BMS Administrator, Ella, sat down with Bénédicte, BMS Trustee and Founder of the Rally Marrakech Sahara, to find out more about the Rally, which will be making its comeback this autumn after a hiatus due to the pandemic.
To get us started, for our members who haven’t heard about it before, what exactly is the Rally Marrakech Sahara?
The Rally Marrakech Sahara is an off-road car rally for people who enjoy a bit of adventure and an interesting challenge for their holidays. It’s an adventure because you are in the Moroccan desert, which is both a cultural shock and a magnificent landscape. It’s a challenge because you drive your 4×4 on rocky and sandy tracks rather than roads, with a road book and a compass to find your way to checkpoints (flags) in the least number of kilometers possible.
How it all started
Can you tell me a little more about your love for Morocco?
I fell in love with Morocco like a lot of tourists when I first went there many years ago: the colours, the scents, the vibrancy, the food… I also admired the craftsmanship of the objects you find in the souks including those fabulous tribal rugs. I decided to start importing them and more specifically to work with interior designers in England to supply bespoke furniture and decorative objects. I had this business for a few years and got to know the director of the Moroccan Office of Tourism at the time, Mr Ali Kasmi who introduced me to the British Moroccan Society.
And what inspired you to start a rally? I know that you competed in another rally in 2012, was that what sparked the inspiration, and what made you decide to start your own?
Through the BMS, I met this wonderful woman who is now one of my best friends, Jamila Ait Akka who, at the time, lived in London. We both got very involved in the BMS. Then Jamila got a job in Meknes. End of March 2011, she was in Essaouira, on the beach, watching 150 4x4s, buggies, quad bikes, all driven by women arrive from the desert. She called me and said: let’s do the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles du Maroc.
We both discovered the Moroccan desert between Erfoud and Foum’z Guid and both felt under the spell of its vastness and beautiful skies.
I thought then more people should experience this and it would be more fun to do a rally than just go there as a tourist. The Rallye Aicha des Gazelles is an amazing adventure but it’s also a serious motor sport and as such quite expensive, requiring sponsors. It’s also only open to women.
And why did you decide to support the BMS through the rally?
A few years ago, Jamila and I had organised the ascension of Jbel Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa, situated in Morocco, as a fundraiser for the BMS. I thought, why not organise a car rally as a fundraiser for the BMS? Open to everyone, even to people who’ve barely ever driven 4x4s as long as they’re happy to go on an adventure.
The Rally itself
Can you tell me a little more about the region the rally goes through?
The region east of Morocco, along the Algerian border, is both a rocky and sandy desert. There are towns and villages but often, you can find yourself all alone looking at a rugged mountainous landscape. And then, one night, you camp at the top of a dune and it is an experience of a lifetime.
Do you think that 4×4 racing allows people to experience Morocco in a different way?
Definitely. The rally is not about speed but about doing the least number of kilometers so this leaves the participants time to experience the desert in a leisurely way and also to talk to the locals.
Can you tell me more about the work and preparation that goes into the rally and behind the scenes during the race?
I have a team of locals, both French and Moroccan, who often have worked on the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles and so know the area very well. They prepare the road book a couple of months in advance. There are always old tracks discarded and new tracks created which adds to the challenge. We try to have all the teams in one place for a delicious lunch prepared by our cook but in case teams don’t make it, we also provide a picnic. All the cars are fitted with a tracking device so anyone getting lost can be found.
Do you have teams coming from different countries?
They tend to come from the UK but one year, we had American, French, and Japanese teams. The atmosphere at the camp and in the hotels is always good fun. In the hotels by the dunes, there are always local musicians playing drums and some of the participants end up dancing.
It all sounds a bit crazy, is there a chance for some relaxation too?
All the hotels have swimming pools so yes, you can relax. It’s often possible to take a camel trip to see the sunset in the dunes.
For anyone who might want to sign up to compete
Is it too late for teams to sign up for the 2022 rally?
The rally is normally in May but with all the uncertainty due to Covid, we’ve moved it to October so yes, plenty of time to sign up.
Do you need experience in 4×4 or desert driving?
No, we explain how to drive one when participants arrive, and we spent a couple of hours on the first day practicing sand driving.
Do you have any advice for choosing teammates? What makes a good team?
A good friend/partner is helpful. There can be some tension when disagreeing on the track to take but the rally is really bon enfant [good natured and easy going]. Participants are ready to help when someone is stuck in the sand. But it’s also a competition and there are always happy winners.
And finally, what would you say is the best thing about 4×4 racing, or your best rally experience?
For me the best thing is discovering the superb Moroccan desert while having fun trying to win a friendly competition
Find out more or sign up for the Rally here!