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Fast Five with Nicole Pitell - Competing in the 2015 Rallye Aicha Des Gazelles

Matt EmeryPhotographer, Writer

It’s been said that the race can be won or lost before you ever get to the starting line. The preparations for an event such as the 2015 Rallye Aicha Des Gazelles, held on March 20-April 5th, 2015, which includes stints both the European and African continents, goes beyond the capabilities of even the best teams. That is the task that Nicolle Pitell and Jessi Combs face.

The Rallye Aicha Des Gazelles is one of the toughest all-female sporting events on the planet. 150 two-person teams will compete in the event representing 25 countries – including professional drivers, athletes, celebrities and adventurers from across the globe. 262 organizers are on-site to support the teams.

Nicolle Pitell gave us the lowdown on the upcoming 2015 Rallye Aicha Des Gazelles and her involvement.

The rally is a grueling test of driving skill and navigation across southern Morocco’s most beautiful and challenging terrain. The rally is unique whereby teams are not allowed technological assistance. In the absence of GPS, communications and service crews, teams must find the shortest distance between the checkpoints over nine days of competition with only the aid of traditional navigation – compass, outdated maps, and plotters. The event is an incredible test of endurance, patience, and teamwork, pushing competitors to their limits.

To get a better idea of what they will be facing, we sat down with Nicolle Pitell of Total Chaos, who let us in on how the team is handling these daunting challenges. She and teammate Jessi Combs have been busy with not only getting their four wheel drive 2014 Toyota Tacoma built and shipped off to another continent, but with the usual myriad of items that only racing can entail.

The support from family and friends in this industry has truly been amazing. I’m so stoked

During the race, what is your job?
“I was originally the navigator, but Jessi (Combs) has much more experience with that and gravitated towards it, so I will now be the driver. My job is to keep the vehicle together in one piece, work with Jessi on distances, headings and map references, and basically putting the Tacoma where Jessi tells me. I am also tasked with making sure that our equipment is fully prepped and into the secure zone on time”.

What are some of the preparations that needed to be done?
“We have shipped the Tacoma to Valencia, Spain, where we will take possession of it. Once there, we will go through tech inspection and present the required items that we need to be eligible to compete. Personally, I have been physically preparing for this by doing a lot of cycling and hiking. We’re going to be in and out of the truck often for 9-days straight, so the physical exertion along with the mental exertion is what I’ve been working on”.

Jessi Combs (L) and Nicolle Pitell stand are ready to take on the best female drivers in the world at the 2015 Rallye Aicha Des Gazelles.

Never having been to Morocco, what are some things that you have done to prepare?
“There’s quite a bit of anxiety flying halfway around the world to compete and removing myself from my comfort zone. The furthest I’ve ever been is to Baja, so I’ve spent a lot of time on Google Earth learning the landscapes and I’ve bought several maps to better understand the road system. Were very limited with the amount of date that we can have in our possession; we’ll literally have hand drawn maps to guide by, so I’ve been trying to prepare myself both with the geographical as well as with the culture things I will encounter”.

Celebrating it’s 25 anniversary next year, the 2015 Rallye Aicha Des Gazelles begins in France and then the teams will take on the forbidding Moroccan desert.

What have you done to prepare for basic things such as food and water?
“We will do some shopping in Valencia, Spain for things such as raw almonds and trial mix, but I have a bag dedicated for protein powders and a large quantity of things such as shrink-wrapped chicken breasts and pink salmon. We will be provided one French military MRE ration per day at lunch, and the promoters will provide water and catered meals at the bivouac. I know that mental awareness will be critical to compete at a high level, and fuel (food) is a priority”.

What is the most exciting aspect of this for you?
“Everything! This is such as unique opportunity and to have the support of so many American brands that we’ve worked with before and others that this is a first to work with. For them to support two females chasing a nine-day adventure that will remove every electronic device we are accustomed to in our everyday lives and cause us to reconnect with the landscape and our surroundings as well as another culture. We are going to be lost at times, until we get ourselves found. This will be a spiritual experience, absolutely”.

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