Monday marked the halfway point in the 2016 Rally Aïcha des Gazelles and three American teams started the day in the top five. While the Swiss duo of Regine Zbinden and Ela Steiner held a slight lead, Americans occupied positions two through four.

Second overall was the #180 team of Nicole Pitell-Vaughan and Chrissie Beavis. Jo Hannah and Susanah Hoehn of Hoehn Motors Land Rover were third in the #107 Land Rover LR4 and the #178 Land Rover Defender team of Emme Hall and Sabrina Howells was fourth.

The challenge of the event is to drive an as-the-crow-flies route through the course, navigating the fewest possible miles between checkpoints. At the end of nine days in the desert, the team that has driven the fewest kilometers over the straight-line ideal is the winner. And while the rally is not about speed, the top competitors are so close that it’s officially a race.

Only 1.91 kilometers off the lead Monday morning, Beavis and Pitell-Vaughan started the day determined to make up ground. Putting their off-road racing skills to the test early in the day, they successfully maneuvered their Toyota Tundra straight up and over a muddy hill that other teams chose to avoid. Navigator Beavis estimated the move saved as much as three kilometers on their final tally. “Our strategy was definitely to take some chances to see if we could take back the lead, and we got lucky right away,” she said.

The third-place Hoehn sisters achieved all their checkpoints but said they struggled on Monday in the Rally Aïcha des Gazelles. “Today shouldn’t have been a difficult day, but I just wasn’t getting accurate headings and never hit a checkpoint dead-on,” said Susanah Hoehn. “There were really long stretches between checkpoints and if you’re off by even a half a degree that can make you off by kilometers in the end.”

Monday’s terrain included many wide-open plains and challenging dry riverbeds competitors call “oueds” — the French-language term for wadi. After a weekend marathon leg that saw competitors running on minimal sleep, intense Monday heat added to the challenge. “I think the organization was really mean to the navigators today,” said navigator Howells. “The entire day, no matter what direction we were going in, the sun was always on the passenger seat.”

The 2016 Rally Aïcha des Gazelles runs from March 23 to March 31. Recaps and photo galleries are available for download at http://bit.ly/1RmgiLG. Final results are presented at the closing gala April 2 in Essaouira, Morocco.

Rally Aïcha des Gazelles
USA Teams Notes and Quotes
March 28, 2016 (Day 5) – Leg 4

Location: Zougguerhn / Zougguerhn
Ideal distance: 160 km
Estimated time: 9 hours
7 Checkpoints

RANKED 2nd at Day 5 start: Team #180 Nicole Pitell-Vaughan (Corona, California) / Chrissie Beavis (San Diego, California): Toyota Tacoma
Team #180 slipped back to second overall after the marathon leg and took some chances Monday to make up ground. They gambled on a route up and over a muddy hill early in the day to save a few kilometers, but then took a safer line around another challenge. Swiss rivals Regine Zbinden and Ela Steiner, who are leading the 4×4 division, took the opposite course in the #179 Jeep Wrangler. Which gamble paid off won’t be known until Leg 4 rankings are released on Tuesday at noon (local time).

RANKED 3rd at Day 5 start: Team #107 Susanah Hoehn (Carlsbad, California) / Jo Hannah Hoehn (Carlsbad, California): Land Rover LR4
Winning the marathon leg over the weekend was a huge boost for the #107 team of Susanah and Jo Hannah Hoehn, but Monday was a struggle. “My confidence was through the roof going into Leg 4, but it quickly faded,” said Susanah Hoehn. Still, the pair achieved all of their checkpoints without any major issues and are ready for Day 6.

RANKED 4th at Day 5 start: Team #178 Emme Hall (Oakland, California) / Sabrina Howells (Los Angeles, California): Land Rover Defender
Sabrina Howells and Emme Hall, who finished seventh in the #178 Land Rover Defender during the marathon leg, demonstrated the charitable disposition known as the “Spirit of the Gazelles” during Leg 4. Before arriving at their first checkpoint, they drove out of their way to pull two other teams out of the mud — including their closet competitors, the #169 of Veronique de Sybourg-Siffert and Emilie Kuhn. “I thought the organizers would have subtracted 20 kilometers for helping dig other people out of the mud,” joked Howells. Despite adding some mileage, they achieved all checkpoints for the day.

RANKED 10th at Day 5 start: Team #184 Susie Saxten (Encinitas, California) / Ivy Cass (Encinitas, California): Jeep Wrangler
The #184 team of Susie Saxten and Ivy Cass achieved all of their checkpoints on Monday — even after making an incorrect measurement that saw them briefly traveling in the wrong direction. The team, who lost their power steering halfway through the marathon leg, said they were grateful to have a fully working car during Leg 4. Teams are allowed to have their cars fixed by mechanics in the bivouac, but they aren’t permitted to get outside mechanical assistance while on the course.

RANKED 13th at Day 5 start: Team #182 Teresa Stewart (Kauai, Hawaii) / Sara Jehn (Oahu, Hawaii): Jeep Wrangler
The rookie team of Theresa Stewart and Sara Jehn are proving formidable competition. A great marathon leg moved them into third in the first-time participation rankings. While they found their first six checkpoints with ease on Monday, the seventh and final stop of the day stumped them. After driving in circles, they decided to return to the bivouac for the night. They will receive a penalty for missing the checkpoint but are expected to continue in the event.

RANKED 56th at Day 5 start: Team #188 Elaine Newkirk (Rancho Santa Fe, California) / Keely Sellers (Kihei, Hawaii): Jeep Wrangler
After struggling to find both the first and second checkpoints Monday, first-time competitors Elaine Newkirk and Keely Sellers began making progress. But as they ran out of daylight late Monday, they opted to bypass the seventh checkpoint. They will receive a penalty for the missed checkpoint, but are expected to continue in the event.

RANKED 79th at Day 5 start: Team #181 Karen Hoehn (Del Mar, California) / Maureen Gibbons (Del Mar, California): Land Rover LR4
Rookies Karen Hoehn and Maureen Gibbons also ran out of daylight in their #181 Land Rover LR4. After hitting the first six checkpoints, they decided to skip the seventh and return to camp before nightfall. “It’s scary when it starts getting dark out,” said Hoehn. “We decided to cut our losses and head back.” They will receive a penalty for the missed checkpoint, but are expected to continue in the event.

RANKED 104th at Day 5 start: Team #127 Catherine Chiadmi (St. Petersburg, Florida) / Cecile Vinson (Vaucluse, France): Jeep Wrangler
The French/American duo of Catherine Chiadmi and Cecile Vinson made their first checkpoint easily and drove a near-perfect line between Checkpoints 3 and 4 in the #127 Jeep Wrangler. But after a few detours late in the day, they set a course for the bivouac. They will receive a penalty for missing two checkpoints but are expected to continue in the event.

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Nena March 29th, 2016 at 9:04 pm

Great coverage! Thank you!

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