The mechanics area, or the race against the clock, day and night

Around the rally

The mechanics area, or the race against the clock, day and night

Welcome to one of the most important places at the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc: the mechanics area. Along with the mechanical assistance team, which goes out onto the course when requested by the Gazelles, 45 people work hard every day – and especially at night – to get the Gazelles’ vehicles up and running, whatever the mechanical problem.

At the bivouac, with the help of a Franco-Moroccan crew that comes back year after year, head mechanics Christian Viano and Christophe Agar continuously manage the repairs, at a sustained pace. In the early days of the Rallye, the volunteer mechanics brought their own tools to the Rallye, but today they can count on the support of partners like Bosch Car Service – which provides all the portable electric equipment, lighting, drills, screwdrivers, blowers, etc. – as well as Goodyear and its tires. The drivers can count on the presence and support of Koni and Euro4x4parts for repairing their vehicles.

The most serious breakdowns often happen at the beginning of the Rallye. Details that were missed by the prep team are caught and corrected by the event’s mechanics. As time goes on, the Gazelles become more familiar with their vehicle, get to know it better, and learn to take care of it as the competition progresses.

Coordinating vehicle repairs

Ordering the spare parts needed for repairs requires a great deal of coordination. In order to optimize transport and reduce costs, the mechanics crews work hard to place all their orders at 10 p.m. and at 1 a.m. Combining the orders reduces the cost of transport for the teams, since the cost is divided between them. While this may seem simple on paper, in the field it is a real challenge for the mechanics crews. Transporting parts to the middle of the desert requires a knowledge of the geography, the terrain, the drivers and the garages that only solid experience built up over the course of the Rallye can provide. When parts are sent from Zagora to the first bivouac, for example, it is a 4- to 5-hour drive.

Meanwhile the mechanical assistance team consists of 16 people with 6 vehicles and 2 assistance trucks to support the Gazelles out on the course.  Communication between mechanical assistance and the mechanics crews at the bivouac is done via the Bosch Car Service mechanics logbook, which ensures proper follow-up of any vehicle repairs.

Bernard Dejonghe, a key member of the team

At the age of 16, Bernard was already starting to strip and rebuild cars. Coming from a family of farmers in the Beauvais region, he soon started working on tractors. During his long career with Massey Ferguson, he spent a month and a half driving between Paris and Dakar, delivering tractors to farmers along the way. Today, back home, he spends his time restoring old tractors and old cars.

This 30th edition of the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc is a special one for Bernard. Every year, for 16 years, he has been a part of the event’s mechanics workshop. What makes him come back, year after year? His Moroccan friends and mechanics: “It’s thanks to them that we manage to take care of so many vehicles; they’re brave as anything”. In spite of everything, it is hard physical work, and the nights are short, with just 3 or 4 hours of sleep (although a micro-nap always helps!) At 75 years old, he has decided to retire. This is his last Rallye.

The highlights of these 16 years of dedication? There are many. It is above all the bonds created with the Gazelles over the cars that will stay with him: “We really see a transformation in the Gazelles as the competition progresses. At the end of the Rallye, you get the impression that they have matured by 2 or 3 years: you don’t even recognize them anymore”. And the recognition for his work. “When the boss – i.e., Dominique Serra – calls all the mechanics up onto the stage; it’s quite something”.

For his last year, Bernard is taking pictures for the first time: to share with his wife and to keep the memories alive.