By Carmen Madrid
Pulling away from the rest of the pack is how organizers described the performances of the top three finishers in the 4x4 class of the 2011 Rallye Aicha des Gazelles on Day Two, Leg Two. And who's staying hot in the contest? Team 109--Miller Medard!
The level of difficulty for the all-women, off-road rally went up a notch with Friday's outing, and the new challenges were reflected in the scores and the results.
Penalty points are accumulating as rapidly as the desert wind can change course. More teams called for mechanical assistance, while others headed to the bivouac early--both actions resulting in added points. And, as will happen, some participants just headed in the wrong direction.
At the morning's briefing, the Sporting Director predicted that Leg Two would be longer and more challenging. The various routes took the Gazelles across seemingly endless plateaus, followed by some slightly alarming mountains.
Drivers showed their skill and composure most with favorable outcomes--and positive attitudes.
Team 314 of France (Nadege Troadec and Alexandra Knorr) were stuck in a trench filled with sand from the wind. Undaunted, they got out their ladders and shovels and, with a little help from fellow Gazelles Sandra Guichard and Cathy Weber (Team 312, also from France), the task was soon behind them.
By 2:45, many competitors had reached or were approaching CP4 of the leg's six checkpoints. Among this group were the American sisters Amy Lerner and Tricia Reina of Team 107, as well as the day's second-place finishers Team 109, the U.S.-French partnership of Emily Miller and Armelle Medard.
Team 107 ended the second day of competition in their first-ever rally with an overall ranking of 37th place. Not bad for two sisters whose only previous practical experience consisted of go-kart racing in their backyard as children.
Growing up around antique cars, Lerner and Reina often helped their father with repairs and preparations for various events and shows. Blending their boundless affinity for travel and adventure with their lifelong love of cars, it seems becoming Gazelles was a natural progression. You go, girls!
After Friday's Leg Two, the field is taking shape. Still, the top spots are far from secured. The leaders must maintain their concentration and focus if they expect to earn a place on the podium.
The current leaders are a reflection of the rally's international flavor. The top three teams are made up of competitors from five different countries.
Team 124 (Caroline Montillet of France and Syndiely Wade of Senegal) holds the number-one ranking with a total of 22.08 points. Team 149 (Jeanette James of Great Britain and Anne Marie Borg of France) is a close second with 36.12 points. Not far behind, Team Miller Medard, #109, with 42.48 points.
With Rod Hall-racing champion Miller at the wheel, Team 109 has a unique strategy. "We decided to adjust our cap in order to get ahead without taking too many risks for the truck," she says. It seems to be working.
A splendid backdrop of dunes lit up by the setting sun invited the Gazelles to rest Friday evening. Erg Chebbi, one of the distinctive large dunes formed by windblown sand, will be home to the 220 female competitors for the next few days.
Enjoy the awesome terrain, ladies!