The Gazelles Rally Has Run Its Course for the Year

And it seems that everyone is a little more tired and angry than usual.

What is usually a festive atmosphere around the highly competitive (and usually ripe with camaraderie) finish of the annual Rallye de Aicha Gazelles is a little bit lower this year after the winning team (and this is where it gets ironic), Team Toyota, was disqualified the final day for cheating the entire 9-day race.

It seems that a Toyota team claiming that there is a mechanical malfunction at fault is just about as ironic as it gets in light of the recent technical malfunctions Toyota has been battling through, but after 40 hours of analysis, race officials have allegedly determined that driver Corentine Quinou and navigator Florence Migraine Bourgnon were manually manipulating the iritrack (satellite tracking device) and odometer of their Toyota Land Cruiser. Reports from Morocco said that the women have a highly unique way of “racing” and hung back most legs but would enter the daily end of leg locations (biovacs) with atypically high scores for catching every check point flag in the shortest distances and in the quickest times.

The Gazelles rally was a lot more difficult this year: road books that are normally full of the 1950′s maps of the landscape (in French, mind you) were basically reduced to pieces of paper that required the navigators to use their compasses, rulers, calculators and pencils in ways more similar to Pythagoras than to athletes out to prove themselves in the desert. In the end, navigators who are usually on top of their game were missing checkpoints, drivers were pushed to their limits and mechanics on site said that they saw damage to trucks that broken in places where trucks never break.

The new road books are controversial, not because of their attempt to raise the bar of the competition, but because the organizers had apparently decided to change the game because they suspected cheating in previous years. Team #138, the disqualified team, had won the rally 3 times and placed 2nd once since 2005. Changing the books was fine but this year’s race saw a whole new level of how it will change again. All of the top placed team were not, in fact in stock trucks but in full on, Dakar-style racing trucks. That is like taking a stock category truck in Baja and telling the team to beat Robby Gordon in a trophy truck. The women raced hard and as much as they say this rally isn’t about speed, this year they went fast.

Team Miller Fisher, the only US team competing in the rally, was in a stock H3. When I say stock, I mean STOCK. Their truck came off of a Parisian Hummer dealer’s lot and had the basic stock for Baja 1000 adjustments made, which is to say, very little. They came in 12th at the end, raising their rank daily from the bottom of the pack. Driver Emily Miller and navigator Wendy Fisher drove a race that they are very proud of after the 1st leg of mishaps. Emily called from Morocco to say that this was the hardest race that she has ever done and min you, this is the 1st woman to win an Iron Man in the Vegas to Reno off road race. In her typical way, however, she quickly summarized the race, spoke briefly about the controversy around Team Toyota and jumped into her plans for next year’s race and wondered out loud how we could get more United States women to want to achieve a rally that will be like one never held before.

It is sad that all of these people came together after so many months of preparation (world class athletes, humanitarians, doctors, organizers, mechanics and passionistas), only to find at the end of their hard work, 2 women were selfish enough to make it all so disappointing. This rally has the Princess of Morocco behind the wheel, the daughter of the head of Senegal as a world class driver and yet, in the desert where everything should have been on level sand, the reality of what some people will do to win, dawned on them all.

When Emily returns to the US, we will be doing an outreach to women and trying to get some more people to try next year’s rally and hope that everyone can start with a clean slate.

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10 Responses to “ The Gazelles Rally Has Run Its Course for the Year ”

  1. I am grateful of your following of the event. I was unable to pull the resources together this year to compete, but plan to be there in the future. I think it would be an excellent opportunity (like Emily said in an interview) to put a vehicle through it’s 4×4 paces! Any manufacturer that wants to showcase their stock vehicles or put their new hybrid to the test should consider this as an opportunity to do just that! Given my involvement in the renewable energy sector, this is the first and only race that I can subscribe my guilty pleasure to one day competing in (although I am extremely drawn to most off-road and rally events). Thanks again for being so diligent with the postings…I have enjoyed receiving them since there has been so little posted on line.

  2. [...] hat-tip to Miss Motor Mouth for the [...]

  3. I’m so glad you were able to share coverage of this remarkable event. I didn’t know about it before this year but have been following your coverage through Twitter and here on this blog and have been inspired. It amazes me we’ve only had 1 American Team in and this is it’s 20th year. I’d love to be more involved in the future. In regards to the unsavory behavior of Corentine Quinou and navigator Florence Migraine Bourgnon – it’s rather unfortunate for Toyota, but I believe it reflects more poorly on the individuals than on the company sponsoring them. Ultimately it was these two ladies out there alone in the desert making these manipulations and giving false reports. Part of what I found so appealing about the Rallye Des Gazelles write-ups I’d read about this event is the personal challenge and development of spirit that happened when testing themselves against the desert and old navigation techniques and the camaraderie that developed. It’s sad they lost sight of the rewards that were greater than the win.

  4. Kate, Thank you for your comment and agree, Gazelles is a great opportunity for the manufacturers to test new products and technologies. I hope that you do get an opportunity to compete next year and that I get to see you there!

    Jackie, Thank you as well for your support of the coverage and the race. Emily Miller would like to hold driving and navigation training this year to assist other US women in getting to Gazelles. I will keep you posted on any events.

    And finally, I understand that Toyota was probably not culpable in these ladies’ decision to take a less than team spirited approach to working this year. They were not going to be racing for Toyota after this rally (not clear why) anyways. The event organizers have still not released an official statement on the exact decision but it has been mentioned that the team will be banned from life from the event.

  5. Dear Miss Motor Mouth,

    How can you write such allegations if the organisation of the rallye itself haven’t published anything relating that matter?
    Correct me if I am wrong…..

  6. She has a very well-connected source (I asked her who it was). Whether or not there’s been a lifetime ban, there definitely was a DQ for this race.

  7. I don’t know. Have you read anything saying this from the Organisation of the rally?

  8. http://espritdegazelles.wordpress.com/2010/04/01/raalye-aicha-gazelles-2010-la-mechante-rumeur/ (in French) is fun to read when translated by, say, Google. It looks like the organizer of the race herself has posted comments saying, more or less, that there was a confession by the team.

    Everybody leave Michelle alone for posting this FACTUAL story. I’ve heard from Michelle that there have been crazy threats and other nonsense from people on the other side of the Atlantic. If you don’t like what is being written, don’t give people something to write about at all. Michelle was happy to write about good news, but this bad behavior couldn’t be ignored.

  9. [...] The Gazelles Rally Has Run Its Course for the Year [...]

  10. [...] the first 3 things to number 4, in all fairness, what had me really spooked was reaction to an article I wrote last year about the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles. Some girls cheated. They might have cheated for years, in [...]