Solen and Carine – We have been engineers at Renault for over 15 years. We already did the rally a few years ago with a 4×4. But getting behind the wheel of a ZOE in the “crossover” (SUV) category is the culmination of an extraordinary project, led by a team of passionate colleagues! We do have to remember that ZOE is the first 100% electric car in the history of the Rallye des Gazelles to enter this category. And it was with a minimum of preparation that the car was hired to meet this incredible challenge.
We were all guided by the same dream: see our little electric city car criss-cross the wadis (riverbeds), overcome obstacles, and challenge the camel grass. It gets it out of its “city car” image and shows its potential in “off-road” driving conditions, especially thanks to its high torque at low speed.
Solen and Carine – They are really minimal! The only modifications were to raise the vehicle, fit large 4×4 tyres, install under-engine and rear axle guards. But all the important elements were rigorously standard: the battery, the engine, no reinforcement added and especially no modification at the level of traction. ZOE remained in two wheel drive.
The tracks used were the same as for the crossovers in the same category, and often common with the 4x4s of the Rally. Imagine ZOE driving non-stop for ten days on totally deformed tracks, in the fesh-fesh (a kind of soft sand) or in the dunes of Merzouga, on stones of all sizes, where it becomes almost impossible to hold a map or watch the cape… But ZOE was much better adapted to the desert and much more comfortable than we thought. Especially on rocky terrain where, its flexibility, its immediate torque and the lack of gear change, allowed it to fly over the ground smoothly, compared to 4x4s which sinned by their rigidity. And what silence!
Solen et Carine – We encountered quite a few obstacles that were difficult to cross with our two wheel drive ZOE and experienced a great moment of solitude from the prologue, where we needed no less than an hour to clear our sand. But that disappointment taught us to better understand how ZOE behaved.
On the first step, we were not allowed to recharge. That played tricks on us because, to press too much on the pedal, we fell down! The next day, we played it safe, returning to the bivouac by the tracks, which means on a relatively favourable ground. And there… surprise! We still had enough range to get the last two beacons by steering on the course, which means driving the shortest trajectory identified on the map. Later on, we then adapted our strategy to each stage. According to the terrain and the distances, we were choosing either the tracks or the course.
The Aïcha Rallye des Gazelles obeys the rules of orienteering. It consists of one prologue and six legs, all entirely off-road, two of which are marathon legs lasting two days. A total of 2,500 kilometers through dried-out river beds, shock absorber-busting stony plains and the sandy dunes of the western Sahara desert have to be covered by the teams with only a compass and a 1:100,000 scale map to plot their route between checkpoints.