Women-only Off-Road Rally Is a Pure Gut Check
Unique rally prioritizes brains over speed in an insanely tough mental challenge. We get tips directly from its founder, Dominique Serra.
Nobody would call your average off-road rally comfortable or easy. Events like the legendary Baja 1000 and relative newcomer Battle of the Kings are famous for grinding even the toughest trucks and men into pulp, after all. But there are a couple of problems with your average, traditional off-road race. For one, rules allow you to use GPS and modern navigation tools, traversing predetermined routes. Secondly, they’re dominated by male racers, with little diversity to speak of.
Enter the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc (or “Rally of Gazelles”). The coolest off-road rally you’ve never heard of is also the world’s only such event for women only. And these brave and noble “gazelles” come from countries all over the world to the North African country of Morocco. And they do so to participate in one of the toughest events on earth. The only event in the world that requires participants to use nothing more than old school navigation in a completely off-road race. That’s right, a compass, navigational plotter, and a paper map.
Even better, participants get to analyze each day’s geographical coordinates, analyze the risks/rewards of each potential route, and determine the optimal path to travel. It’s more about brains than all-out speed, as the team that drives the least amount of kilometers and hits the most checkpoints along the way is the winner.
‘Twenty-eight years ago, women did not have access to the rally industry. I thought it would be nice to give them the ability to participate.’
This fascinating and innovative event is the brainchild of Dominique Serra, who we were fortunate enough to sit down with recently. And here’s what we learned about Serra and the motivating forces behind the “Rally of Gazelles,” set to kick off its 28th year March 16-31.
JK Forum: Obviously, the women-only concept of the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc is one of its most unique aspects. What inspired you to make this a rally exclusive to “Gazelles?”
DOMINIQUE SERRA (pictured right): Twenty-eight years ago, women did not have access to the rally industry. I thought it would be nice to give them the ability to participate.
People come from all over the world to take on this challenge. Can you tell us a little bit about the diversity of the rally’s participants?
The ambition of the rally is to bring together women from all over the world to celebrate diversity. And how, through all nationalities, women can do great things through sports.
Are participants generally novices, or do they have some sort of racing background?
This year, 80% of the participants are novices!
Why did you choose to host the race in Morocco?
The Moroccan desert is superb. The country is open and tolerant, and people really welcome us. Their hospitality is extraordinary.
What sort of vehicles are allowed to participate?
Truck, 4X4, crossover, crossover hybrid, quad, motorcycle, SSV and electric vehicles are all welcome!
Obviously, the rally has been an unmitigated success after 28 years. How have Moroccans responded to it over the years?
Moroccans are very proud of the rally. In fact, we are the only sports event to have the right to wear the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Morocco!
The rally’s success has led to several spin-off events. Can you tell us a little bit about those?
The concept has adapted to simply people loving adventure. We also cater to other levels of adventure-seekers through our Cap Femina Adventure, which is more about strong solidarity support and less about sports, also for women.
We have also created The Bab el Raid for students, and now The Gazelles and Men Rally for men and mixed teams, to give men a chance to experience the gazelle concept.
Without modern tech, it’s obviously easier for participants to get lost. How do you keep track of them to ensure their safety?
We have a tracking system that is fixed on each vehicle. At the control station, we are able to follow them constantly and know precisely where they are.
To learn more about the fascinating Rally of Gazelles or its corresponding events, head over to the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc site!
Photos: Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc