“It’s a chance to take the WRC to a new audience”
If any other round of the World Rally Championship required you to drive 300 miles to attend a ceremonial start and a couple of the Thursday night stages, there would be uproar. It wouldn’t happen. It happens every year on the Monte Carlo Rally. And nobody ever questions it. And nor should they.
In all honesty, the trip south from Gap to Monaco is about more than a ceremonial start, it’s about the launch of the World Rally Championship season. There are those who growl about whatever-list celebrities descending on the principality to fawn over our sport, a sport about which they know nothing.
What’s the point, they will ask, of superstar French footballer Jean-pierre Papin or former world number one tennis player Caroline Wozniacki getting into a World Rally Car and doing donuts?
The point is profile. And the chance to take the sport to another level and another audience. Wozniacki was in town courtesy of her first round exit from the Australian Open, but her mood was brightened considerably after any number of 360s with world champion Sebastien Ogier.
“That was incredible,” she said when she got out of the car. “It just didn’t make any sense what he was doing! Unbelievable.”
That’s worth something to us. When she’s back on tour, she’ll spread our word. How can that be a bad thing?
The WRC can’t afford to be either narrowminded or proud when it comes to this kind of thing. Yes, we’re on the up these days, but the championship still has a very long way to go before it gets back to the glory days and we’ll take lip service from celebs of any standing.
Why am I defending the championship launch? I don’t know. It was a great, well-run and worthy introduction to another fantastic Monte Carlo Rally.
And it was well worth the journey south. Then north. Then south.
The event’s true value came across loud and clear talking to one of the many Monaco locals hanging out in Casino Square last week: Allan Mcnish.
An eight-day trip to America precluded any watching in the mountains, but the Scot wasn’t going to miss out on the chance of some doorstep fever.
“Like the grand prix, this event is very important around here,” he says. “Local people like to get involved. When I came in, one of the ladies organising things, she’s one of the mums from school – our daughter goes to school with her son. This isn’t just the elite of motorsport, it’s a real community thing. I’ve got two children, a seven and a 10-year-old. When they come out of school and they come and have a look around, they get that smell, the vibe and a wee bit on inspiration and atmosphere. Then they’ll go home and watch it on television and that gives them that first view of motorsport. That’s what got you and me hooked.”
Not to mention Wozniacki and Papin.
GROUP RALLYING EDITOR