El Chott 2013: Ksar Ghilane Stages 3-5

ElChott2013 Tatras

Stage 3 of the El Chott Rallye was a mix of piste and dunes. We were looking forward to getting our first experience driving the dunes with the Tatra. The stage started out well. We pulled over to let Kolomý pass and then headed behind him into the dunes.

The Tatra is a formidable vehicle in the dunes with the powerful V12 engine, the low gear and the CTIS, but it takes skill to operate everything and experience reading the dunes to find a good way through.

Photo by Andreas Wulf and Anja Bork

Photo by Andreas Wulf and Anja Bork

At first it was almost easy, but as the dunes got progressively harder, it became more of a challenge.

Photo by Andreas Wulf and Anja Bork

Photo by Andreas Wulf and Anja Bork

We had to shovel a few times, along with many of the other participants. We were within a kilometer of the next way point when we had a serious problem; we broke the right front axle shaft. We were lucky that the break was inside the shaft, which meant that while the wheel was no longer being driven by the motor, we could still drive. The air for the CTIS passes through the shaft, so when it broke the air went out of the tire and it went flat and we weren’t able to inflate it normally. It came off the rim several times and we had to stop to put it back on and inflate it manually.

We didn’t expect to have this problem in our first rally, so we didn’t have a spare axle shaft. The dunes in Tunisia are difficult enough but when you have 10 tons and only 3-wheel drive it’s hard to avoid getting stuck. The wheel that was broken acted like an anchor, sinking into the sand and pulling us to the side. It was almost impossible to turn left when the sand was soft.

El Chott The Big One

With some expert advice from Wolfgang Adam and Karlheinz Muller, a few pulls from the MAN KAT service truck and a fair bit of shoveling, we managed to drive back to camp, arriving two days later, having missed stages 4 and 5. We were surprised to learn we hadn’t been the only ones to miss those days; several other participants had spent at least one night in the dunes, so we were still in the race!

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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.

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Home From El Chott 2013

IMG_3957 arrivee

Photo by Andreas Wulf and Anja Bork

The ferry from Tunis arrived yesterday afternoon in Genova, and we got in around 2 am after driving the 800 km home. We were pleased to receive an unexpected 2nd place in the truck category, after encountering and overcoming a number of problems in our first-ever rally, without any assistance except from the rally organization.

During the 2nd stage, our iPhone was broken when it few out of the pocket behind the navigator’s seat when we went over a hard bump. The screen was cracked and some windshield cleaner spilled on it causing a short-circuit. It’s been dead ever since, so there was no way to post news here or on Twitter during the event.

The El Chott Rallye was difficult, but it was a fantastic experience, so although we’re tired, we’re also happy and already starting to think about 2014. We’ve spent the day unpacking and doing some cleaning and maintenance on the Tatra, but we’re going through our photos and video and should have more information up soon.

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El Chott 2013: Waiting For The Ferry


The rally vehicles are waiting at the port. The Tombouctou Classic Rallye is leaving on the same ferry with us. There are a number of beautiful cars parked near us in line, like the Rothman Porsche 911 RS and a rare 1981 Jeep J10 pickup.

Apparently the boat will arrive an hour later than scheduled. We’ve completed most of the formalities and loaded our boxes onto the assistance truck for local transport in Tunisia. Now we just have a long wait for boarding to begin.

After we arrive in Tunis tomorrow, we’ll drive almost 400 km of liaison to Gafsa. We’ll check in from Tunisia as soon as we can.

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El Chott 2013: Scrutineering

We had light rain for most of the afternoon, but we didn’t have long to wait when we arrived at the aptly named Rallye Hotel for the scrutineering.


We had time for a real Italian pizza and a restful afternoon.

Tomorrow we leave for the port of Genova and the ferry to Tunis.

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Ready For The El Chott Rallye 2013

We’ve been busy making final preparations for the El Chott Rallye over the past few weeks. Finally it’s time for us to leave for the scrutineering in Voghera, Italy. We’ll be heading out early on Friday morning.

Erg Racing Tatra N2

The best way to follow us during the rally will be from our homepage here, where we’ll try to post regular updates whenever time and network coverage permit. We’ll also be posting on Facebook when possible, although Twitter may be the most reliable because we don’t need data roaming, we can post via SMS whenever we have cell coverage. We’ve updated the Twitter sidebar on the right so you can access the latest messages right from here.

The El Chott Rallye website will also have regular updates, so dont forget to check there for pictures and video. They also have a satellite tracker that will be active starting on Sunday, October 27 for all participants. Our truck number is 508.

Thanks again to all those who helped make it possible for us to participate in the rally this year, especially our sponsors including ZZ Kustom, Euro4x4parts, Fox and Randoequipement.

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A Seemingly Endless Number Of Details

Planning a rally is a great deal of investment, not only in terms of money, but also in terms of time. There are a seemingly endless number of details that can’t be left until the last minute.

A few weeks after we got back from the Breslau Rally, we made an inspection of the Iveco service truck. We had driven over 4,500km to Poland and back, so we wanted to make sure that everything was ok. During the rally we had had some trouble with the clutch. Sometimes it was difficult to put the truck in first gear, a problem that only got worse after we had to do some maneuvering on sandy ground. We decided to take a closer look and ended up changing the clutch; the release bearing was worn.

Iveco Clutch

Since it was the first time we’ve done this kind of maintenance, we enlisted the help of an experienced acquaintance who is in charge of servicing a fleet of heavy construction vehicles. The procedure didn’t turn out to be that difficult. We accidentally pulled off a sensor bracket while removing the transmission and had to re-weld it, but otherwise everything went smoothly. The job was finished in about six hours.

Once we were satisfied that the service truck was in good condition, we started to work on our checklist for the rally. While most of our friends were on vacation, we stayed home, working during the weekdays; planning for the rally consumed most of our evenings and weekends.

The biggest part of the first upgrade on the Tatra had been done in Koprivniče early this year, but there were still a number of things we wanted to do without waiting until the last minute. We installed a fan on the oil radiator to improve the engine cooling and mounted a small winch on the truck bed for hoisting the spare tires.


We placed a number of fasteners and holders in the cabin and box for the spare equipment and tools we might need during the race. Everything needs to be secure so it won’t move around, but it also has to be quickly and easily accessible. To protect the headlights, which might be damaged in the dunes, we fitted a plexiglass plate onto the front bumper.


Finally, we made a console for the navigation equipment and satellite tracking unit, and installed the wiring for the electrical connections. Once the console was ready we installed the GPS units and Terratrip rally computers and checked that everything was working properly.

Although the test drive in Slovakia went well, we still wanted to improve the front suspension. The shock absorber we damaged during the testing was most likely defective, but twelve days of sandy tracks and dunes will be more demanding than the testing we did. Over the last few weeks we reviewed all the options for upgrading the suspension and decided to replace the front Sachs shock absorbers with Fox 3.0 Piggyback units. These are 80 mm diameter triple by-pass shocks. The only problem would be fitting them in place without having to modify the mounts, which are sized for metric and not US customary units. We contacted Fox and were pleased by how helpful they were and how easy it was to work with them. They sent us the technical drawings of the shocks and end caps so that we could make sure they would fit. We chose the end cap that worked best for us and designed a set of ring adapters that would allow us to install the shocks on the existing mount and keep the current Sachs shocks as spares.

Once we were convinced we could mount them properly, we confirmed the order and Fox scheduled the build. In total, it took about a month to build and ship the shocks. During that time we were able to finish the design of the adapter parts. We used the DraftSight CAD software and gave the resulting technical drawings to a local company that makes precision machine parts. Both the shocks and the adaptor rings were delivered last week. We spent the weekend installing them and taking the Tatra out for a short road test. We’ll post more details and pictures during the week.

Except for a few remaining details such as mounting the onboard cameras, the only thing left now is to review our checklists to make sure we haven’t forgotten anything and then start packing. We leave in just under five weeks.

Our Sponsors

We’re happy to introduce the sponsors whose support has helped make possible our upcoming participation in the El Chott Rallye.

ZZ KUSTOM test color euro4x4_3D_RVB_ang fox-1c-black-3in LOGO HD RANDO VECTO

ZZ KUSTOM has been providing installation and custom fabrication of 4×4 offroad vehicles since 2004. Specializing in rock crawling, Jeep and Hummer, ZZ Kustom participates in 4×4 competitions in Europe and abroad and recently took second place on the podium at the King of The Valleys in the UK. They also provide racing rental and assistance services via ZZK Racing.

Euro4x4parts imports and distributes 4×4 parts for trade and individual clients throughout the world. Their catalogue features parts for more than 98% of the 4×4’s found in Europe. More than just an online store, the Euro4x4parts team are “4x4dicts,” with a long-term commitment to serving clients through their professional experience and knowledge gained on the field. Euro4parts attends offroad meetings and competitions in and beyond Europe.

For over three decades, FOX has been a leader in the design and development of high performance shock absorbers and racing suspensions for snowmobiles, mountain bikes, motorcycles, ATVs, UTVs, off-road cars, trucks, and SUVs. Founded by motorcross racer Bob Fox in 1974, who set out to improve his racing performace by designing a better shock absorber, the company remains close to the racing community, and works closely with athletes to better understand their needs in competition. Fox shocks are used by racers on winning vehicles from Baja California to Dakar.

Specializing in travel and adventure equipment, the members of the Randoequipment team are experienced overland travelers with all types of motor vehicles. Their catalog has a large range of equipment for furnishing all types of vehicles (4×4, Quad, Camping-Car) including boats and especially for demanding conditions.

We’d like to thank all our sponsors for their support. We’ve also created a dedicated sponsor page, which you can find in the header bar at the top of the page.

First Rally For Erg Racing

It’s official! We’re happy to announce the Erg Racing Team’s first rally. We’ll be taking part in the El Chott Sahara Rallye of Tunisia. The Rally takes place during 12 days in October and November along a route of almost 2,000 km of special stages, and 1,000km of liaison.

We’ve already got our number: 508.

With just six and a half weeks to go, we still have lots to do to make sure everything is ready on time. More announcements and information are coming soon!

Read the next post in the series.

Breslau Rally 2013: Cars and Motorcycles

This is the fourth and final of our posts of photo albums from the Breslau Rally 2013.

In this last post of photos from the 2013 Breslau Rally, we’ve selected some of our favorites from throughout the race.

Gilles Girousse and Max Delfino in their yellow Mercedes G during the Prolog:


The Mercedes 300 GD of Peter Serra and Olivier Martin:


Bretons Cedric Porcher and Damien Kermorvant, who finished the rally in second place with their Toyota Mudracer:


We didn’t get pictures every day because of the liaisons and and other service needs, but we had a front seat for the action on Days 4, 5 and 6 as we were able to ride along in one of the press cars.

Read more of this post and see the rest of the photos