Guest blog by Thiemo Albers-Daly
Photos © Rebecca Busi
Rebecca Busi was racing through the Tunisian desert when disaster struck – a wild sandstorm whipped across the giant dunes and buried her HRT.
The Italian driver and her co-pilot Giulia Maroni were beaten down from their 10-hour days navigating the treacherous 1100km race through the Sahara.
And to make matters worse, the sandstorm had left their HRT Turbo RR stranded a mere 10km from the finish line.
“I was like (expletive)! I don’t want to still be here when it gets dark,” – Rebecca Busi
Busi is still relatively new to desert races, she made her debut at the infamous Dakar rally in January 2022.
She loves to throw herself into the deep end and embrace a challenge. And the Fenek Rally in Tunisia was a challenge like no other.
How hard is the Fenek Rally?
Very. The rally is more than 1,100 km in the extreme desert terrain of the Sahara in North Africa. It takes place between the cities of Matmata, Chenini, Smela, Elmida and KsarGuilane, surrounding the Jebil national park.
It requires competitors to drive for 6-10 hours per day. This obviously fluctuated depending on the obstacles they faced along the way. In terms of difficulty when compared to other rallies, the official organisers scored it eight out of 10.
This isn’t a race for the feint-hearted.
This year there were questions about the rally even going ahead due to the dangerous nature of the sandstorms.
“I just wanted to be at the hotel because at the beginning I couldn’t start the stage. I could see that it was a dangerous situation (because of the sandstorms), but the organisation said we’re here to race – so I started,” Busi said.
Fighting against the dunes
In other rallies with a larger number of entrants, you can see the paths that others have taken. But this was not the case for the Fenek Rally with a smaller field of teams and intense weather conditions.
Rebecca said the dunes were larger than she was expecting and each stage of the rally left both her and Giulia exhausted. If it wasn’t the terrain, it was the solitude. The pair would see nothing but each other’s sand-caked helmets for days.
But the backdrops were stunning and both felt at times they were on a completely different planet.
Anyone else getting Tattooine vibes?
Sand hits the fan
When they got to the final stage of the rally, things got out of hand. The sandstorms whipped up and caused pure chaos. The tracks were becoming harder to follow with the limited visibility. And Rebecca and Giulia ended up with their HRT buried in the desert.
“So when all this happened, and we were in the middle of nowhere and we knew we were on our own,” Busi said.
The weather intensified and the pair were stranded.
They had the equipment they needed to dig themselves out but the sandstorm was relentless. With no sign of any of the other competitors, they were on their own.
“I realised we were 10km away from the end when we had dug ourselves out of there,” Busi said.
“It was a mix of emotions because I had been so happy until that moment because I’d been doing well. Then I thought, ‘oh no, (expletive)!’ So we were stuck there for an hour and a half. And at the beginning I was sure that we could get ourselves out in a few minutes – but then we got the planks under the car to help dig it out and nothing was working and we started to get a bit frustrated. But my co-pilot, Giulia, did a good job of calming me down and letting me try again and again and again! Finally, we got out – but it took a long time.”
Final results of the chaotic desert rally
In the end, Team Busi finished in second place overall with a time of 22:43:14. A worthy reward for a duel with the desert.
First place in the desert rally was SuperAuto Motor with a time of 17: 53:55. Third place was Castro Iglesias with a time of 60:01:19.
Parallel to the race itself, the Fenek Rally had humanitarian acts carried out by the organisation and by the participants who wanted to collaborate.
This consisted of cultural, folkloric or traditional events, and an end-of-race party with an awards ceremony. All in all, the Fenek Rally proved that it wasn’t an ordinary rally. But Rebecca isn’t an ordinary racing driver.
“It was a lot of emotions altogether because I knew when I started what could happen but I hoped of course that it wouldn’t. I think the important lesson from this is to never give up,” Busi said.
It’ll prove to valuable experience for the Italian as she plans to take on the infamous Dakar again in 2023.
Where and what is the Fenek Rally?
The Fenek Rally was in Tunisia from March 26 to April 4 of 2022.
The desert rally was over five stages in the central and southern half of the North African country. It takes competitors into high dunes, tricky rock sections, and the desert.
The geographic nature of the course and the weather conditions that prevail makes it especially demanding. Navigation, self-sufficiency and resistance become crucial factors if you want to make it to the finish line.