The Sahara Challenge 2015

Madrid to Marrakesh - October 5-14, 2015

Day 4 - Fes to Ifrane

Higher and Higher

So, today was billed as an easy day with a very welcome 9.00am start before we enjoyed a good & fast - but don't forget the Traffic Police - run out of Fes on a brand new autoroute. We were just about the only traffic on it and most crews felt that it was 16 Dirhams well spent to knock off something like 55km from the day's total of 347km.

Once off the autoroute we headed straight for the Atlas Section and started climbing through a dramatic red sandstone gorge pocked with high level caves populated by birds.

The road was good if narrow and in no time at all we were in the Jael Tazzeka National Park. We corkscrewed upwards and onwards through hairpin after hairpin running through a thick and wild looking cork tree plantation before we popped out at the top at almost 1,000 m.

We kept a lookout for the resident Barbary apes and leopards in the cedar trees but most of the drivers sensibly only had eyes for the road which really gave a rollercoaster ride.

The broken Tarmac, the altitude (1489 m) and the mist shrouded hills gave this morning an epic and eerie feel. Certainly it’s a sparsely populated area but as we made our way down from the hills we traversed a dry rocky plateau with mud brick and tin houses served by donkeys carrying firewood and water as they have done for centuries.

Gradually the landscape softened and we found ourselves driving through fields of recently harvested onions neatly piled into rows waiting to be collected. Apples were also being picked and loaded into ancient wooden crates.

This Rally was partly billed as a Peking to Paris shakedown and today it certainly lived up to its billing. The stunning Mongolia like landscape of the 2000 m. high Almis du Guigou plateau was as challenging as anything we’ve ever seen in Central Asia and most crews pulled into the end of test time control with grins as wide as the views.

Sadly though this sort of terrain didn’t suit the smallest car on the Rally. Rachael Vestey and Owen Turner are now pretty much out of the running for a win. Their rear suspension collapsed on this, the last test of the day but with the help of the AA – Actman-Ayris -  sweep team they scraped into the night halt time control to begin the night shift of car repairs.

As a result of the day’s action the leaderboard has changed somewhat. The Classics category has had a total shake up with Mike Velasco and Peter St George now leading from Ludovic Bois and Julia Colman whilst Nigel Farmer and Stephen Lovell steered their Ford Escort Mexico Mk1 into third spot.

Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman now lead the Vintageants in their silver bullet Ford Model A whilst Jean and Anne Steinhauser drop to second. Joe Robillard and Matt Peckham riding high in the big yellow beast of a Chevrolet Coupe sit in third.

It’s great to see Paul and Chris Hartfield back with us. They've pulled off an heroic bit of fettling fixing and chasing to get their Packard this far. There’s still a bit of work to do on the car but they reckon that they can sort these ‘minor’ issues out en route. There’s a slight oil leak, a slightly worse after leak and a dodgy wheel bearing. By the time they get to Marrakech it’ll be as good as new.

Charles and Sophie Stuart-Menteth have sorted their clutch and are back with the pack. Similarly we welcome Michael Strasser and Arno Schenk who are now travelling in a Dacia rental car following the demise of their Rolls Royce.

Our hotel for his evening is the stunning Michlifen Suites & Spa. Like the rest of the town of Ifrane it has a very European Alpine feel to it and the bar is certainly as well stocked as any apres ski establishment.

When we finally sat down to dinner we were entertained late into the night with an accomplished cabaret duo supplemented by an impromptu and splendidly artistic baton twirling display by the Mercedes Adenauer co-driver Eric Sia.

Tomorrow we journey through more cedar forests on the way to the edge of the Sahara at Erfoud.

Syd Stelvio



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