2012 Tuareg Rally Press: Action 4×4

We almost missed the six-page article about the Tuareg Rally in the May 2012 issue of the French magazine Action 4×4. We just ran across it this afternoon!

The article itself is short, with most of the space devoted to some very nice photos of the Francophone teams. If you’re somewhere where you can still find a copy, be sure to decode the QR code; it links to five and a half minutes of video highlights from the race.

Back issues can be ordered from the magazine’s website.

2012 Tuareg Rally Day 4 Starting Line-up (video)

Aside from the cameras on-board the Protruck and the MAN KAT, we didn’t get much video during the Tuareg Rally, preferring to take photos instead.

Here’s a rare short sequence we took of the starting line-up on Day 4.

2012 Tuareg Rally, Photo Highlights

It took a lot longer than we expected to process the more than 900 photos we took at the Tuareg Rally, not to mention several hours of video that still needs editing. It hasn’t helped that we’ve been busy planning some new projects, but more on that in due time. Two weeks ago, we also spent the weekend in Salives, France at an offroad meeting organized by Bernard Debucquoi. We have some pictures and video of the Scania to post from that event as well.

First, here finally is a selection of our best photos from the 2012 Tuareg Rally.

From the finish line on Day 2,

The light was getting dim when we took these photos, so the colors are rather unnatural. Here’s Raoul coming out of the final stretch of dunes toward the Finish,

A nice series of photos from Check Point 2 on Day 3,

Click to view the complete photo set

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.

Delayed Posts From Tuareg Rally 2012

Welcome to everyone coming to look for new posts about the Tuareg Rally!

It’s been a few days since we’ve been able to add anything new. There are two more posts on the way to reach the end of our story. We’ve also got lots of unpublished photos and some video, which we’ll try to get up as soon as possible too.

Unfortunately, since our return we’ve had a few distractions as well as a nasty flu that makes it hard to feel like writing or curating photos.

We’re sorry about that. With luck, we’ll be able to get everything up in the next week or two, so please check back in a few days.

Don’t hesitate to leave us a comment or send a question.

Tuareg Rally, Day 6: Return To Missor

It seemed we’d hardly stayed long enough to enjoy the dunes around Merzouga when it was already time to pack up and leave. On 6th day of the Rally, we began the long trek toward the Finish in Mojácar, the first leg retracing our route over 400 km from Merzouga back to Missor.

The Road Book took the competitors through a short stretch of dunes in the Erg Chebi, and then led them north on dirt tracks with several liaisons over stretches of paved highway. The service route ran closely parallel, so we packed up camp and set out before the official start in hopes of arriving at the photo points in time to get some pictures of the action.

We got as far north as Erfoud when Stéphane called. They needed assistance near the Start, so Edouard and Pascal went back in the Rubicon while we waited for them with the MAN KAT in the village. We changed a worn tire on the trailer while waiting, and took advantage of the good Internet connection at the Hotel Riad Salam to post some news on the blog.

By the time Edouard and Pascal got back, we’d lost two hours and ended up well behind all our race drivers. There wouldn’t be any exciting pictures for us today. Since the liaisons were over some of the same roads as the service route, we were overtaken from time to time by the cars and motorcycles that were farther behind than the leaders of the day.

We skipped the first CheckPoint, but stopped at the second one to check the progress of the race. All of our drivers had already passed through, so there wasn’t much to do but get back in the truck and keep driving.

The road took us through Errachidia, which in addition to a military base, is home to a large student population, with a spacious campus for the Faculty of Science and Technology, as well as the National Institute for Agronomic Research, visible from the road through town.

The route wound along the valley, the lush palms of the Tafilalt Oasis thickly blanketing the river bed, a striking contrast with the barren rocky slopes on either side. Fed by the Ziz river, the Oasis is one of the largest in northern Africa and was historically important as a trade route and crossroads, in particular for the gold trade from western Africa to the Islamic world during the Middle Ages. The turquoise lake created by the Hassim-Addakhil dam is an amazingly beautiful sight.

We were among the last of our group to reach the camp in Missor. It had rained on the way, and the thin layer of wet mud stuck much too easily to our shoes as we got out to put things in place.

Florian and Yvan didn’t need to make any repairs, but Raoul had broken the support for the shock absorber during the day, and it had to be welded again.

Edouard checked the hubs on the Protruck. Everything was clean. The seals they had made the day before had solved the problem. However there was some play in the ball joint of the upper A-arm, which affected the suspension and steering. Unfortunately, the repair would be more complex than the team was prepared to make so close to the end of the race, so Stéphane and Caro would continue to the Finish before fixing the problem back in Switzerland in the workshop.

No one had eaten a meal during the day, so everyone was hungry and couldn’t wait for the buffet at the hotel, which wouldn’t be ready until another three hours or more. Stéphane and Caro had time for a hot shower and shampoo to get all the dust out of their hair before the group went out for dinner at a nearby restaurant in Missor.

Later, at the briefing, we got the final instructions for catching the ferry to Spain. The service team would return on the same ferry from Melilla to Alméria, which left at 13:00 local time. Rainer reminded us that we’d have to leave no later than 3 am to reach Nador and pass customs in time, but he’d forgotten the time change to European Summer Time at 01:00 UTC. That meant we’d have to leave no later than 2 am! We’d made the trip from Nador to Missor in 6-7 hours on the way south, but since we’d be driving at night, and in Morocco you should always expect the unexpected, we decided to build at least an extra hour’s margin into the trip.

We hadn’t reserved a place in the tent at the hotel that night, but we were tired, so it wasn’t too hard to fall asleep on the sofas around 11:00 pm despite the lights and noise in the lobby. When we set out for Nador about two hours later, we were glad we’d make the decision to start early.

Tuareg Rally, Day 5: Dune Race, Repairs And A Ride In The MAN Race Truck

A special stage, known as the dune race, took place on the fifth day of the Rally. As Rainer put it at the briefing the evening before, “Tomorrow, navigation is not important.”

The racers would have to complete several rounds of the same circuit in as short a time as possible. The amateur cars and motorcycles would race for two rounds and the “Profi” cars and bikes for four. The Finish Line for the cars was at the base of a very steep dune, while the motorbike finish was at the top. If the riders weren’t able climb to the top on their bikes, they would have to do it on foot.

That sounded like something worth seeing. Since Stéphane and Edouard were going to spend most of the day working on the Protruck, cleaning and repairing the wheel bearings and fashioning an inner seal to keep the sand out, we had planned to get an extra hour of sleep and then head up to the Finish Line on foot to get some photos.

We never made it.

We needed to repair the tire that had blown out on the way to Merzouga; it wouldn’t be prudent to start back without a ready spare. We went with Caro to Risani for some supplies, including talc to sprinkle inside the tire so that the air chamber would move freely inside without rubbing or sticking. By the time we got back it was late. Everyone at camp wanted lunch, and we needed to go over to see the RR Belgica team.

We had gotten a spare air chamber to fit our tire from the MAN KAT on the Orga team, and the RR Belgica guys were willing help us inflate and mount it on the rim. This is a tricky procedure because the rims are special and consist of several pieces. If they aren’t put together correctly, inflating the tire can be dangerous, since the different parts of the rim can fly apart because of the air pressure. The RR Belgica guys had experience with the procedure, and we were happy to have their help. There wouldn’t be any time to see the end of the day’s race. We’d have to settle for watching the video at the briefing later that evening.

By the time we got over to see our new friends on the service team for RR Belgica, their MAN had already finished the day’s race. Kris helped us mount our spare tire, and then Wouter, the pilot, asked us if we’d like to take a quick ride over the dunes with him to a photo shoot. Of course we said yes!

The MAN TGA 480 was prepared by MAN Racing. When you accelerate directly toward the dunes, the 750+ hp of its 6 inline cylinder 13L engine make its 10 tons seem light and agile. It’s not quite as loud as the Tatra, there’s a little more room in the cabin since there’s no couchette, and the instruments are a little less rustic (they even have a sound system).

The sensation of going over the dunes is like being on a roller coaster. Awesome. Imagine doing that all day!

By the time we took the repaired spare tire back to camp, our other drivers had returned from the race. Without having to to worry about navigation, they had had a fantastic day driving over the dunes in their little roller-coaster cars and were back relatively early.

Florian and Yvan were checking the steering. A Polaris had run into them during the race and had bent the tie rod. They’d made a repair in the dunes but were checking it over to make sure everything was ok.

Sylvain/Pascal and Raoul/Cécile had driven well and since they were in early, there was plenty of time to complete the maintenance needed before the return to Missor the next day.

After the briefing we decided to go out to eat together in one of the local restaurants instead of at the hotel. It wasn’t often we had an evening relaxed enough to enjoy such a luxury.

Tuareg Rally, Day 4: Kingstage Over 200 Kilometers Of Dunes

The start of the fourth day of the rally was spectacular. The cars started simultaneously, lined up side-by-side, a face-off with the desert. The motorcycle start was Le Mans-style, each rider running to mount and start his bike on the signal.

The view from Stéphane and Caro’s Protruck emphasized just how small the Rally was on the immense scale of the desert.

Ahead lay four stages and 16 checkpoints over 200-250km of dunes in the Erg Chebi, the exact distance depending on how the drivers chose to navigate the dunes. At the briefing the evening before, Rainer had said that very few of the participants would master all the stages, and that some drivers might get stuck and have to sleep overnight in the dunes if they couldn’t be helped out in time. “You should prepare for this,” he said. Florian and Yvan seemed worried when we recounted this advice at the dinner table, but they looked relaxed and confident at the starting line.

Sylvain and Cécile checked over the GPS positions one last time while waiting.

The photographers were also waiting at the top of a dune to film the race as it got underway.

When Rainer gave the starting signal, it was chaos for a few minutes; cars were everywhere as the drivers looked for the quickest way over the short line of dunes and onto the fast dirt track that led to the first checkpoint.

One of the Wildcats came over the first dune with a burst of power, only to hit the bottom hard on the other side, breaking both axles. The day was over for them, but they took the car back to camp where the mechanics replaced the rear axle. They’d start again tomorrow, finishing the race as a two-wheel drive instead of four.

Florian and Yvan had also gotten off to a slow start after having been squeezed into a difficult trajectory by two cars who closed in on either side. As a result, they were stuck in the sand out of sight behind a dune, and we didn’t realize it until several minutes later when they’d dug out the car and got back on the way. Suddenly, they were coming out from behind a dune and then heading off surely into the horizon where the others had disappeared a short time ago.

We stayed to watch the motorcycles start Le Mans-style, with each rider running to his bike on the signal. Once they were gone, we got into the car and drove over to the first CheckPoint to wait for our drivers to come in after the fast stage on the dirt track.

Sylvain arrived first of our group, followed by Raoul/Cécile and Stéphane/Caro.

The day had started out fast, so we didn’t hang around too long at the first CheckPoint, hoping to get some good pictures of the cars coming out of the big dunes at CheckPoint 2.

We watched one motorcycle rider winding his way down from the top of the dunes, slipping on a flat gravel area at the bottom about 100 meters from the CheckPoint. He called out to us that he’d done all of the Stage without a single fall, only to wipe out meters from the end.

Sylvain and Pascal were the fourth car to pass CheckPoint 2, and they took a minute to go over the roadbook together before heading off in the direction of CheckPoint 3.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to stay to see any of our other racers; Stéphane and Caro were on the way down the dunes but were having trouble with the wheel bearings again and needed assistance. We had to go back to camp and get the MAN KAT. We’d drive it at close as possible to their position, and then go to meet them with the JK Rubicon.

On the way, we stopped to fill up the tank, and while we were paying for the gas and a quick snack that would have to serve as lunch, we were approached by a young man who heard us speaking French and was curious about the rally. He turned out to be a stunt driver on location with the crew who was filming Intersection, a new film directed by David Marconi and produced by Luc Besson in which a car crash on a remote Moroccan road leads to a strange turn of events. We would have liked to have been able to talk with him longer, but we didn’t have time to linger.

Back at the camp, we set out with the MAN KAT and the Rubicon toward the GPS coordinates Stéphane had sent. He wasn’t far from the second CheckPoint, so we lost time as we had to go all the way to camp and then back. At the bottom of the dunes, a local man on a moped gave us some tips on how to reach Stéphane’s location without getting stuck. He said it would be more difficult to go straight up the dune, advising us instead to head up east of Stéphane’s position and then change course to meet him. We followed his advice and didn’t have any trouble.

A few minutes after we arrived, we were surprised to hear the sound of a motor. Looking around we saw it was the local man on the moped. He parked his bike in the sand, dismounted and said “The Jeep climbs well.” Since he seemed surprised, we asked if we had not followed his instructions, and he said “Well, not exactly!”

Stéphane had already started to do what he could while waiting for us. Today it was the wheel bearings on the other wheel, and Edouard got to work with him right away.

Within a few hours, they had the Protruck ready to drive out of the dunes, but it wouldn’t be possible to resume the race again until the cause of the problem had been addressed. Without a way to keep sand and gravel from getting into the bearings in the first place, Stéphane and Caro would have the same problem every day. Since they didn’t have the original part, Stéphane and Edouard didn’t have much choice except to make a cover to seal the bearing. If the work wasn’t finished in time to start the race tomorrow, the team would take a penalty for missing the day.

Tuareg Rally, Day 3: Hell’s Garden, Labyrinth And Dunes Around Merzouga

The mechanics had worked until late in the night to prepare the cars for the Start of Day 3. Since everything was ready, we ate a relaxed breakfast before heading over to the camp. We had a bad surprise; the Protruck’s left rear tire was flat.

As if someone had flipped a power switch, everyone was suddenly full of energy. The crew opened the truck to take out the tools and had the tire changed in 5 minutes flat. In another five minutes, the tire had been inspected, inflated, and remounted on the Protruck in place of the spare. Five minutes more, and Stéphane and Caro were on their way to the Start.

Since we had to pack up the equipment we had used, we’d never have time to make it to the Start before most of our cars were on the way, so we set off for the first photo point at Check Point 2, near the end of the second Special in the dunes. We were among the first to arrive and surveyed the landscape for the best place from which to watch the competitors arrive. It wasn’t long after that the official photographers decided to join us, “You should trust the amateurs,” one of them said. He even asked us to record some video with his camera while he was shooting stills.

The first to arrive were the motorcycles, but not long after we saw the first car coming over the top of the dune. Sylvain was among the first of the cars to arrive.

Not long after a few unsuspecting dromedaries showed up and the contestants had to navigate around them as well as the dunes. When the RR Belgica Team’s MAN came over the dune, the photo opportunity couldn’t have been better if it had been staged.

Florian and Yvan arrived soon after. They had made good time on the first stages in their Jeep Cherokee.

It was interesting to share the dune with the official photographers, to watch them work and learn by observation.

We got lots of great photos from this checkpoint, but we weren’t able to stay longer to photograph the other cars in the team, because Stéphane and Caro called for assistance. They were having trouble with the wheel hubs; the wheels wouldn’t turn, and we had to go help them in the dunes.

Stéphane found the problem: a cover was missing on the side of the hub toward the interior of the car, so dirt and sand had gotten into the bearing and locked it up.

There was nothing to do but replace it. Stéphane would make a quick repair to get the car back on the road, and then head back to camp where it was easier to work to finish the job right.

The day before, the Protruck had a minor scrape with the Cherokee and the rear fender had been damaged. While Stéphane finished replacing the hub, we had a few minutes to admire the repairs Edouard had made during the night.

Before we were finished, someone from the Orga came by looking for another car that needed assistance in the dunes. We thought we had seen in when we arrived in the JK Rubicon, so we went along to see if we could help locate it.

The car didn’t have a GPS, so we didn’t have any coordinates and it took a while to locate it. The pilot had been caught by surprise by a difficult passage when coming over a dune and the car had turned over. He had a badly broken hand and had already been evacuated to the hospital, while the copilot stayed with the car waiting for assistance to come tow it out of the dunes.

Once help was on the way, we went back to join Stéphane, who had finished repairing the hub enough to get back to camp.

When we got in, he immediately set to work to make sure that everything was cleanly mounted.

Later we had some time to relax and share stories with the other drivers by the pool.

It was a long day for everyone, but those who didn’t have work to do could take a well-deserved rest, like this pilot we saw sleeping by the pool.