Tuareg Rally, Day 8: The Finish

When Stéphane called at 7:30 on Saturday morning, we were just 10 minutes away from the ferry station. They’d already debarked and were waiting for us in a parking area near the entrance so that Edouard could check over the Protruck before they headed out for the 110 km run to the Finish in Mojácar.

It didn’t take long. Everything was in order, and after an inspection of the hubs, everyone was ready to grab a coffee and breakfast before getting underway.

Across from the ferry station was a small unremarkable bar where a number of regulars had already arrived for coffee or whisky (at 8:00 am!). When we first got there, there weren’t too many people, but by the time we left, the place was packed with participants from the rally. Breakfast for two cost 5€ including coffee and toast with ham, tomatoes or tortilla (potato pancakes) and some of the best orange juice we’d ever tasted. Driving back to Switzerland the next day, we’d think of that orange juice as we drove alongside kilometers of orange groves and palm trees around Valencia in Spain. That orange juice tasted like a glass of sweet sunshine: no sugar needed!

Back at the ferry, some of the competitors were already taking to the road. There was no specific start time for leaving Alméria; the competitors had several hours to arrive at the start of the single Special of the day, through a gravel wash that lead from the mountains down to the beach just south of Mojácar. There they gathered for the parade to the Finish.

We set off early with the idea that we’d try to stop at the start of the last Special to get some photos, but when we saw the track from the road through the mountains on the way and realized how far from the Finish it was, we decided to press on, find a good place to park the truck and check into the hotel before the competitors arrived. We weren’t the only ones. Check-in took almost an hour at the hotel, because many of the teams had sent someone ahead with stacks of passports to collect the room keys for all the team members in advance.

We ate lunch on the sunny terrace of a pizzeria not far from the hotel and then headed back to wait for the parade. This time the wait wasn’t long.

Kris had the best seat in the house.

We watched from across the street as all the competitors passed, a few cars being towed by fellow participants.

There was a joyous celebration at the Finish line.

The Orga was efficient and had done their job to make sure the results were ready and the winners could be announced right away.

No one on the Swiss team received a prize, but the objectives had been achieved. Stéphane and Caro had been able to asses the performance of the Protruck in real race conditions, including the soft dues of the Sahara in addition to the dirt tracks where the truck excels in speed. WIth this experience, they’ll be able to make the right modifications to tune its performance to the terrain they expect to encounter in future events.

Florian and Yvan had successfully achieved their objectives. It was their first rally, and their first experience driving in the desert. Not only had they finished, but they’d had very few problems with the Jeep Cherokee they’d prepared themselves in the evenings after work. A very respectable performance, indeed.

This was our first time at the Tuareg Rally, too. Overall, we were impressed by the efficiency of the organization, although there were a few problems that might have been avoided: It was regrettable that the service teams had to take a different ferry than the competitors. We feel sure this wasn’t the organizer’s first choice, but it did have a non-negligible impact on the team. Also, in our opinion the facilities in Missor were not adequate to handle the number of people participating in the rally. Although the hotel did it’s best to accommodate everyone, the level of cleanliness and hygiene was definitely affected. Most of the other problems we noted were minor in comparison, and despite these few misgivings, we came away with a very positive image of this rally. Attention to safety was high, there were few injuries, and those accidents that did occur received rapid attention and assistance, which is after all the most important job of the Orga. They deserve a great deal of congratulations for everything that went off without a hitch, no small achievement for a rally of this size and complexity.

We’d definitely recommend this race to anyone looking for a challenging, affordable rally experience. The Tuareg Rally remains dedicated to amateurs, but the difficulty and the level of preparation is high, making it a serious alternative to some of the other races. Without the need to meet FIA regulations, or the attention of the big constructor-sponsored teams, the rally offers the serious amateur or aspiring professional a chance to participate on the same level as the more experienced teams.

We noticed a large number of competitors who were participating for their second, third or fourth time. We hope we’ll be able to join them again next year.

The Winning car.

Tuareg Rally, Day 7: Service Teams In Exile

There are those who like to drive at night: often there’s less traffic and less hassle. When you’re well-rested and driving on a well-maintained divided highway, it’s not so bad. You can make good time, and the people you meet at regular rest stops are at least interesting, if not actually friendly. The route we were taking through Morocco wasn’t like that at all.

When the alarm woke us up at 12:30 am, the lights had been turned down in the hotel lobby and there were fewer people huddled in groups talking than when we’d crashed on the sofas an hour and a half before. We got our things together and were quickly underway, Eduouard and Pascal in the Rubicon and the two of us in the MAN KAT. We didn’t have a map of Morroco loaded in the GPS, since we’d mostly been navigating using coordinates and a cap, and it wasn’t as easy to find the turn onto the narrow two-lane highway as it had been in daylight on the way down. For a while we weren’t sure we were on the right route. The milestones were set back farther from the road and more difficult to read in the dark than usual.

There was a surprising amount of traffic, and we passed a number of cars in the oncoming direction. The road was narrow and the MAN KAT’s original headlights didn’t carry very far; we had to remain alert. The plan was to drive relatively slowly to reduce the risk of running headlong into an unseen danger. At 60 km/hour, we’d have time to react in case of something unexpected. Even at this speed, sometimes we’d come up behind a slow-moving car or truck without rear lights, and once we had to brake suddenly for a van that had parked on the road without actually pulling over, the two right tires barely off the pavement on the shoulder. Twice we had to slow down even more as we passed through banks of dense fog, where the visibility was no more than a few tens of meters at best.

After an hour or so the traffic dwindled, and it seemed that we were the only ones left on the road. From time to time we’d see an animal, usually a hedgehog, crossing the road in front of us, and once we drove past two hitchhikers with a few sheep who tried to flag us down. These are the critical moments: fighting sleep, struggling to concentrate. Every two hours, or when one of the drivers started to feel tired, he’d get on the radio, and we’d find a place to park safely away from the road for a 15-minute “power nap.” When the iPhone alarm went off, we’d set out again. In this way, we made our way north to Nador arriving on the outskirts of town just as the sky started to lighten.

We stopped at the first open gas station we saw to fill the tanks and grab the only coffee of the trip. Pierre and Corine stopped there too, having passed us on highway along the way during the wee hours of the morning. After our improvised breakfast, we all started out together toward Melilla to pass customs and take our places to board the ferry. The process wasn’t exactly the same as when we’d arrived, but it didn’t feel very different or take much less time.

By the time we’d gotten through customs, found the ferry terminal, and exchanged our tickets for boarding cards, we didn’t have long to wait until the controller motioned for us to drive into the hold. We’d timed things perfectly. Once we’d gotten the key to our cabin and stowed our belongings, we went out on deck under overcast skies to take one last look at the African continent.

Once the ferry was underway, we had lunch. The crossing took only about six hours, but we still had a time for a hot shower and a welcome nap. When we woke up, we were just off the coast of Spain.

It felt as if the Rally were over. The competitors had over 350 km to drive that day, with a fast stage and two specials. For us, it was time for rest once the boarding was completed. There weren’t many other service teams on the ferry with us. We’d heard at the briefing in Missor that some of the teams had serious technical problems and wouldn’t be able to continue the race without their service vehicles close by during the day so the Orga had managed to find some extra space for them on the overnight ferry the competitors were taking. That ferry didn’t leave Nador until several hours after our arrival in Alméria. We were cut off from all the action and from the rest of the group.

What would we do overnight while waiting for our teams to arrive at the port the next morning? Unbeknownst to us, Rainer had already reserved rooms for us in the hotel on the beach front at the Finish in Mojácar, but he’d forgotten to tell us at the briefing and Mojácar was over 100 km away. We needed to meet our race drivers at the port in case they needed service in the morning, so it didn’t occur to us to press on to the Finish once we’d finished debarking.

We set out for the campground not far away where we’d stayed on the drive down. We got there in time for dinner before the restaurant closed and then headed straight to bed. With the fatigue and the feeling of distance everyone seemed tense, so we were happy to crawl into bed in the bungalow for the first full night of sleep we’d had since the rally started.