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Elodie Baudin and Julie Kohlmann are pictured in their vehicle at a pre-race party in concept store Robin du Lac in March
Photo: Mike Zenari/archives
Nine days in the Moroccan desert with only a compass and teammate to get you through.
Women’s race the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles may sound like a nightmare for anyone who can’t live without GPS and air-conditioning, but for competitive spirits like Julie Kohlmann, it was heaven.
“You can just hear the wind and when there’s no wind, you hear nothing. You can spend hours and hours without meeting another vehicle. The feeling of freedom is so big,” Kohlmann told Delano a few days after finishing twentieth.
4th time at the rally
A private banker in Luxembourg, the 2018 edition was the fourth rally for the French national who competed with newcomer Elodie Baudin in team 242. “Considering it was Elodie’s first race, we’re more than satisfied with our ranking,” Kohlmann said.
But she was not without regrets. The aim of the race is to travel the shortest distance possible between check points, while maneuvering around sand dunes, using only a compass and map. On day five, the pair reached all eight check points, all that remained was to travel eight kilometres to the bivouacs. But, then came the sand storm.
Photo: Mike Zenari/archives. The rear of Kohlmann's Land Rover Defender
“We couldn’t see more than ten metres away. I think we drove 80 kilometres to find them,” Kohlmann said. “Without that, we would have done better.”
But, there were also plenty of positive memories, for one crossing the Erg Chegaga dunes, a 40-kilometre stretch of giant sand dunes. “It was really wow! When you arrived at the bivouacs you could hardly move but it was the best moment of the rally.”
The Luxembourg touch
The pair drove Kohlmann’s Land Rover Defender, which had been specially tuned for the race and emblazoned with the Luxembourg flag, artwork from Luxembourg artist Claire-Lise Backes and the sponsors’ names.
The latter, is increasingly important for professionals and non-professionals alike for a race in which interest has exploded since it first began in 1990. Participation costs up to €35,000 not including purchasing or renting a vehicle. As Kohlmann said “If you have no sponsors, you stay at home.” There is little doubt that increased support from sponsors has boosted participation and the general standard.
While the rally attracts mostly French nationals, in addition to Kohlmann, there has been a handful of competitors from Luxembourg in recent years. This year, team 181, Stéphanie Marseaut and Mathilde Antoine Thanner, who finished 106 out of 140 finishers, also had a Luxembourg connection.
Photo: Mike Zenari/archives. The Land Rover was decorated by Luxembourg artist Claire-Lise Backes
Back in the driving seat
After such a rush, the next challenge for Kohlmann and Baudin was readjusting to being “back on earth, in real life”. Baudin returned to work just four days after the prizegiving. Kohlmann spent a few days at her family’s home in the Auvergne where she was still dreaming about the race.
“There’s a 100% chance I will do it again. The question is, will it be in 2019 or 2020? 2020 will be the thirtieth anniversary of the rally. They will drive in other areas of Morocco. I’m wondering should I wait? Or should I listen to my heart and do it again next year?”