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The Race of a Lifetime

Published

The Race of a Lifetime

The 24th Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles is set to begin in Paris, France, on March 14, with a ceremonial start at the famed Trocadéro Gardens across from the Eiffel Tower, and finish in the coastal town of Essaouira, Morocco on March 29. A grueling test of driving skill and navigation across Southern Morocco’s beautiful and challenging terrain, the Gazelle Rally is unique in that without GPS, communications, and service crews, competitors must find the shortest distance between the checkpoints over nine days with only the aid of traditional navigation — compass, outdated maps, and plotters. The event is a true test of endurance, patience, and teamwork, pushing competitors to their limits.

Ranch & Coast attended an intimate dinner at Rancho Valencia that welcomed and honored Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles founder, Dominique Serra, in town from Avignon, France. The reception was attended by Qualcomm CMO and Rancho Valencia owner Jeff Jacobs, sports agent Circe Wallace, and representatives of ESPN, among others. Guests also included members of the 2014 U.S. teams, among them San Diego natives and sister duo Jo Hannah Hoehn and Susanah Hoehn — no strangers to the automotive industry representing a fourth generation in the car dealership business. The Dartmouth graduates are looking forward to the challenging days ahead and showcasing the all-new 2014 Range Rover Sport’s performance skills.

“The rally had an immediate appeal to us on so many levels,” says Jo Hannah. “The location, the challenge, the cars, the environmental and philanthropic components, and a healthy dose of girl-power.” Adds Susanah, “I think our only concern was whether or not our dad would be ok with letting us go.”

Of their feelings, mom Karen Hoehn says, “Bob and I were first concerned with safety, safety, safety. Our specific concern was them sleeping out in the desert alone. When we found out that most nights they come back to a mobile camp with other participants, we thought, ‘ok, we can do this.’”

The Hoehen sisters are currently training with professional racer and three-time Gazelle Emily Miller in the Ocotillo Wells and Imperial Sand Dunes area of California. “Both are incredibly determined, smart, and committed,” says Miller. “Jo Hannah has good throttle control and has a lot of potential as a driver. We were in a stock Range Rover and she proved both she and the car can handle the challenge.” The weekend sessions offer real life “Gazelle” scenarios testing their knowledge and strengths, vehicle mechanics, off-road driving, and vehicle recovery. “Susanah took control of an exercise where we got a car very stuck in a hole in the sand dunes and they had to figure out how to get it unstuck without towing,” says Miller. “She did an excellent job evaluating, directing, and rolling up her sleeves and physically digging the car out. She is also solid in her navigation skills and orientation in the field on the maps already.”

Playing to their strengths, in Morocco Jo Hannah will drive, and Susanah will navigate. “I believe either one could do each job well, but they have made a good choice for their roles,” says Miller. “Well, Jo Hannah is a bit directionally challenged and gets car-sick as a passenger. So, the jobs were easily determined,” adds Susanah with a smile.

Personal strengths aside, one thing is certain — the sisters are extremely close, which will play to their advantage. “Being only 13 months apart we definitely have a sort of unspoken language and are acutely aware of each other’s mood and feelings. In a challenge that pushes you to the limits of fatigue and emotional strain, this innate understanding will be our strongest advantage as a team,” says Jo Hannah.

“This rally will definitely sharpen and refine their skills, which will be invaluable for a lifetime,” Miller says. “To put their vehicles to the test and rely on their vehicles in such an intense setting, as well as their own personal skills so heavily for such an extended period of time, in such extreme conditions, will make them more credible to their customers. The automotive world is filled with fine, manufactured events. This rally is raw and real. Nothing replaces experience.” rallyeaichadesgazelles.com   Mia S. Park

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