Two France-based women to tackle all woman Sahara Desert off-road race

The pair from the UK and New Zealand, who live in Nouvelle-Aquitaine in France, will drive around 1,500km across the desert as part of the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles

New Zealander Susan Alemann (Left) and Briton Helen Tait Wright will compete in a gruelling all women off-road race across the Sahara Desert

Two women from the UK and New Zealand who live in Deux-Sèvres (Nouvelle-Aquitaine) are setting off today to compete in an all woman off-road car rally that will take place in the Sahara Desert in Morocco.

Briton Helen Tait Wright and New Zealander Susan Alemann, both in their 50s, will drive a 4X4 Land Rover a total distance of 7,100km from France to Morocco, where they will then compete in the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles.

The teams depart from Nice today (September 18).

The race proper will take place over six stages and last nine days, between September 22 and 30. They will traverse around 1,500km of the Sahara Desert, and will have only a compass and a map from the 1950s to complete this race.

The two women, who have lived in France for the past three years, first met at a wine tasting event two years ago.

“I knew right away that I was going to be her navigator, but it took her a while to realise it," Ms Alemann told Ouest France ahead of the race.

Ms Alemann is the first person from New Zealand to compete in the race, which she said was a motivating factor for participating.

Ms Tait Wright has already competed before, back in 2019.

“I’ve done it before so I know it’s not gonna be easy,” Ms Tait Wright told The Connexion.

“So yeah, there’s a bit of excitement. I’m looking forward to getting back to Morocco and getting back to the desert.”

“Sue’s nervous as she’s never done it before. I kind of know what’s coming. There are certain things that worry me but I’m not really nervous about it, if that makes sense. I know the things that are gonna be difficult.”

The women have donated €3,000 to a project run by the Bioparc, a zoological park in Doué-la-Fontaine (Maine-et-Loire). The project involves efforts to slow down the invasion of prickly pear trees in West Africa, which threaten the habitats of dama gazelles. This is the largest of the gazelles and the most threatened, according to the bioparc's website.

Queens of the desert

The two France-based women are just one team out of a total of 190 all-women teams.

It is the 30th edition of the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles, which was delayed several times in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic.

Ms Tait Wright will be driving her own car, which she has dubbed Priscilla, named after the 1994 Australian film ‘The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’.

Ms Tait Wright is not working at the moment, but said her "real job" is working as a fashion designer in the UK, specialising in wedding dresses and special occasion wear.

Ms Alemann works as a consultant.

You can follow their progress on their Facebook page here.

A programme of actions is organised around the Rallye des Gazelles, to bring medical aid to isolated populations.

Related stories:

Next generation of French hikers turns to outdoor micro-adventures

Cystic fibrosis is no barrier to adventure traveller’s lust for life