Helen Tate Wright and Sue Alemann – better known as the ‘Giti Gazelles’ offroad rally team – share about their love for racing, the causes most important to them, their beloved vehicle named Priscilla, and their involvement with Giti Tyre. Together with Giti, they are also sponsoring charity initiatives in North Africa and France.
Helen and Sue are very excited about the ongoing partnership with Giti, and the upcoming Rallye des Gazelles event in Morocco this September.
How did you get into racing?
Helen: I would say rallying was a really big deal in my day. I remember there was a rally group called Category B which was really about the really fast cars and iconic cars like the Audi Quattro, Lancers, and the Metro 6R4 and things like that. It’s always something that has been in my blood – I love cars, I always have done and always wanted to be able to compete. I started out marshing in rallies in the 80’s through to the 90’s. I attended rallies like the RAC rally in the UK, seeing the cars pass and go by, I really want to be in one of those cars.
My husband, Chris, and I started going to regulation rallies. A regulation rally is a discipline where you need to go a certain distance in an absolutely precise time, so it’s about being able to drive with a navigator and being absolutely accurate.
Sue: I actually haven’t done any formal racing at all. I have always loved spectating, loved watching Formula One, and all the speed stuff. The part of me that got drawn to this is I love travel, I love the physical adventures, the physicality and getting out into the wilderness. But most importantly; philanthropy as well. It’s just really important to me and the Rallye des Gazelles helps in all of that coming together.
When I met Helen, we met at a wine tasting and she had mentioned the Rallye des Gazelles and I immediately knew that I was going to be her navigator. So I said to my husband: “That woman over there, I am going to become her navigator”. So I told Helen that I was going to be her navigator.
Have you competed in the Rallye des Gazelles before?
Helen: Oh I have. I did the rally in 2019 so that was my first experience. Nothing really prepares you for what it’s actually like. You read all about it on the website, done training with my then teammate, Hailey and I had never been to the Sahara and I was just faced with this emptiness and you can’t actually get your head around it, you know there’s other teams out there but when you get out into the desert, in minutes, you are completely by yourself and everywhere you look there is absolutely nothing. It’s just mind-blowing, it messes with your head. You’re there and you have your coordinates, your compass and your car and there you go. The rally is 15 days in total but around 9 days of actual competition because you start in France, then you have to go on a boat to head to Morocco and then drive south to the Sahara.
Sue: This is my first rally. I have done a lot of navigation before since I was a sailor. I grew up in Auckland, New Zealand where everyone knows someone who has a boat. I have also done some sailing between Alaska and the USA. So my part is very much the navigation part, we both cross-train and can take each other’s place if we need to but mainly Helen is the driver and I do the navigation.
The critical thing to remember about the rally is that it is a distance rally; we are only given maps, a compass and a checklist of points of reference to get to. Normally the race starts with 6 different cars going in different routes and it’s possible for them to end up in our opponent’s checkpoint so the accuracy must be absolutely precise.
Tell us about the work and involvement with Giti.
Helen: We are doing some work as well with Giti around the philanthropic side of the rally. We wanted to do something around women since we are an all women’s team, education and of course the environment as well.
Sue: For example, we have a local buyer park where they re-release animals into the wild so Giti and our team, we are sponsoring the clearing of 100 hectares of land in the Sahara Desert. They clear this land for the Damas Gazelles, one of the most endangered species with only 110 gazelles in the wild. So this year the buyer park, which is a few kilometres from here, had 3 babies and one of the babies is called Scilla, after Priscilla.
So the Rallye des Gazelles also has its own philanthropic cause called the Cœur de Gazelles or “Heart of the Gazelle”. This non-profit goes alongside the race where they run a medical caravan with 60+ medical volunteers that go out with us into the desert and into the villages where they help the villagers get access to medical treatment, sanitary items, school items, food and clothing. An estimated number of 10,000 people receive medical treatment and along with it comes the education on teaching the villagers and their children. One of the great things about this is, they also teach the children about the environment and how long it takes for certain items to degrade over time. That said, all of the items they receive are in reusable cotton bags lessening their carbon footprint. It’s a really big action that they are doing. Helping them to make their future sustainable. Each gazelle team is encouraged to find their own cause.
Helen: In October 2019, I went to visit a school in a village called Teltas in the Atlas Mountains where it was incredible and the only way you could get to it was by foot, donkey or 4X4. You go up the side of the mountain, there was no proper road. The earth is quite red so the houses were made up of this red mud and we went to the school and there was only 1 room which was about 30 sqm or so. The kids are not obliged to go to school but it was full of kids and they were so happy to be there and really happy to see us. It was like I had taken them gold bars! I asked them through our translator what do you need? And they said they needed everything from books, to pencils to paper. It is entirely funded by donations so it was then that I decided that I was going to help them and so this is our team cause.
When we first began to speak with Giti about this partnership that we had. They made it very clear that philanthropy and the environment was a particularly important cause to them as well. Giti has been incredibly generous and has given us a donation that will help in putting in a technology suite which is basically putting in WiFi, screens where you can use projectors and all the equipment needed such as books, and stationery items like pencils and papers.
Sue: Aside from the school, there is also a cooperative that helps both the women and the men in the village. The school will help to teach the women how to read and write while the men will work on the pottery, they use this amazing earth to make pottery. So Giti is also helping us set up a kiln and the help to keep it running making the village sustainable and preserving the region. The initiative of the school has ballooned into something much bigger now.
From what I hear, Priscilla has the Giti AT70 4X4 Tyre, is there a reason why that particular tyre was chosen or suggested?
Helen: Initially, it was suggested that we use Giti’s Desert One tyres but we have a lot of road miles to do and it covers all kinds of terrain. A lot of the terrain we cover isn’t just sand, there are rocks, and things to go through. An all-terrain tyre is much better for us and in the 2019 rally, we ran all-terrain tyres. There’s lots of things about the AT70 in the sense that they have increased protection on the sidewalls, that’s something you need when you go over rocky ground. So far, they have been amazing, you put them on the car and not really quite knowing how they were going to feel and the first thing we noticed is that the road noise was a lot less than the tyres that we had been running before and the tread pattern is a little different than other all-terrain tyres.
Sue: So far there is nothing we have not been able to do with them. For the tyres, we are running the AT70’s at the moment, we will put new ones right before we go to Morocco. It is just us in the desert, with no pit crews to help us out. We are counting on the fact that these are high-performance tyres that will stand up to what we will put them through. Depending on the terrain, we will be reducing and increasing the pressure on the tyres. So for example, rocky ground means more pressure and sand will be less pressure as if floating on the sand.
Helen and Sue will be taking part in the Rallye des Gazelles in September.