March 2018 is approaching and four teams of women in the United States are getting ready to head to France and Morocco for the 28th Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc. More casually known in North America as “Gazelles”, the rally was started in 1990 as an adventure for all-female teams. As in stage rally, each team of two – a driver and a navigator – drive off-road from checkpoint to checkpoint over 6 legs in Morocco for a total of nine days of competition. GPS is not allowed – traditional navigational tools of a compass and maps are used, although all teams are tracked by the organizers via satellite. Unlike stage rally, the teams can choose their routes between checkpoints and the winning team isn’t the team with the fastest time, but the team that accumulates the most checkpoint check-ins with the least amount of kilometers traveled. All legs are 100% off-road – there are no public transits between legs. No special license is needed, either – just a simple driver’s license for the vehicle the team chooses to drive.
Team members from North America gathered at MAMO in New York City ‘s SOHO February 20th to chat with media. First-timers Elana Sorre and teammate Martine Capalbo of Team Atomic will be competing in the 4×4 class in a “brand new” Jeep Rubicon. When asked if she’s done any previous competitions Sorre, a tv producer from New York, said “We’ve definitely done some off-roading and we’ve experience some of that, but not in any form of a competition. [RAG] is our virgin voyage, but we are so excited to do it. There are elements that we are nervous about but nothing that we are fearful about.” She added that they will most likely stick to Martine driving and herself navigating – while they can do both, they just think it’s a better idea that each stick to their jobs for the duration of the event.
Another rookie team, Jazmin Grimaldi and Kiera Chaplin will be competing as E-Gazelles, driving a Citroën E-MEHARI in the RAG electric vehicle category, which will be Jazmin’s first time driving an electric vehicle for this long of a duration. Grimaldi, an actress and singer from California, says that she and Chaplin plan on switching between driving and navigating duties. She’s competing in RAG for the eponymous Jazmin Fund, which is helping to rebuild a community hall in Naidi Village, Fiji after the town was devastated by the 2016 cyclone.
One of the more experienced teams heading to West Africa to tackle the desert is the newly minted Over-Hyphenated team of rally driver Keanna Erickson-Chang and co-driver Claudia Barbera-Pullen. Keanna and Claudia are veterans of U.S. rallies, having completed six together in 2017. Claudia has been co-driving for around ten years, while Keanna’s first rally was Lake Superior Performance Rally (LSPR) 2015. They have both earned their way to the podium at New England Forest Rally – most recently at NEFR 2017, Barbera-Pullen navigated her way to 1st place 2wd Production with driver Erik Potts (in a Subaru BRZ, in case you were curious). Talking to Keanna at the team’s launch party in NYC several weeks ago, Keanna said that she had done some training for RAG out in Moab, and that they both have a full competition schedule in the month before RAG; they will both leave for Morocco directly after finishing 100 Acre Wood Rally in Missouri March 16-17. They will be driving in the 4×4 class in a new Toyota Land Cruiser.
While women over 18 years both new to motorsports as well as experienced teams are all eligible to compete in the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc, it’s not purely a vanity adventure. The core mission of RAG is the non-profit Coeur de Gazelles, bringing job training for women as well as medical care and education. The rally has ISO 14001:2004 certification – with an emphasis on eco-driving and not speed, RAG maintains low CO2 emissions. No waste is left in the rally’s wake, and recycled material from the event are used to build houses. To keep tabs on the 2018 Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc, follow on Instagram or Twitter.