To tie in with the Rallye Monte Carlo, which took place last weekend, today's post is written by my great friend and motorsport enthusiast, Sally Higgins. Despite living close to Monaco I'd never been to the Rally. It's not really my kind of thing but Sally, my go-to for anything motorsports, came to stay at Lou Messugo for a few days and offered to show me around and write about it for me. Amongst other things Sally has worked for Rally Australia organising events across the world and has driven around the Andes with Carlos Sainz. She's ridden an ancient Russian motorbike across the northern highlands of Vietnam and driven a solar-powered car from Darwin to Adelaide! More recently, she just got back a few days before from working on the Dakar Rally in Argentina and was in full rally-mode. Quite the expert!
Guest Post by Sally Higgins, motorsport enthusiast
It is more or less agreed that the Rallye Monte Carlo was the first official car rally ever to be held. This year, the 2015 Rally was the 83rd edition, which means that it started almost as soon as cars were invented. It is run by the Automobile Club of Monaco, which is celebrating its 125th year.
As the story goes, in the early editions of the rally, cars could choose to start from a number of different places including Morocco and travel to Monte Carlo. The 1911 winner travelled from Paris and was awarded the top prize not only for arriving first but also based on the elegance of his vehicle and the comfort of his passengers.
This year was set to be the battle of two French Sébastiens – Sébastien Ogier the reigning World Champion and arch rival Sébastien Loeb – recently retired World Champion, heart throb and France's darling. Sébastien Loeb was making a one-off appearance after 12 months of doing other things. Loeb was back with his Citroen team, driving a DS3 WRC and Ogier was competing for Volkswagon Motorsport in a Polo R WRC. Technical regulations mean that some parts of these cars are actually a DS3 or a Polo but the 'WRC' bit in the name means that there are significant modifications to the vehicles. Things like gear boxes, wheels, brakes, the weight of the car and the engine, the ability to tune the engine, the power, the windows, and of course the inclusion of safety enhancements such as the roll cage make the car secretly fantastic.
So why is it fun the watch a rally and where are the best places to go? There are VIP packages available and these include catering and viewing by helicopter which is the bees knees, but also quite expensive. But the good news is that for non-VIP spectators, the Monte Carlo Rally is free. I personally quite enjoy getting out into the countryside, standing by the road and getting covered in mud and/or dust, honestly. That is how to see the cars going fast – and they do. The top drivers go breathtakingly fast. I've been lucky enough to be in the car with the likes of Tommi Makinen and Carlos Sainz, and you realise that these drivers are not like normal people. They have that absence of fear, along with the eye hand coordination that elite athletes have. Terrifying and exhilarating. Plus of course there is the noise. There is a thing called anti lag, to do with the turbo and maintaining power and it sounds like fireworks. At night time if you are standing in the right spot you can see flames coming out of the exhaust! And when they change gears it sounds as if the gear box is going to drop out onto the road. Seriously. But to the fans, this is the reassuring sound of the 'dog box' and apparently the metal on metal sound means that the gear box is much smoother, quicker and stronger. When you hear it, this actually sounds like a big lie to sell expensive gear boxes, but there it is.
A rally is basically a time trial. A particular section of public road is closed, and each car is timed between point A and point B. For the Monte Carlo Rally this is repeated 15 times. At the end of this the car that has recorded the shortest time wins. To condense the timing a bit, cars will start every 1 or sometimes 2 minutes, based on the assumption that if nothing bad happens they won't catch up with each other. If something bad does happen then they are likely to be going slower anyway.
The event is most famous for two things. One is fabulous backdrop of Monaco and more of that later, the second is the Col de Turini. I'll go out on a limb here and say that die-hard fans of the World Rally Championship, if they had a choice of seeing any part of any rally in the world, they would choose either 'El Condor' in Argentina, the famous 'yumps' of Finland or the Col de Turini, a mountain pass that at its peak reaches 1,607m and includes a long series of hairpin turns and vertical dropoffs that winds up the side of the mountain.
Phoebe's husband JF and I made our plans. It would mean an early start on Sunday to get up there by 10.50am, when the first car was due. All this information is available on the website. We plan our route by simply putting 'Col de Turini' into Google maps, and calculate that it would take about two hours to get up there. It's going to be crowded but that's ok, we have time and can walk a bit. Did I mention that I'm from Australia? The max temperature forecast was 4 degrees, sunny but with plenty of snow underfoot. I would borrow clothes and look like the Michelin man, but that's ok. Appropriate I guess. Then we went out on Saturday night. Oops. On Sunday morning JF rang the Auberge at the Col de Turini who said that there was a lot of snow and that we would need chains to get near it. The End. We didn't go. I think that to get up there would require better planning and an overnight stay a bit closer to the Stage. It is something that I'd like to say I've done, but after brief but persuasive discussion we decided that coffees by the Port in Monte Carlo, and perhaps some ice skating as we watch the cars come in was a much better option.
The only road that was closed in Monaco was la Route de la Piscine. This is where the Service Park was set up. The first cars were due at 1.30pm, we left Roquefort le Pins at about 11.45am and were parked and at the Service Area by about 12.30. We strolled through the service area to get our bearings. Access is free and the cars were so close as they came in that I almost had my feet run over by Ogier, (how good is that!). The weather was sunny, mellow and hovering around 20 degrees (celsius). Phoebe and I had coffee at the Brasserie de Monaco while JF and their son made use of the ice rink that in summer is the swimming pool. Once the cars come in, you can watch as they are given a quick clean up before heading up to the la place du Palais Princier de Monaco for the Finish Podium. At this stage I should declare an interest and say that my partner works for the French rally team SaintEloc. So when their driver, Irishman Craig Breen came in for the service we could get to watch from the inside of the service area.
To get to the Podium there are steps up to the Palais, or there is a leisurely stroll following a path that takes in the Musée Oceanographique de Monaco before heading up to the square. At 3pm the first car is on its way back down the Port and to the Parc Fermé where they assemble for an hour or two before they are released. Unfortunately for him Sébastien Loeb smashed a rear wheel on Day 1, but fortunately for us he was not out of the race. He lost time because of the damage to the car and so was out of contention for the top prize.
Lets face it, any excuse is a good excuse to visit Monaco and maybe next year I'll make it up to the Col de Turini.
So what do you think? Have you been to a car rally? Sally has written for me before, about the Monaco Historic Grand Prix, so if you enjoyed this why not pop over and read all about that too. And don't forget to leave a comment, encouraging my lovely guest blogger to continue writing!