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The famous African rally is still as thrilling and exciting as it ever was. A race of times gone by, where success or disappointment is determined by the courage of the drivers and the performance of the vehicles, tyres included. Again this year, it was held deep in the Egyptian desert


Duilio Damiani

The Pharaons Rally is one of the appointments that enthusiasts of raid marathons cannot miss. Since 1982, the dawn of gruelling competitions that took motoring magnificence to the heart of the Sahara, every year it has repeated rituals that contrast with desert surroundings that seem to have been crystallized in time. With the passing away of what at one time was the famous Paris-Dakar, now forced to move to South America, the Pharaons Rally is still the most renowned and popular African competition that is deep-rooted in the heart of racing veterans and new challengers. On two or four wheels, it is more of a personal challenge than a confrontation with direct rivals, because, first and foremost, this adventure in the desert puts ones capabilities to the test in the most adverse conditions.


Under the watchful eye of the Sphinx
Shining high in the sky, the October sun is paled only by the predominating dust of Cairo, where 25 million people - almost half of the entire population of Egypt - and the exhaust fumes from old vehicles cram the streets of the capital. It is the prelude to the departure of a resounding caravan watched by the carved stone pyramids of Giza; a multiform serpent rapidly diluted by time and space as it heads into the interior to return to the eternal home of the pharaohs for the final send-off only after an intense week of racing.
The clamour of a metropolis divided between east and west is soon left behind, its place taken by the eternal whisper of the Saharan wind that is suddenly silenced by the intermittent rumble of engines. Curious, a shepherd watches the irrepressible advance of what to his eyes appear to be mechanical monsters, aware that the folly that animates crazy westerners is about to be repeated.
The competitors included high performance off-road vehicles, from powerful cars to fast motorcycles, from agile quads to unstoppable trucks, the steeds of the third millennium in a land for centuries furrowed only by dromedaries. The names are those of the very first leaders of the speciality who battled for the title of Cross Country Rally World Champion and competed in seven appointments throughout the season: from the Italian Baja, which opened the dance on the dirt roads of Friuli, to the fine sands of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, the historical Tunisia Rally, the turning point at Baja España, the Hungarian Baja, the Pharaons Rally and finally the Baja Portalegre in Portugal. Because of its natural collocation in the calendar, there were some spectacular challenges at this penultimate appointment of the championship, which confirmed that the "usual names" were unbeatable, with exactly the same results as last year after six successful stages that were won more by astuteness than by counting seconds.
Jean Louis Shlesser demonstrated that he was still an old desert fox when he repeated his supremacy throughout the race on his Gruppo T1 buggy with just two drive wheels. Playing with his immediate pursuers like a cat with a mouse, he was 3 hours ahead of Vadym Nesterchuk of the Ukraine in the Mitsubishi L200 of the Sixt Ukraine team, and more than 5 hours ahead of Russia's Boris Gadasin in his G-Force Proto. The first among the Italians were the De Lorenzo twins of the Team Italia Tout Terrain, two real habitués of the event who ended their umpteenth participation in seventh place in a high-performance Toyota Land Cruiser VDJ 200 Group T2.
An incomparable victory among the Spanish centaurs for Marc Coma in a KTM 450, who outdistanced by 13 minutes his immediate pursuer Helder Rodrigues of Portugal in a Yamaha WR 450. In the Open category, Stefano Turchi, a.k.a. the "cinghiale", amazed by coming in seventh on his KTM 690 Rally, and the first quad in the classification was a Yamaha Raptor 700 driven by France's Lilian Lancelevee. Italian-French Camelia Liparoti was third on her Yamaha quad and despite her slim build she gave many of her muscular pursuers lessons in style both here and at the Dakar.


Mechanics under pressure
They are the exceptional testers of the technological solutions that in the future we could see in mass produced off-road vehicles. Under the most severe conditions, they test everything from engines to transmissions and last, but certainly not least, wheels and tyres that are subjected to the very roughest maltreatment. The prohibitive temperatures of the interior, sudden changes in surface, from stones to soft sandy ground where the automatic inflating and deflating systems (excluding motorbikes for which mousse is used) intervene to instantly change internal pressure, to the maximum grip of wheels that are continually subjected to jolting between dunes and rough terrain. In extreme off-road vehicles, as in all automotive applications, the ultimate task of guaranteeing maximum grip in improbable scenarios is always entrusted to the wheels.
For many, the most compelling feature of this adventure, even before the race begins, is the level of organization that for fourteen years has been handled by JVD ( of Turin, which has placed its all-Italian seal on hospitality and logistics. Bivouacs that are always well-kept, cuisine that doesn't make you miss home cooking (given the locations of the event), technical and medical assistance ready and available for everyone, medical staff, mechanics, and two helicopters that are always on call, are guarantees that add value to every edition of the Pharaons. A top-level competitive event, certainly, but one that offers the chance to realize a dream of having an unrepeatable adventure alongside the big names in off-road driving. The competition itself is flanked by a Classic version with simplified regulations. You can take part in your own off-road without a roll bar or special mechanical devices, but with certain electronic and safety items. For example, in this year's Pharaons Classic, three Italian teams competed for the podium and were joint winners in Toyota Land Cruisers, an 80, a 100 and a 120, that they all use at home every day and were classified in order of vehicle age. And for anyone who doesn't own a 4x4 or doesn't want to risk using their latest acquisition in a competition, with the Raid formula they can take part in the rally, share assistance and bivouacs with all the other participants, follow the race tracks or alternative routes in their own vehicle or in the organization's vehicles. Vehicle transport by sea, customs clearance and logistics are taken care of by the organization staff who treat "tourist" clients in the same way as registered competitors. It is an unusual way of taking in the atmosphere of an international raid and experience the fascinating surroundings of the Egyptian desert ...just like the champions of the Pharaons Rally.

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