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This year, the classic race in Africa celebrated an emotional thirtieth birthday year with a surprise finale. Despite its age, the cars, motorbikes and quads at the “Pharaons” always attract large numbers of enthusiasts, drawn by the magic of the Egyptian desert

Duilio Damiani

THERE IS ALWAYS A WINNER and at the Pharaons Rally 2012 its name was BMW - on two and four wheels.  That’s right. The famous Bavarian brand was in the Mini of Middle Eastern champion, Khalifa Al-Mutaiwei, and in the Husqvarna (from a corporate point of view, at least) of Spanish racing driver, Joan Barreda. Overlooked by the Giza pyramids, they both jumped onto the podium’s highest step in their respective categories.

The fascination of what is still to this day the most classic North African marathon race (after the Dakar moved to South America) again this year attracted a large squad of drivers with a total of 57 motorbikes, 34 cars, 5 quads and one truck, representing about twenty countries  from Venezuela to New Zealand. A North African appointment of world importance set up by an Italian organization, JVD International of Turin (, which took over the event about fifteen years ago from the previous French organization, hit the mark again with impeccable preparation of routes and assistance, efficient camps, Italian cuisine worthy of grand hotels, two rapid-response helicopters and the widespread and precise deployment of forces with services ranging from the recovery of broken down vehicles to providing first aid for injuries to participants, none of which were serious this year, fortunately. It is in the shadow of the magnificent megaliths, just a short distance from the chaotic Egyptian megalopolis, that every year the long serpentine of vehicles is watched stonily by those millenary pyramids as it sets off to return only the following week after travelling the 2,900 kilometres of this demanding route. 

Wheels are the protagonists

From the capital to the deep south of the country, via oases with such evocative names as Farafra, Baharija and Abu Mingar, as far as Dakhla, close to the border with Sudan, on six days of racing with split-second challenges, when once again tyres played a fundamental role. They had to cope with tough terrain ranging from the very fine sand of the Sahara - over which you float at top speed by keeping tyre pressures low to increase the footprint - to gruelling rocky ground, real tread devourers and the terror of casings that are ripped open by the razor-sharp edges of treacherous flint and merciless stones. Punctures that the car teams coped with – bikes are equipped, providentially, with mousse – by having two or more spare wheels.  Then there are the sand traps, where only a shovel, recovery skids and hard work under a blistering sun will get the better of ill-fated enforced stops. The setting also saw a comparison between two opposing philosophies, with the unshakeable 4x4s that rely on all-wheel drive to move along the tortuous routes, pursued by – but frequently ahead of –  the champions of buggies with only two-wheel drive that can count on greater lightness as well as being able to instantly vary the pressure of the two rear tyres by means of an inflate-deflate system controlled from the cabin – a regulation that applies only to them. There wasn’t any real supremacy and the  comparison is still open, as we saw in the dual between the French buggy and the German car, where each system was combined with the preferred driving style. Without taking into consideration human factors that inevitably always make the difference compared to any cold mechanisms.

News from Africa

And the race? Unique and successful, just like the previous editions but with a surprise result.  After the split-second challenges between the two leaders in the classification, with both cars competing for the FIA Cross Country Rallies world title, a mid-race technical check of the 2WD buggy of multi-titled French champion Jean Louis Schlesser revealed something out of the regulations for which he was immediately disqualified from the competition and the classification. With nobody immediately behind him, Khalifa Al-Mutaiwei of Dubai had an easy life and won both the Pharaons and the title for the 2012 season in his Mini with the BMW engine. Behind him and separated by an hour and a half and almost two hours, respectively, was Regis Delahaye in another buggy with a French engine, and Czech Miroslav Zapletal in a powerful Hummer H3 EVO.

There were numerous Italian drivers and six in Egypt, the first of whom was Michele Cinotto, fourteenth in his Juke buggy, a well-known personality in rally circles who rented three Nissans in the Dessoude team and brought over his two sons, Pietro, twentieth, and Carlo, whose Pathfinder was immobilized due to unfortunate circumstances on the second day of the race. Also at the Giza finishing line was the Italian Fornasari of the Virgin Radio Team with rock DJ Ringo at the wheel and navigation by expert Maurizio Dominella; despite being hindered by transmission problems, they made it to the finishing line.

Another tricolour driver on the Egyptian podium in third place for the category (22nd absolute) was  blonde and lovely Camelia Liparoti, a protagonist in numerous Dakars; despite her minute physique, she drove her Yamaha Quad tenaciously for the whole race, confirmation that difficult goals can be achieved with inexhaustible stubbornness.

Deserving of special mention are the bikers, the real centaurs of the dunes, the courageous challengers of formidable elements. Spain’s Joan Barreda on a Husqvarna TE 449 RR surprised everyone by snatching victory from the KTM of Poland’s Jakub Przygonski’s, with Jordi Viladoms of the Bordone-Ferrari Italian team taking third place, which gave him second place in the Cross Country Rallies Championship. Of the 23 Italian handlebars at the start, just over half finished the trials, with seventh position going to outsider Diocleziano Toia on a Beta 450 privata, who ended a brilliant race always right up there with the leaders.

Continuing a trend that began thirty years ago, the Pharaons Rally is still the land of  comparison  -  for drivers and mechanical means, wheels and tyres first and foremost – the incomparable test bench for the maximum strength on which we rely for our routine daily commutes and for any kind of off-road adventure.

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