ROAD TO MOROCCO
This week, two San Diego sisters (Jo Hannah and Susanah Hoehn) leave for Europe to take part in, arguably, the toughest all-women event in the world - the 24th Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles, a nine-day journey through some of Southern Morocco’s most challenging, sand-blasted terrains.
Jo Hannah and Susanah Hoehn will have a secret weapon in their bid for victory in this grueling test of driving skill, navigation and sleep deprivation; a 2014 supercharged Range Rover Sport.
“This is a truly unique event,” says Jo Hannah, 27, who is also General Manager at Jaguar Land Rover Carlsbad in Calif. “We’ll be driving without a GPS, cell phones or service crews. It’s all about finding the shortest distance between checkpoints using only traditional navigational tools like maps, a compass and a ruler.”
A total of 160 teams, comprising 320 women between the ages of 19 and 64, and representing 24 countries, will take part in this year’s rally, which starts on March 14 and travels through Morocco. The rally finishes in the fortified coastal town of Essaouira on March 29.
This is their first driving expedition for the two sisters. Jo Hannah explains, “Last August I got an e-mail from Emily Miller, who is a three-time Gazelle and Baja 1000 winner, and lives in the San Diego area. She explained what the rally was all about, and suggested we take part. I talked to Susanah and straight away we knew we had to take part.”
“It appealed to us on so many levels; the challenge, the location, the connection with the vehicle, it’s a pretty empowering thing for us to do and we’re very excited,” Jo Hannah said.
Since August, the Hoehn sisters have been training hard with Miller in Southern California’s Ocotillo Wells and Imperial Sand Dunes off-road driving areas, using a new Range Rover from the dealership.
“We both have different skill sets,” explains Susanah, 26, who is General Manager at the family-owned Hoehn group’s Honda store. “I’m the navigator, which I’m super-excited about, and Jo Hanna, who tends to be a little directionally-challenged, is the driver.”
The training has been intense. Jo Hannah has been learning how to cope with everything from deep sand to craggy rock faces, while mastering the art of left-foot braking to help control the vehicle on challenging surfaces.
For Susanah, it’s been all about perfecting her compass-reading skills and course plotting; using old-fashioned paper maps and helping mastermind the logistics.
The 510-horsepower supercharged Range Rover Sport that they will be driving in the rally has already proven itself as an accomplished off-roader. This is the same stock vehicle that set a new record in last summer’s “Race to the Clouds” challenge on the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb course.
In January, the vehicle headed south to Argentina, Bolivia and Chile where it acted as a support vehicle for the Land Rover-sponsored Race2Recovery team in this year’s 5,200-mile Dakar Rally.
For the rally, the Range Rover Sport has been decorated in a head-turning vinyl wrap featuring a pattern of an ancient Moroccan decorative tile, a design created by the Hoehn sisters and their dealership’s ad agency.
The sisters have named the vehicle “Sacagawea,” after the woman who acted as guide and interpreter for explorers Lewis and Clark on their famous east-west expedition.
As for the Hoehn sister’s greatest challenge, sleep deprivation. Susanah explains, “We have to wake up at 4 am every morning for a meeting on what to expect during the day. We’re ready to drive away at 6 am, then its 12-to-14 hours every day, for nine days.”
They’re already looking forward to the finish line, a hot bath and long sleep.
“The event ends with this wonderful formal black-tie event in Essaouira, which, when you think about it, is such a perfect fit for Range Rover. One minute you’re driving in the desert, and in the next, you’re putting on a designer dress for a ball,” adds Jo Hannah.
Follow Jo Hannah and Susanah’s adventure on the Jaguar Land Rover of Carlsbad Facebook page.