The Sahara Challenge 2015
Madrid to Marrakesh - October 5-14, 2015
Day 9 - Tafraoute to Marrakesh
The Longest Day
The last full day on the road and by coincidence also the longest one, with a full 487km of Morocco to get through before we hit Marrakesh.
A slight end of term atmosphere hung over the breakfast room this morning, the age old pull of Marrakech is as strong as it ever was, and like a magnet it was drawing us to it. The fact that we knew we were heading for the swankiest hotel in town for two full nights might also have helped. Some of our number would get there a little more quickly than the rest of us however. Paul and Chris Hartfield for example had decided to skip the Regularity and the associated mountains and head straight to the night halt. Their brakes had given them some trouble yesterday and, in an area as mountainous as this it's wise not to take any chances. They have done remarkably well anyway, nursing and fixing the Packard through most of the Rally after being forced to play catch up at the beginning.
Other than the great outdoors and a fabulous setting there are few other draws for the tourist in and around Tafraoute but the painted rocks - les rochers peints as they are known locally - are one of them and they gave the crews a chance to switch off their engines and take in a little bit of culture, just in case they'd missed the yoghurt at breakfast. After a ten minute reverie, the first Regularity of the day took the cars through the park where a Belgian artist had, some years ago taken it upon himself to paint some of the boulders. Quite an undertaking perhaps, but as a keen student of the "incoherent" school of art (founded in 1882) and the leader of the Vintageant category Bill Cleyndert was left wondering, along with many others "but is it art"?
A stiff 68km mountain section followed this through freshly cut hairpins on a recently surfaced road and led us to the Time Control in Aouguenz which presaged the second Regularity which, as it comprised an uphill and a downhill, tested the engine braking to the max. This is a rugged and shattered landscape up here but a very rewarding one to drive through and by the time we arrived at lunch via roads lined with banana hothouses most of the crews were buzzing with excitement.
As for the lunch itself; many places claim to be an oasis of calm and have the soubriquet legendary applied but our lunch halt today was truly both of these things. The Gazelle d'Or in Taroudant served up a phenomenal lunch for a very hungry Rally complete with profiteroles and macaroons for desert.
What of our rugged and shattered crews then? The afternoon saw another testing Atlas section before the flatlands of Marrakesh and by the time the day was over the leaderboard had shifted once again. Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman still top the Vintageant category with Jean and Anne Steinhauser in second place and Keith and Norah Ashworth hold third.
In the Classics Category however the tricky Regularities have meant that Edmund Peel and Sarah MacDonald have lost their third place and are back in fourth. Gianmaria Aghem and Rosella Conti still hold the top spot from Mike Velasco and Peter St George. Ludovic Bois and Julia Coleman have reoccupied third place.
Tonight we’re ensconced in the Sofitel and that end of term feeling has most definitely carried over from breakfast.
Tomorrow is the last day, and a half day at that. A quick loop out of Marrakesh and into the hills for coffee and cakes sandwiched neatly between two trips to the race track.