Yup, it’s that time of year again, when after the traditional excesses of the holiday period, a young man’s thoughts turn to adventure, and in particular the most prestigious regularity rally and perhaps the last true endurance event in Europe: The Historic Monte Carlo Rally.
Regular readers will be surprised to realise that this is will be the 5th participation of the EFG crew. Particularly surprised if you read that very first report of 2 rank amateurs who left from Glasgow in a £500 car bought from Ebay having never driven on snow apart from the traditional crawl home from the office on the 2 days a year London sees snow! You’ll recall we laughed at the suggestion of the Mayor of Reims as he waved us away from his City that we’d soon be hitting major snow storms, we panicked when we realised that there was no road book issued to us and that we’d need to be rallying on the maps from Reims onwards and despite finishing, we promised we’d never do it again. A box ticked. But the lack of sleep and the open stages (with traffic like snowploughs appearing in the other direction whilst you are desperately trying to average 49kph on sheet ice) were all things that we’d struggled to get our heads around as rookies.
There was of course a 2nd year, when, perhaps like childbirth, the painful memories had subsided and all we recalled was that amazing sense of adventure to take a 30 year old rally car across Europe. So once again we were on the start line in Glasgow and once again we set off in snow to Reims and beyond. 2013 was of course the year where we lost the engine on the first special stage after some robust driving from a Man in a Moskvitch but not before we’d had a fabulous run south including an hour in the wheel tracks of Monte legend Jean Ragnotti in an Alpine. The disappointment only hardened our resolve to compete further and the ebay-bought Trusty Turbo was swapped for a 1970’s Lancia Fulvia in full Group 4 specification for 2014.
Once again the best laid plans were interfered with and for various reasons I only drove the Fulvia for the first time on the way to the Start ramp on the day of the rally… setting off South from Paisley we arrived on the motorway and realised that the extremely short gearing of the Fulvia, which was to later mean she starred in the mountain stages, wasn’t suited for long distance cruising… as we arrived at 5000 revs in top gear co-pilot Stuart issued that now legendary comment “Hmm, could be a long way to Monaco at 65mph”. When the car then ran out of fuel every 200km, that comment was to be spectacularly prophetic. We did however make it to Monaco, and we actually even managed a top 5 finish on a stage which left us as top British crew with just 1 stage to run. Unfortunately we were once again taken unawares by the thirst of the Fulvia when flat out and ran out of fuel with just a handful of Kilometres to go.
Of course the sniff of potential glory meant we were really up for 2015, where we elected for the Turin start to avoid long motorway drives. However co-driver Stuart managed to throw a disc in his back just a week before we were due to depart, and a local replacement, Fred “Frozone” Ozone, was called up at the last minute. Despite having to communicate in my poor French for the week somehow we managed to win the longest stage of the rally! Unimaginable glory for a Brit whose rally talent is very limited and is more at home on the Circuit or the Salt Flats… Although having run out of talent spectacularly on the first snowy stage (an error that we realised afterwards was due to an excess of pressure in the studded tyres we’d just fitted) any chance of a good overall result was long gone.
So what brings 2016? Well with no Turin or Monaco starts to choose from, the closest in terms of no motorway running is Barcelona, so it’s from there we set sail at 19.30 on Friday evening. And while fellow Glasgow/Reims/Bad Homburg and Scandinavian starters only have the plateau of Langres to deal with, we must climb through first the Pyrenees and then the Cevennes before we all attack the Alps together to finally arrive in Monaco around 20.30 on Saturday. Yes, that’s 25 hours on the road, hopefully with a couple of quick kips at the 2 Time Controls on route, the first of which doesn’t come until 5am on Saturday morning though so regardless we’re in for a long night! And we will need to have our wits about us when at about 16.00 hours on Saturday we’ll run the first regularity stage which is considerably longer and trickier than the first one we faced last year.
We leave Monaco again Sunday morning for a 12 hour leg with 4 specials on the way, then Monday sees a 10 hour loop out of Valence into the Drome (the scene of last year’s triumph) before we head back to Monaco on Tuesday (another 8+ hours and 4 stages) before Tuesday night sees the “Night of the Turini” where a 4h30 leg takes us onto 2 stages on the legendary Cols behind Monaco arriving back on the port around 3am Wednesday.
The long range forecasts look benign and this could be very helpful to us in the early part of the week where with our little engine we run near the back of the field allowing the 260 cars in front of us to clear the worst of any snow. But we’ll probably be punished on the final night where power tends to count the most! But of course, all of that can change pretty quickly and while we dream of perhaps capturing the title of Top British crew, the fact remains that we go primarily for the hell of it and just arriving in Monaco if a major achievement each year.
As ever, I hope you’ll follow us on here and of course we need to thank EFG for their fabulous support over the past 5 years and our wives and families for allowing us to disappear once again to do “what a man’s go to do”.
Your “can’t wait to get going” correspondent.