A KHAWAGA'S TALE: Gearing up for the Pharaoh's Rally 2008

Peter A. Carrigan
6 Min Read

I failed to bribe my way into the Giza Pyramids on Sunday morning to see the start of the 2008 Pharaoh’s Rally. Instead I had to sit outside the back gate on the Bahariya road and direct participants towards the desert.

I had even come out the day before to do a reccy; press the flesh, get my foot in the door as it were, but I found it firmly closed.

Egypt wasn’t meant to be like this, the door firmly closed, that is. At least the Marriott in Zamalek only moved the door of Harry’s Pub to open onto the car park and didn’t close their doors permanently as many feared.

Phew, I hear a collective sigh of relief from Cairo’s drinkers. See, an open door policy and every one is happy.

Anyway, back to the Pharaoh’s Rally, which is being billed as the world’s premier rally event, especially with the cancellation of Paris to Dakha this year. The Pharaoh’s revved up and headed out to the Great Sand Sea and they will be back at the Giza Pyramids next Saturday, October 11, which promises to be a fun family carnival.

The Egyptians of course invented many things including religion, cosmetics and the hand shake, but I bet you didn’t know they invented desert four wheel-driving.

That is to say, desert four wheel-driving was invented in Egypt, more or less that is, during the 1940s by the Long Range Desert Group; a British and Commonwealth army unit fighting the Italians and Germans.

The Long Range Desert Group pioneered the use of wide flat tires in soft sand, spare fuel, improved suspension, plenty of spare tires and sand mats to enable bogged vehicles to gain traction and get going.

The Long Range Desert Group also had mounted machine guns on their Chevrolet trucks, which may again become standard equipment given the recent hostage crisis on the Sudanese border.

One of the Long Range Desert Groups first missions took them 4,000 km into Chad and back to Cairo via Gilf Kebir, though that was back in the days when the ‘good’ guys had the guns and tourism was a train journey to hear yodelling in the Swiss Alps.

An internet search found that the Pharaoh’s Rally will be somewhere between a 2,900 and 3,100 km round trip. I guess distances vary out in the western desert, depending on which track you take. Though I do envy them, bivouacking under the billion star nights, even if I was the one to drive the extra 200 clicks.

If you did fancy it, today the rally races the 390 km from Bahariya to Sitra and then to Siwa where it is based for two days. It leaves Siwa on the 10th and arrives in Cairo on 11th via Bahariya, the final leg being 410 km.

In its 25th year, the Pharaoh’s Rally has attracted contestants from 22 countries, who will compete on bikes and in vehicles, including six Egyptian teams. The 2007 Rally was broadcast to a 20 million TV viewers across Europe, and with the cancellation of the Paris to Dhaka rally it may well attract even more attention.

Advertisers are keen to get on board for such a quality international event, which is backed by the Ministry of Tourism, EgyptAir and Travco, who will be shepherding some hundreds of car sports enthusiasts around the course.

Egypt of course has a lot to offer carnival events such as car sports that attract big crowds and fat wallets. The space of the Sahara’s wilderness and its romantic history of survival, caravans, heroes and heroines, is the perfect location for aeroplane racing, or even monster trucks.

There are annual dance parties amongst the dunes, though such organic affairs do not provide the adrenalin fuelled roar of racing cars or bikes.

Which leads one to fantasies about a motor racing circuit for Nascars, LeMons cars or why not Formula One. Bahrain got a Formula One race, why are they so special?

All joking aside, the Pharaoh’s Rally has succeeded for 25 years because, amongst other factors, it has such a fantastic location.

Thus, it would seem natural that a Cairo street circuit be mapped out, so we can have real racers purring along the Corniche and around Zamalek via the Sixth of October Bridge.

It would be much more fun though if the Zamalek race was only open to black and white taxis; now that would be a TV event that would grab the world’s attention.

Gentleman, start your engines.

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