Women-Only ‘Rally of Gazelles’ Is Redefining the Sport
We chat with the Morocco event’s founder, Dominique Serra, to find out what makes it the most unique — and badass — off-road race around.
Off-road racing is once again peaking, with more and more people heading out to their local deserts in search of some high-speed fun. And automotive manufacturers are responding, offering vehicles capable of tackling any sort of terrain straight off the showroom floor. These trucks are also equipped with electronic aids that make off-road driving a snap. Coupled with modern navigation and satellite technology, what once took skill now requires only cash.
Enter the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc, or the “Rally of Gazelles,” as it’s otherwise known. Set to kick off its 28th year March 16-31, this is an off-road rally unlike any other. For starters, it’s a women-only race in a male-dominated sport. Secondly, the Rally of Gazelles doesn’t allow participants to use any of that modern, newfangled technology to complete the race. Only a paper map, compass, and navigational plotter.
Despite those limitations, the Rally of Gazelles also affords a great deal of freedom. Participants are able to plot out their own route and tackle each segment any way they choose. The winner isn’t the first to cross the finish line, either. Rather, it’s the team that finishes the race in the least number of kilometers while also locating the greatest number of checkpoints. It’s quite simply a test of both brains and brawn.
‘I wanted to give [riders] the freedom of choosing their own path, just as in life. Because of the return to ‘real’ navigation where you have to think, it becomes a treasure hunt where common sense and intelligence is important.’
We recently had the pleasure to chat with Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc founder Dominique Serra to get the scoop on this truly amazing race. And suffice to say, Serra is one passionate off-road enthusiast!
Yota Tech: The most impressive thing about the rally is that you take a distinctively old-school approach, devoid of modern technology like GPS. What made you want to give your drivers such freedom in choosing how they complete the race?
DOMINIQUE SERRA (pictured): I wanted to give them the freedom of choosing their own path and deciding their own way, just as in life. Because of the return to “real” navigation where you have to engage yourself and think, it becomes a treasure hunt where common sense and intelligence is important.
Off-road racing has a bit of a stigma when it comes to protecting the environment. What has the rally done to ensure our sport can live on for generations to come?
The Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles is certified with an environmental standard (ISO 14001 certification). We have organized a strict approach to protect the places we cross. Then, we sort our waste and burn it in an incinerator and collect any litter. We also compensate our CO2 emissions through the concept of not racing with speed, we pollute less, and we save water. And last year, we introduced the first electric vehicle category with participants called E-Gazelles.
Aside from presenting a fun and challenging experience, how does the rally positively affect participant’s lives?
It is a very intense human adventure that builds character and self-esteem. This experience stays with the women long after they return home!
Have you found that the rally has helped eliminate any prejudices about female racers prior to its existence?
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of prejudice, especially among sports journalists who do not take the race seriously. They see it as a “girl journey” instead of as the tough rally race that it actually is.
How has the rally changed and evolved over its nearly three decades?
Thanks to the Internet and social networks, we were able to gather different nationalities and become an international event.
How challenging is it to set up for such a major event?
It takes a lot of planning and hard work to make the event happen every year. But of course, it’s all worth it in the end!
How do you envision the rally evolving in the coming years as it continues to grow?
It is always exciting to hear more women learn about the rally, and more nationalities entering the race. This year, we have our first Chinese competitor!
To learn more about the fascinating Rally of Gazelles and its corresponding events, head over to the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc site.
Photos: Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc