life Arabian Nights style compound. It’s stuffed full of overland travellers, motorcyclists and quad bikers. There’s a pool, an excellent restaurant and a bar ……..
Finally. A big thanks to our Rally doctors Mansoor Khan and Matt Wordsworth for stepping in and helping with a local traffic accident before the Moroccan emergency services arrived. One of our local agents was on hand also helping with the barrier. Well done to all.
Day 6 – Erfoud to Erg Chebbi – We’ve come over all Beau Geste
There’s something about a Saharan dawn that brings out the legionnaire in all of us and as a result most were up and about and on parade quite early, even though there was a late start today…. 11.30 to be precise which gave crews time to swim / fix cars / do laundry / sleep in (delete appropriate).
Barbara and Nicholas Philips took the first option. David Roberts had taken the second. In fact he and Keith Ashworth and the sweep teams had worked long into the night trying to get to the bottom of the trouble with the Triumph.
The feeling was good by the time they packed away their tools and this morning, well before breakfast, David along with Andy Inskip took the TR on a test ride. Fingers crossed that they’ve sorted it.
We also learned over breakfast that Luc Maruenda and Ian Robertson arrived late last night because they’d broken a fuel line. A little local expertise saw them pulling into the Kasbah compound just as dinner was drawing to an end. Better late than never as we say.
Once we started rolling down the road, alongside women clinging to the back of motorcycles swathed in jet black abaya’s billowing in the wind we could see just how much this part of Morocco was so very different from all we’d seen before.
We’ve swapped olive trees for date palms for example as the most abundant vegetation and around here the fossil industry is alive and well here as is the camel milk cafe trade. We were heading to an oasis for a barbecue lunch though so we didn’t need anything from the latter establishments.
Before we could eat though there was a Test to negotiate with a little navigation thrown in to keep the occupants of the second seat on their toes – so to speak – as camels, oasis and…. telecoms masts flashed past. How the modern world is encroaching.
The fishing party had also set up an impromptu mid-morning halt complete with parasols Tuareg head dress and cigars. A Vauxhall, a Model A and a Lagonda made a fine sight pulled round in a rough arc in the middle of nowhere.
Lunch itself was a fine affair set among the shady palms. Cars were parked up some 400 metres across a dry Oued which ran deep with sand rather than water. This was really only passable by a 4×4 but Bill ‘hang onto your hat’ Cleyndert gamely offered to ferry Rally Director Fred Gallagher across. It was not that Fred minded the walk it was more that Fred couldn’t wait to get to sit in Betsy, the Silver Bullet. With a lot of bouncing, grunting and creaking all three of them made it.
The afternoon was given over to the Erg Chebbi desert experience. Anthony Preston, route designer and Clerk of the Course had written a note in the route book that teaching someone how to drive in sand could not taught with a few words. It’s a case of doing it yourself and learning from your mistakes. With this advice ringing in their ears then the crews set out into the dunes to slalom their way through three tests and a lot of soft sand. It was going to be a tough few hours for some, but one that would surely live long in the memory.
Local 4×4 vehicles had been stationed at regular points along the route to help anyone who found themselves stuck and, by and large they were keep pretty busy although Willemen Voorvart and Susanne Levy driving their Model A chugged on through without so much as a hiccup. The two Porsche’s of Edmund Peel and Sarah MacDonald and Gavin and Diana Henderson fairly flew across it, their Tutuhill engines screaming defiance in the face of the sinking soft stuff.
Sia and Eric in their Mercedes 300d made it look all too easy as did Keith Ashworth and Jean Steinhauser in their respective Bentley’s.
Owen Turner and Rachel Vestey however, who are back with us after having some Mini parts for their rear suspension fabricated locally. Unfortunately they bogged down mid-way through one particular section. Ground clearance and small wheels stacked the odds against themselves somewhat.
At the end of the Rally day we were taken back into the dunes on another form of transport. A camel trek through the dunes had been organised to watch the impressive sunset with a beer or a gin and tonic. This proved to be the perfect way to round off a perfect day.
Tonight we were supposed to be camping but, on arrival at the campsite we realised that we’d been misled. We were actually glamping. In a fold of the orange tinged dunes a tented village had been set up. Individual tents were furnished with a sofa, beds, a wash stand, mains electricity, carpets and en suite shower and toilet. Dinner was served under a canvas canopy whilst local musicians drummed and sang outside.
After such a day as this there have been some changes to the leaderboard.
Mike Velasco and Peter St George really have the bit between their teeth now after their setback yesterday and are tied to teh second with Gianmaria Aghem and Rosella Conti for first equal in the Classics category whilst Ludovic Bois and Julia Coleman sit in third.
The Vintageants are still being headed up by Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman with Jean and Anne Steinhauser in second in their Bentley Derby. The Ashworth Bentley has moved up to third as Jo Robillard dropped time today due to a broken suspension arm on his Chevy. He’s still running car needs a little work this evening.
Day 7 – Erg Chebbi to Ouarzazate – Simply Gorge-ous
Today we turned out of the desert and hit the mountains again taking in the beautiful but relatively unknown Gorges d’Amellago in the Ait Morrhad range and the equally impressive but much more famous Todra Gorge.
At precisely 5.30 am the camp generator was fired up and the lights came on. At this rude reveille, 80 or so bleary eyed souls stirred themselves from their beds, performed whatever ablutions were necessary – in the en-suite luxury of their tent – and filed almost monastically, under the blue black star filled sky to breakfast. It was a good breakfast from the same crew who’d supplied last night’s feast although thankfully they’d left the drummers and the dancers behind. We got in line at the omelette station but it was a case of eggs sunny side up for Chicago native Willie McNickle.
As the Rally pulled out of the campsite and the sun poked its head over the dunes directly behind them, the crews were presented with a short and relatively easy test within the first kilometre. This led them via a series of gravel tracks back to the tarmac and to the morning time control in Goulmima manned by Nikki Bannister and Jim Smith. This cafe supplied us with excellent coffee, tea and the best internet connection this side of the Atlas Mountains. Maroc Telecom we salute you.
If yesterday was all about sand, today could be said to be all about water as we crossed many oueds in the first of our gorges. Full and fast flowing they provided a much needed underbody wash for many of the cars and a little bit of fun for the drivers too.
Manoj Saxena was certainly enjoying them and was seen to attack them with some gusto. Some young boys fishing by the side of one them saw their quarry pretty much thrown out of the water and into their baskets such was the velocity of the 240Z.
Within a short while though the Datsun was seen stopped by the side of the road with some “sand” in the distributor but Jesus – the navigator not the deity – had it running again with barely a minute lost.
Further down the road and just after another oued we saw the same car stopped for a second time with ‘water in the works’ and again. Further down the road and just after another oued we saw the same car stopped for a third time with a wet condenser and a failed fuel pump!
Catherine Phillipson also suffered with the water today. Richard had gunned the Kadett into one of the deeper oueds sending a jet of water straight into the cabin. Some 10 km up the road we found them with a puncture and pair of very wet trousers.
The Atlas Section at Sidi Bou Yacoub, a rugged plateau sitting at around 2000 m, was another great piece of driving road. No towns, no people – just the road ahead for the driver to concentrate on. The navigator had the views to take in.
With the fun and games of the morning over, most crews had worked up quite an appetite by the time that they arrived at the Todra Gorge lunch halt via many tumbledown villages filled with freshly cut maize cobs drying on the roofs of the mud walled houses.
This area is an old ERA stamping ground but our original hotel of choice for lunch had, we discovered during the recce, been flattened by an enormous boulder falling from the cliff. Nevertheless the replacement Kasbah Taborihte did themselves proud and the entire Rally left feeling fully refuelled.
There was a relatively straightforward afternoon in store with only one Regularity to upset the digestion and the sun was high in the sky as the crews set off for Tamesraoute. If Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman were feeling the pressure of leading then they didn’t show it as they lined up to take the start. Similarly, Mike Velasco and Peter St George seemed to be pretty composed.
The village children turned in force cheering the cars through and we traded pens for pomegranates and the view from the top of the hill was lovely. An oasis, a village and a grove of fruit trees set a picture perfect scene for what was quite a tricky navigational exercise with many changes of direction coming in short order. We sat back and watched as more than one crew rolled themselves backwards down the wrong hill to make the right turn up the correct hill before both tracks eventually met at the top.
From the end of this section there was good tarmac all the way to Le Berbere Palace hotel in Ouarzazate which is the capital of the Moroccan film industry.
As for our own stars there’s been a slight change to the top billing.
The Vintageant category hasn’t changed and is still being led by Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman with Jean and Anne Steinhauser in second place. Keith and Norah Ashworth are still in third.
The Classics though have had another slight shakeup. Gianmaria Aghem and Rosella Conti now hold top spot having pulled eight seconds clear of Mike Velasco and Peter St George. Ludovic Bois and Julia Coleman hold third but with only 19 seconds covering these three cars all is yet to play for.
Tomorrow we roll out to Tafraoute.
Day 8 – Ouarzazate to Tafraoute – The Berber on the Hill
What a day! We crossed from the Hollywood glamour and glitz of Ouarzazate to the more authentic Tafraoute, a small town in the Anti Atlas Mountains, the heartland of the Moroccan Berber culture.
There was also a lot of ground to cover and we hit it running with the first Test of the day held on the wide flat plain behind the film studios with the mountains looming large in the windscreen.
It was indeed a magnificent setting and you could say that we were seeing it in widescreen HD. It was a short section though with a couple of tricky ‘dips’ to negotiate. The low slung Jaguars crept carefully over them while the bigger bolder Chevy’s laughed them off even grabbing a little ‘air time’ of their own. Jo Robillard thinks that ‘having this much fun shouldn’t be legal’.
Once all were safely through the Rally struck back to the blacktop past the film studios and the piles of smashed props lying abandoned by the side of the track.
Gianmaria Aghem, the overnight leader was obviously inspired by the surroundings to make his own movie and stopped just after the Test to turn off his GoPro camera.
Further down the track we came across Charlie Bishop who had broken a spare wheel mounting. While Barbara and Nicholas Philips’ Model A was sitting a bit lop sided with a broken leaf spring. Andy Inskip and Tony Jones were soon on the scene and set to with trolley jack and spanner. The media crew offered green tea and sympathy and recorded the event for posterity.
Along the route today there was plenty of crockery on sale and the colours of the glaze contrasted beautifully with the blue sky and almost ochre coloured earth. If you needed a new tagine then today was the day to commit.
We also passed the gas station made famous by the movie, The Hills have Eyes. It’s a recreation of a 1950’s style American roadside diner and was used as a set in the film. We last visited for free in 2009 during the London to Casablanca Rally but it seems to have been appropriated by “locals” who now want to charge admission to either enter or photograph it. Soon we arrived at lunch in a real Moroccan diner, the Auberge Le Safran in Taliouine. This is an important saffron growing area so they know a thing or two about flavours here and the food was once again superb. And, like all good restaurants in this part of the world they had an excellent mint tea on offer in two different variations. A sweet one and a really sweet one.
After lunch there was an Atlas section to be enjoyed but getting to it was an event in itself. Around the town of Igherm there were many deviations and rocky river crossings because of the devastating floods of one year ago. Whole bridges had been washed away in some places. The road, twisting and steep sometimes took us past many of the typical mud brick villages seemingly clinging to the cliff. Today is Monday so the children are at school but in their place, old men waved, smiled and nodded as the cars filed through. Foreigners are made to feel very welcome here and the locals do like a bit of interaction with the outside world and today we traded a pomegranate for a picture.
Paul and Chris Hartfield in the Packard lost their brakes on this uphill section but the AA – Actman & Ayris – sweep team was soon on the scene and managed to get them to the hotel for the evening but the car will need more attention tonight as tomorrow there’s a lot of downhill.
The Atlas section itself was 17km of timed to the minute pressing on. Uphill, downhill and round and around. This was really a ‘wild road’ set against a background of warm pink hills folded into soft curves as impressive as anything we’ve seen so far.
Sadly, Manoj Saxena and Jesus Mantas never got to this stage of the Rally, they look to be out of it with a broken front axle.
With only two competitive sections today it was never going to be a day when the results were turned on their head and indeed the Vintageants leaderboard stays as it was last night and is still being led by Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman with Jean and Anne Steinhauser in second place. Keith and Norah Ashworth hold third.
The Classic category though has had a movement, Gianmaria Aghem and Rosella Conti still hold top spot from Mike Velasco and Peter St George but the Tuthill Porsche 911 of Edmund Peel and Sarah MacDonald has crept up to third.
Ludovic Bois and Julia Coleman drop to fourth but as they sat down to dinner this evening they were sanguine about losing their third place. Ludovic simply puts it down to ‘the Porsche, he has 300bhp so he’s quick’ …… ‘but maybe not so good on the navigation’ he added supportively.
At the night halt, The Hotel Les Amandiers the talk in the bar has now turned to the end game. There are only two days left in what has been an exceptional Rally and those podium places are proving to be very tricky to nail down.
Tomorrow, we leave the hills and head down to Marrakesh.
Day 9 – Tafraoute to Marrakesh
The last full day on the road and by coincidence also the longest one, with a full 487km of Morocco to get through before we hit Marrakesh.
A slight end of term atmosphere hung over the breakfast room this morning, the age old pull of Marrakech is as strong as it ever was, and like a magnet it was drawing us to it. The fact that we knew we were heading for the swankiest hotel in town for two full nights might also have helped. Some of our number would get there a little more quickly than the rest of us however. Paul and Chris Hartfield for example had decided to skip the Regularity and the associated mountains and head straight to the night halt. Their brakes had given them some trouble yesterday and, in an area as mountainous as this it’s wise not to take any chances. They have done remarkably well anyway, nursing and fixing the Packard through most of the Rally after being forced to play catch up at the beginning.
Other than the great outdoors and a fabulous setting there are few other draws for the tourist in and around Tafraoute but the painted rocks – les rochers peints as they are known locally – are one of them and they gave the crews a chance to switch off their engines and take in a little bit of culture, just in case they’d missed the yoghurt at breakfast. After a ten minute reverie, the first Regularity of the day took the cars through the park where a Belgian artist had, some years ago taken it upon himself to paint some of the boulders. Quite an undertaking perhaps, but as a keen student of the “incoherent” school of art (founded in 1882) and the leader of the Vintageant category Bill Cleyndert was left wondering, along with many others “but is it art”?
A stiff 68km mountain section followed this through freshly cut hairpins on a recently surfaced road and led us to the Time Control in Aouguenz which presaged the second Regularity which, as it comprised an uphill and a downhill, tested the engine braking to the max. This is a rugged and shattered landscape up here but a very rewarding one to drive through and by the time we arrived at lunch via roads lined with banana hothouses most of the crews were buzzing with excitement.
As for the lunch itself; many places claim to be an oasis of calm and have the soubriquet legendary applied but our lunch halt today was truly both of these things. The Gazelle d’Or in Taroudant served up a phenomenal lunch for a very hungry Rally complete with profiteroles and macaroons for desert.
What of our rugged and shattered crews then? The afternoon saw another testing Atlas section before the flatlands of Marrakesh and by the time the day was over the leaderboard had shifted once again. Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman still top the Vintageant category with Jean and Anne Steinhauser in second place and Keith and Norah Ashworth hold third.
In the Classics Category however the tricky Regularities have meant that Edmund Peel and Sarah MacDonald have lost their third place and are back in fourth. Gianmaria Aghem and Rosella Conti still hold the top spot from Mike Velasco and Peter St George. Ludovic Bois and Julia Coleman have reoccupied third place.
Tonight we’re ensconced in the Sofitel and that end of term feeling has most definitely carried over from breakfast.
Tomorrow is the last day, and a half day at that. A quick loop out of Marrakesh and into the hills for coffee and cakes sandwiched neatly between two trips to the race track.
Day 10 – Marrakesh to Marrakesh – The day of reckoning
Some of that end off term feeling definitely “hung over’ certain Rally crews this morning as they put away a good five star breakfast before taking to the hills again for the last half day of the Sahara Challenge 2015,
We’d been given special permission by the Wadi of Marrakesh to hold the finish in the fabled Jemaa al Fnaa. The main square in downtown Marrakesh and a Unesco Masterpiece no less. It’s only a stone’s throw from the manicured tranquillity of the Sofitel hotel but a world away in terms of the real Morocco.
Police had closed down the junctions into the square, the authorities had provided us with secure parking and our local agents had laid on gallons of traditional mint tea to wash away any lingering Atlas dust.
As the crowds gathered to watch, cheer, film and pose with the cars, Fred Gallagher, the Rally Director deftly split his time between waving the flag and speaking to the local media.
The joint Clerks of the course Anthony Preston and Georgina Clark were also on hand to congratulate the crews and take over the flag waving when necessary.
As well as wives and sweethearts we had other well-wishers in the crowd at lunchtime as well and it was great to see our old friends Danny and Rabia Schlatter for example, currently residents of Marrakesh who popped across in their beautiful Peking to Paris Bentley for a quick chat before lunch.
Dave Gough who took part in the 2012 London Cape Town Rally with Richard Phillipson in a Peugeot was also on hand to cheer in his old team mate as he crossed the line in an Opel.
It wasn’t all pomp and circumstance though, there had been some real driving this morning, two circuit tests on the Circuit Moulay El Hassan and a trip up into the mountains for a brace of regularities.
Once they’d made it under the finishing Arch and collected their finishers awards the crews descended on the mint tea which had been laid to catch their breath and reflect on what they’d just achieved.
Rally Director Fred Gallagher was delighted with the event and commented that “Coming at the end of the busiest year the ERA has ever had this event been exceedingly well received by all of the competitors. There’s been a wonderful spirit among the crews from the moment the flag dropped in Toledo right until the very end here in Marrakesh. We’re delighted to see so many of our old friends with us once again and thrilled that we’ve been able to welcome so many new ones to the world of Vintage and Classic Rallying. Anyone using this as a Peking to Paris shakedown will have taken away some valuable lessons regarding car prep, navigation and the Rally way of life”.
The poolside Gala Prizegiving Dinner was a happy affair indeed. Many of the guests had decided to adopt local costumes or arrived in fancy dress and as the Volubulis wine flowed and the steak was devoured the talk on the tables turned to next year and the new challenges already planned.
Despite the morning’s sport, the leaderboard hadn’t changed at all by the time we reached the finish line so it was a very happy Gianmaria Aghem and Rosella Conti and Bill Cleyndert and Jacquie Norman who respectively revved and chugged their way over the finish line. For both of them, long standing ERA competitors, with tens of thousands of miles under their wheels from the Gobi to the Kalahari and now the Sahara, this was a maiden win and probably all the sweeter for that.
The full list of prize winners is too long to include here and can be found in the results section of the website but a couple of notable special awards were also presented. Firstly, the Sweeps Medal for the crew who troubled them least was given to Malcolm Lister and Barry Nash in the Rover P5b.
The Spirit of the Rally went to Charles, Nicola and Sophie Stuart-Menteth in the Vauxhall 30/98 whilst the against all odds went to David and Jo Roberts for getting their slightly sick Triumph TR250 all the way to the finish line.
It’s been a great event. Thanks to all
|Vintageant – pre 1941 type cars|
|7||Bill Cleyndert / Jacqui Norman
Ford Model A
|14||Jean Steinhauser / Anne Steinhauser-Collard
Bentley Derby Open Tourer
|3||Keith Ashworth / Norah Ashworth
Bentley 4½ Le Mans
|17||Joe Robillard / Matt Peckham
|15||Tim Eades / Jeff Urbina
Chevrolet Fangio Coupe
|2||Charles Stuart-Menteth / Sophie Stuart-Menteth
|9||Nicholas Phillips / Barbara Phillips
Ford Model A
|18||Jan Pettersson / Katre-Helena Ibrus
Ford Deluxe Coupe
|1||Charlie Bishop / Nellie Bishop
|12||Nigel Gambier / Hugo Upton
|11||Paul Hartfield / Chris Hartfield
Packard Super 8 Sedan 120
|6||Willem Voorvaart / Susanne Levy
Ford Model A
|Classic – pre 1975 type cars|
|39||Gianmaria Aghem / Rossella Conti
Lancia Fulvia Coupe
|42||Mike Velasco / Peter St George
|32||Ludovic Bois / Julia Colman
|45||Edmund Peel / Sara MacDonald
|37||Nigel Farmer / Stephen Lovell
Ford Escort Mexico Mk1
|30||Jose Romao de Sousa / Maria Romao De Sousa
|28||Tim Wheatley / Matthew Wheatley
|22||Adrian Hodgson / Richard Mills
Morris 1800 S
|33||Barry Nash / Malcolm Lister
|26||Jan Hradecky / Dana Hradecka
Mercedes Benz 230SL
|38||Gavin Henderson / Diana Henderson
|34||David Hartley / Stephen Hardwick
|24||Richard Martin / Travis Cole
|43||Richard Phillipson / Catherine Phillipson
Opel Kadett C Coupe
|31||David Roberts / Jo Roberts
|5||Hok Kiang Sia / Eric Kuan Rong Sia
Mercedes Benz 300d Adenauer
|44||Owen Turner / Rachel Vestey
|20||Luc Maruenda / Ian Robertson
Jaguar XK120 (FHC)
|10||Michael Strasser / Arno Schenk
|40||Manoj Saxena / Jesus Mantas