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Sandrine Ridet: from Gazelle to Opener


She did the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles eight times between 2008 and 2016. Since 2017, Sandrine has been an “opener”, a mission she carries out far from the bustle of the bivouac.

When Sandrine caught the Rallye bug

Sandrine first heard of the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc on TV, and the event got her dreaming. “I had already done some small rallies with vintage cars in Morocco, which is how I discovered not only the country but also the world of motor sports.” Her first challenge was to take part in this legendary rally at least once in her life. Her second challenge was finding sponsors.

Her first Rallye, in 2008, did not leave great memories. The navigation was complex, and so was her relationship with her teammate. So as not to end on a bad note, she returned for a second time with someone else. “We had such a great time. We had a good result for a second-time team (editor’s note: 17th) and then things just followed on from there. We caught the bug, and as long as we could get the budget together we did it.”

The first time she did the Rallye, Sandrine came to test herself, discover her limits, find out if she could drive on this type of terrain: “I wanted to know what I was capable of, in terms of fatigue, endurance, sleeping outside, not washing. It puts many things into perspective; you take them much more calmly afterwards. And then you spend a hard month getting back into the swing of things. It lets you take a break from your daily life and gives your brain a rest, to the point that I forgot my credit card number. Impossible to withdraw money in Essaouira; you’re really disconnected from everything.”

Navigator and driver: both or nothing

Sandrine did the Rallye a total of eight times: five as driver and three as navigator. In 2014, her teammate insisted on driving because she wanted to bring her own 4×4. “I discovered navigation and I really liked it, we had so much fun! Today, I wouldn’t be able to choose. Sometimes I tell myself, I’d like to drive it again, or maybe navigate as well…” Driving is technical to Sandrine: “When it comes to tackling difficult terrain, you’re always learning! When you know your vehicle well, you’re better able to stick to your line and go straight over obstacles. That’s what I really enjoy: mastering the vehicle.” 

Whereas navigation is like mathematics: “You draw lines, you make calculations. And when you do it properly and you reach the checkpoint, you say to yourself, not bad! It’s impressive to reach a specific point using just a black and white map. It’s very satisfying, especially when people say that women are bad at orientation. That’s really not true in general, I know men who are also bad at orientation.”

Firefighter’s uniform at the Rallye

The firefighter decided to do the Rallye with colleagues. Wanting to represent her profession at the event, from 2008 to 2013, she wore her firefighter’s uniform with ranger boots and a red Land Rover with a fake emergency light. “We also had team number 112, like the emergency phone number.”

Sandrine likes all types of terrain: plains, sand, mountains, rocky trails. But one of her best memories is the leg in the dunes with Catherine, another Gazelle: “Since we’re allowed to follow each other in the dunes, she was my dune teacher. I followed her, and we became friends. You never know in advance what might happen. In 2010, for example, we were in a good position going into the third leg and then we broke down in the dunes, and finished the Rallye Unranked. That marks you, but not in a good way.”

Opener, or woman of the shadows

In 2016, after competing in Expert Class, Sandrine told herself it would be her last. “I was having a hard time coming up with the budget. And after 8 great editions, I didn’t want to do one too many and regret it or end on a sour note.”

In 2017, she replaced an opener who was unable to come at the last minute, and the conversion began. “Opener”: what a mysterious name for an equally mysterious mission. Openers place the checkpoints for the Gazelles. “In general, we’re always about one day ahead of the Gazelles. While they’re on Leg 1, we’re placing Leg 2. We have CP officials with us and we each set up about 4 checkpoints per route. Then we sleep out in the desert. We stay out on the terrain most of the time; we’re not often at the bivouac.” Sandrine discovered the other side of the Rallye. She reconnected with members of the organization, and some that she had never seen before. Her favourite part of this mission is being out on the terrain and on the course. “It’s the whole Gazelle aspect. I’m in the ambiance of the Rallye, but on the other side. The Rallye has a special ambiance, the feeling of being one big family that gets together once a year, both for the Gazelles and the organization. It’s like a family reunion!” See you at next year’s reunion!