The deserts of the world had gone quiet. Dakar was done. Mini had won. Stephane Peterhansel had found his trans-Atlantic touch and racing through the sand was a thing of the past for another season.
Until this week, when the Moroccan sands came to life with inspirational stories from two of the world's toughest rallies. The Tuareg Rally and Rally Aicha des Gazelles are running right now.
Both events started from Europe, before crossing into Africa for the unique desert challenge that tests man and machine to the absolute limit.
Except the men will only be tested on one of the events. The Rally Aicha des Gazelles, which started from Paris on March 17 and finishes on the last day of this month in Essaouira, is solely for the ladies.
That's right. As you read this, more than 300 women are racing their way through the first special, a loop around the town of Nejjakh, close to the Algerian border. And the hook for the ladies is that they're not allowed any kind of GPS navigational system. They have to rely on a map, a compass, the sun and a good deal of luck to get them through.
The emphasis for the Gazelles is not on speed, more on reaching the location at the allotted time, without missing any checkpoints and by taking the shortest route possible, more like a road rally. The crew with the least number of penalty points is then declared the winner after nine days and more than 1000 miles through the dunes.
Predictably, as with all great off-road adventures, this event was born in France, the brainchild of Parisian Dominique Serra. Serra has never competed in a motorsport event and has no real interest in doing so. What she is interested in is taking women out of their comfort zone and putting them in a place where they will challenge themselves.
Pushing a Toyota pickup through the High Atlas or along the baking Sahara floor certainly ticks those boxes. Talking to the New York Times about the event last year, Serra said: "The rally is a trigger. There are women who get divorced when they go home, who get married, who change jobs. They totally change their points of reference."
So, it's a life changer. But points of reference are quite handy when you're alone and satnav-less in the middle of North African nowhere. The ladies are, of course, never truly alone - their cars are fitted with trackers and Serra and the team of organisers, which does include men, know where they are at all times.
Benedicte Clarkson is a first timer on this year's event. Not looking to change her life, she just fancied an adventurer's adventure. She's not exactly a stranger to motorsport, however. She and her husband Ian were good friends of the late, great Formula 1 winner Peter Gethin.
Benedicte Clarkson (left) just fancied the adventurer's life
"This is something completely different," said Clarkson on the eve of her departure for the Alboran Sea. "We are given maps of the area from the 1960s, a compass, some co-ordinates and told to get there. We have done some training in navigation and in driving our Landcruiser through the dunes, but it's not going to be easy."
When I ask Clarkson if successful completion of the Rally Aicha des Gazelles will lead to an inevitable Dakar entry, she seems quite bemused. As though I've missed the point.
"This isn't about the speed," she says, "it's about solidarity, about getting the Gazelles to the finish through the really, really tough terrain having gone without sleep, having to dig the car out and getting lost in the middle of the dunes."
And Serra has been doing this for 22 years, while raising a huge amount of money for some very good causes along the way. Good on them.
Talking of good causes: back to the Tuareg. Which is, right now, riding over the rocks of the same land.
And riding those rocks will be the two Race2Recovery entries of Tony Harris/Ben Gott and Dave Marsh/Tom Neathway. For those of you who haven't yet met these true heroes, allow me to do the honours.
Tom Neathway has been a member of the parachute regiment since 2001. Four years ago, on his last tour of Afghanistan, he triggered a booby trap and lost both his feet in the blast. A subsequent infection in the wounds meant he had to have both legs and his left arm amputated.
Corporal Tom Neathway is competing in the Tuareg Rally
A founding member of Race2Recovery, Tony Harris's patrol vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan in 2009. After a myriad of operations, he decided to have his left leg amputated below the knee.
Gott and Marsh are motorsport specialists working with the team through Morocco and on the even longer road to the start of Dakar 2013.
I met Harris and Neathway last year and it's impossible not to be struck by their determination - not only to complete the journey from Argentina to Peru, but also to get their message across.
Putting it as bluntly as the boys would themselves: no legs does not mean no life.
I'm sure everybody was massively moved when these two were first shown on Top Gear last year, but since then they have shifted their programme up several gears. And the Tuareg Rally is the latest stage of that development.
And it's not exactly a small stage, either. While the ladies on the other side of Morocco might not be worried about the speed, for the men, predictably and fitting the stereotype perfectly, it's all about the speed.
And there's plenty of pace coming from the R2R Wildcats as they plough through 1500 miles of competition in eight days. The Tuareg finishes back in Spain on March 26.
We'll keep you posted with their progress through the season and onwards towards the start of Dakar 2013.
Get back on track. Join today for unlimited access to all Autosport news and features.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
Your Autosport Plus membership includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from monthly, yearly and two-yearly packages.
David Evans is the rallies editor of Autosport and Motorsport News. A successful rally driving father ensured an early introduction to motorsport and, fascinated as he was by rallying, the fourth estate was of equal interest. Having read (or at least looked at the pictures) from the age of two, he joined <i>Motoring News</i> in 1996 and later moved to Autosport in 2002.@davidevansrally More features by David Evans