DON’T be too quick to utter the F-word – as in F for Froggie, excuse my French – if you find yourself being cut up by a convoy of souped-up Renault 4Ls headed for the coast this weekend.
We’re talking a pandemic of dinky French hatchbacks plastered with sponsorship stickers, travelling along the highways and byways of Spain in a contest to find the shortest route to Marrakesh.
It sounds like an accident waiting to happen – 3,000 college kids co-piloting 1,500 versions of a car that went out of production 25 years ago! But with an epic two days of off-roading in the Sahara ahead of them, the
y’re not about to do anything daft at a Spanish roundabout.
After months of training and tuning up for the world’s largest student road rally, the driving isn’t half bad and it’s all in a good cause. Honk your appreciation for the Raiders of the 4L Trophy. They’re on a mercy mission to deliver vital educational supplies to Morocco’s desert children and yes, that probably was a school desk you saw wedged into the back seat.
Every February for the last 20 years they’ve roared into our neighbourhood to stock up for their humanitarian escapade, denuding the shelves of Carrefour faster than a plague of locusts can demolish a Texas cornfield.
But they certainly bring a smile to the faces of bar owners in tourist-starved Algeciras, where they muster for one night only before disappearing in a cloud of carbon offset exhaust fumes across the Gibraltar Strait. So don’t even think of catching a ferry to Tangier this weekend.
The challenging 10-day, 6,000 kilometre rally from Biarritz to Marrakesh with only a compass and road book is a right of passage in France, open to any student aged 18 to 28 with a clean driving licence, access to a Renault 4L and between €5,000 and €10,000 to spare – the estimated cost of taking part per car, hence the sponsorship stickers.
Teams travel in pairs along a check-pointed route through Morocco with a support team of mechanics, marshals and doctors and official bivouacs at night but competitors are also expected to help each other out of the sinking sand and the campfire camaraderie is part of the fun.
Journey’s end is rewarded with a hot shower at a four-star hotel, a slap-up gala dinner with new-found friends and the knowledge of having made a difference to the lives of the Sahara’s children.
Last year, as well as delivering 80 tons of learning equipment, they raised over €75,000 to help the Enfants Du Desert charity open five new schools.
Whether you plan to give them a wide swerve or turn up to cheer them on, you can track their progress on www.4ltrophy.com But if you do find yourself at the wrong end of a Renault 4L tailback, make sure that V sign is the right way round!