El Chott 2013: Tunis – Gafsa – Ksar Ghilane

The El Chott Sahara Rallye of Tunisia is known to European racing teams as one of the best training grounds for preparing the Dakar. The dunes of Tunisia are generally smaller than those of other off-road desert rallies, but they make up for their size with a level of difficulty that commands respect from even the most experienced teams.

We didn’t have the experience to make the comparison, but everyone we spoke with in the rally told us that these dunes were far more difficult that those of Morocco, or even the biggest dunes of Egypt or Libya. As one veteran told us, if you can drive the dunes here, the you’ll find the ones in the Dakar easier by comparison. It’s not surprising then that of the 30 vehicles in the rally, five were there in training for the Dakar.

This level of difficulty was a big challenge for our first rally, and we’d have to keep up the pace over the course of 12 days.

We didn’t have the means to bring our service truck and an assistance team, so that meant we had to drive carefully to avoid any accidents that we couldn’t repair on our own. It also meant that we’d have to do all the regular maintenance ourselves every evening in camp after the day’s stage.

It’s one thing to drive full throttle when you have experience and you know that you have the spare parts and a trained team to rebuild your vehicle every evening while you sleep, but it’s a completely different situation when you know you have only your own means to finish the rally and get home again. Our approach was thus much more like the early days of the Paris-Dakar than the current scene dominated by factory teams with unlimited budgets.

The ferry arrived in Tunis on Sunday Oct. 27th, and we started the 300 km liaison to Gafsa. Driving in Tunisia at night can be hazardous because you never know what you’ll find on the road. A Dakar driver told us this liaison would be more dangerous than any stage of the rally. The organization told us that we should not leave the route for any reason. It was under surveillance by the authorities due to recent unrest in the area.

We arrived at the Hotel Jugurtha Palace in Gafsa around midnight and took a few minutes to eat a very late dinner before going to bed. Our start time for the Prolog was around 10:30, but it was around 60 kilometers away and the show start from the hotel was at 8:00 so we had to leave early.

Photo by Andreas Wulf and Anja Bork

Photo by Andreas Wulf and Anja Bork

El Chott 2013 Waiting To Start

El Chott 2013 Prolog

We started the Prolog just behind the Buggyra Tatra 815 of Martin Kolomý.

El Chott 2013 Kolomy Prolog

There were two special stages after the Prolog, the first one was mostly piste with a short section through a small rocky pass and the second one led through the dunes to Ksar Ghilane. We drove well in the Prolog and first stages, moving up several places in the ranking. A navigation error cost us time, but we learned that most of the others had gotten lost at the same point, so we were still doing well.

Photo by Andreas Wulf and Anja Bork

Photo by Andreas Wulf and Anja Bork

We started the second stage by mid-afternoon, and we reached the CP Exit in time to continue, but we were told it would be wise to take the stage exit because we’d surely finish the Special in the dunes at night. With ten days of rally ahead, we decided to follow the advice of the organization and continue by road. Our first experience in the dunes with the Tatra would be better during the daylight, and we’d have plenty of time for dunes in the days ahead.

We arrived a camp several hours after dark and took the time to inspect the truck and get something to eat before settling in. When the results were posted, we learned that we would be the 2nd truck to start Stage 3 the following morning. Kolomý had encountered a technical problem in the 1st special stage and hadn’t been able to start the 2nd stage in time.

Read the next post in the series or go back to the start.

One Response to El Chott 2013: Tunis – Gafsa – Ksar Ghilane

  1. Pingback: Home From El Chott 2013 | Erg Machine

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