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Sahara Rallye Grand Erg 2012: The desert shakes

Markus Schönfeld
Sahara Rallye Grand Erg 2012
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S on Sunday, April 22nd, 6:30 pm . Darkness quickly falls in the port of “La Goulette”. And not even all the cars have rolled out of the big belly of the Carthage - the ship that brings the huge rally train of the Grand Erg 2012 from Genoa to the African continent with considerable delay. And then there's that too: As the sun sets, a powerful thunderstorm is approaching the Tunisian capital. Lightning and thunder are getting closer and closer. A welcome fireworks display? Or a first attempt at intimidation in the ruthless desert? No - the anticipation of the 30 participating teams and the huge organizational group cannot be overcome that easily. Finally, tonight there is a long connection stage including a regularity test in the direction.

Thunderstorm over Tunis

The competition animals are quickly loaded from the trailer, provisions are distributed and the technology is ready to go. A chaotic spectacle for the many onlookers. But with the teams, every move is perfect. When the convoy of 60 vehicles sets off towards the south at exactly eight o'clock, the sky opens up. Waterfalls rush down on the steep front windows. Visibility zero! And there are still a good 340 kilometers to the first bed - the Hotel Gafsa Palace. One thing is already certain: It will be a short night.

The next morning, all the teams will still appear on the edge of the Chott el Jerid - one of the mightiest salt lakes in North Africa - punctually for the first real rally stage. After less than ten minutes, the special stage lives up to its name. A few kilometers after the start, an insidious swamp awaits tinny food. And he'll get plenty of that in the next few minutes. One by one they underestimate the white crust and hopelessly sink into the mud. Whether off-road vehicle, Unimog or MAN KAT - half of the vehicles are stuck. Both recovery trucks have their hands full on the second day in Tunisia. And that won't change in the next few days, when it goes even deeper into the desert and seemingly endless dune stages await the rally.

Lost in the desert

Day 4 in particular is tough. From Camp Zmela it's about 150 kilometers across the red-yellow sand, past the notorious Tembaine table mountain and into the complexprepared outdoor camp of the Grand Erg. But only very few make it until then that day. Just five teams arrive at the legendary swimming pool by evening. The rest is lost somewhere in the desert. So that night, 18 teams are left on their own. Rally leader Jörg Russler mobilizes all forces and starts the largest rescue operation in the history of the Grand Erg. Even military helicopters are now circling over the camp. Only two days later does the sand release the last car. Fortunately, nobody is injured.

In tow to the finish line

At the end of the rally, all participants and members of the organization arrive overjoyed at Club Aldiana in Nabeul at. Team number 110 in the white Defender 90 pulled out a sufficient lead. Martin Kern and Martin Geis win the rally through their consistently cautious and far-sighted drive. Second came father and son Kastner from Austria in their Toyota HZJ. The third-placed driver had to be dragged across the finish line because of a defective injection pump. It is the black four-axle MAN KAT 8x8 from the Britz family, which put on a spectacular show until the last day and was always ready to rescue others.

After ten exhausting days of the rally, there is now only one difficult stage left for everyone at Club Aldiana: Free beer all night. How many teams will be rescued by breakfast remains unclear.

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