Tails out, 38 clas­sic Porsches tackle the Monte Carlo Ral­lye His­torique up in the Alps: we brave the drifts to catch the ac­tion!

Classic Porsche - - News - Words: Johnny Ti­pler Pho­tos: Alex Den­ham & Johnny Ti­pler

hat per­suadesmore than 300 rally crews – 38 of themin Porsches – to brave the win­ter el­e­ments, cov­er­ing 3000 kilo­me­tres across con­ti­nen­tal Europe? To catch a cou­ple of daysʼ Mediter­ranean sun­shine, thatʼs what! Well, thereʼs­more to it than that, lotʼs­more, but es­sen­tially thatʼs why the­monte Carlo Ral­lye was in­vented, to pro­vide north­ern Euro­pean­mo­tor­ing en­thu­si­asts with an op­por­tu­nity to thaw them­selves out for a few days.

That was 107-years ago, and, along with many top-line com­pe­ti­tion events, the WRC Monte has a his­tor­i­cal shadow, the Ral­lye His­torique, in­tro­duced in 1998, and which runs a few days later, al­most ex­actly in the stud­ded tyre tracks of the FIA event.

In­vari­ably staged in late Jan­uary and early Fe­bru­ary, this yearʼs 21st His­torique at­tracted 317 en­tries, with six start cities in­clud­ing Glas­gow, Reims, Oslo, Bad Hom­burg, Barcelona and Monte Carlo it­self. Spurn­ing the run north to Scot­land – from whence the 12 Glas­gow starters faced snow cross­ing the Pen­nines – in­stead, we make for Reims.

Af­ter the oblig­a­tory zoom around the for­mer road cir­cuit at Reims-gueux, plus pits-side pho­to­call, we at­tend the Reims start. A cham­pagne re­cep­tion (what else?) pre­cedes the 8.00pm start, where 96 cars are flagged off from the ramp out­side the Mairie at three-minute in­ter­vals, speed­ing through Fri­day eveningʼs driz­zle on their con­vo­luted pas­sage south­bound to Va­lence.

That Rhône-side city is the con­flu­ence for the rest of the starters, all 317 of them, this year, as op­posed to gath­er­ing en masse in Monte Carlo as had been cus­tom­ary, be­fore head­ing back to Va­lence, for a cou­ple of daysʼ reg­u­lar­ity stages in the Ardéche hills and Ver­cors moun­tains.

The di­ver­sity of en­tries never fails to amaze: fro­ma­lpineRe­naults and Alfa Romeo Gi­u­lias to Volvo PV544S and Wart­burgs, even the odd Pan­hard and Vespa 400 – with an Austin Taxi the joker in the pack.

Many crews had­nʼt slept for 48-hours, and they queued long into the evening to be clocked through the time con­trol gazebo and pass into Va­lenceʼs am­ple Champ-de-mars parc fermé. This is where the His­toric Monte re­verts to a so­cial gath­er­ing, with spe­cial bon­homie be­tween ri­val crews whoʼve com­peted against each other many times, and cer­tain bars lit­er­ally heave with josh­ing ral­ly­ists.

They pace them­selves in the restau­rants as well as the reg­u­lar­i­ties. The first cars clock out at 6.00am, head­ing for a se­ries of stages in the forested Ardéche, 20 and 30kms west

of Va­lence. Wind­ing, nar­row coun­try lanes, cen­time­tres deep in snow some years but mainly clear in 2018, though higher up the snow fields are un­melted.

Win­ners of the very first reg­u­lar­ity are Tine and Torhild Hallre, mother and daugh­ter, in their Nor­we­gian VW 1303. Thatʼs right, itʼs not horse­power that counts, so much as nav­i­ga­tional skills and stop­watch savvy. Later on the Satur­day itʼs a tiny DKW and a Wart­burg that top the charts.

Me­dia types like Alex and me are al­lowed out onto the stages, dis­play­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate press plaque in our Boxster wind­screen. We clam­ber up steep banks and hover in ditches for best cam­era an­gles. But how do we know where the stages start and end? That in it­self is ob­vi­ous, given the roadside sig­nage: red or or­ange A-signs with cir­cu­lar icons, then the red Au­to­mo­bile Club de Monaco gazebo with all the at­ten­dant elec­tronic dig­i­tal tim­ing read-outs. Cars line up and are dis­patched in­di­vid­u­ally by a three-two-one count­down of the stew­ardʼs fin­gers.

In the past Iʼve lo­cated the stages us­ing a set of lo­cal French Ord­nance Sur­vey maps of the con­certina va­ri­ety, ob­tained ten years ago when I fol­lowed Vic El­ford and David Stone in their or­ange 911, and Quick Vic marked the stages in felt-tip for me. Now, though, although most of the stages re­main the same, itʼs sim­pler to plumb in some­where like Burzet, for in­stance, into the sat nav and ar­rive that way, with a fair idea of how long itʼs go­ing to take to get there, too.

Thereʼs an­other wel­come respite in the evening as Va­lence comes magically alive with the fairy-lit trees by the band­stand in the park. Sun­dayʼs ac­tion is fo­cused on the Ver­cors, foothills to the Alps proper, and we queue to fol­low Porsche gods Jür­gen Barth and Roland Kuss­maul up the Col de lʼecha­ras­son in their 924 Turbo-based Car­rera GTS, an ex­act replica of their 924 Car­rera GTS that fin­ished 20th in 1979 and 19th in 1980.

The stew­ards glance at our state of the art Vre­destein Gi­u­giaro win­ter tyres and shake their heads: got to have studs, itʼs that icy on this stage. We can walk into the wilder­ness, though, and with hind­sight, this proves to be the most chal­leng­ing stage of the whole rally from the com­peti­torsʼ point of view.

Sur­pris­ingly, given the pre­vail­ing snow and ice, power tells as an Alpine A310 and two Ger­man girls in an RS2000 head the rank­ings in the first of these Ver­cors stages. Thereʼs plenty of snow ly­ing up here, though snow ploughs have cleared the bulk of it off the roads. Awe­some ici­cles up to a cou­ple of me­tres long hang pre­car­i­ously in tun­nels, and itʼs un­canny driv­ing through the clouds as if in an air­craft.

Cov­er­ing the progress of the rally in­volves a cer­tain amount of leap-frog­ging stages, oth­er­wise weʼd get left be­hind, and we spend up to an hour on each one, shift­ing to dif­fer­ent van­tage points along the route. Itʼs dif­fi­cult to see ev­ery car, and quite a

num­ber we never see at all; and though itʼs pos­si­ble to pre­dict who might be where, to a cer­tain ex­tent, thereʼs a good deal of luck in­volved in be­ing at the right cor­ner on the right stage to see a dif­fer­ent batch come through.

The road from Col de Gaud­is­sart de­scends to Col de Carri, and be­side one cor­ner in Saint-an­dré-les-alpes we watch a dog sled team un­cou­ple their hounds. At Col de Perty we pause by a sec­tion look­ing down on in­nu­mer­able hair­pins, dis­tracted from the rally cars by as many as 20 ea­gles soar­ing slowly over­head. What about the Ford Fal­con, you ask? Ah yes, thatʼs a big beast on these tight ru­ral roads, and it came 1st on the Digne-lesBains stage, but did­nʼt make the fin­ish, sadly.

We mo­tor on the flat through Die (the ap­pro­pri­ate quips un­avoid­able), and then back to Saint-nazaire-le-desert, where even­tual over­all vic­tor Gian­maria Aghemʼs Lan­cia Ful­via bests the tim­ings; heʼs been bub­bling un­der for a while, as have some of the Porsches, though none suf­fi­ciently con­sis­tently to have an im­pact on the re­sults.

Af­ter the fi­nal nightʼs rest-up in Va­lence itʼs an even ear­lier start, this time over the Alps and down to Èze, just out­side Monaco, where the en­tourage pauses ahead of the fi­nal push. Much of the route uses the awe­some Route Napoleon, up which the 19th cen­tury French Em­peror jour­neyed to meet his des­tiny at Water­loo.

Itʼs a blend of soar­ing rock faces, deep chasms, tun­nels hewn through the moun­tains, an­cient for­ti­fied towns, and the broad bed of the me­an­der­ing River Var, amaz­ingly bereft of wa­ter, even though the snows have ob­vi­ously melted. On tran­sit sec­tions such as this the cars travel far faster than they do on the reg­u­lar­i­ties, where to ar­rive at the end of the stage ahead of time is to in­cur swinge­ing penal­ties.

But on the largely empty pub­lic roads the crews let their hair down and re­ally go for it. Even driv­ing a Boxster hard itʼs dif­fi­cult keep­ing up with seem­ingly mundane ma­chines like an Opel Kadett, Ford Es­cort or Volvo Ama­zon, and I make a point of pulling over when­ever a rally car catches us up.

The rally route runs out of spec­tac­u­lar Provençale coun­try a few kilo­me­tres north of Nice, and thereʼs lit­tle al­ter­na­tive to toss­ing a hand­ful of shrap­nel into the vo­ra­cious Au­toroute tolls as we make for pic­turesque Èze, high above the Med. The AC de Monaco has a stag­ing post in a mu­nic­i­pal build­ing itʼs com­man­deered be­side the mar­ket­place car park, wel­come re­lief af­ter an­other full-on dayʼs driv­ing

We hang out with Jür­gen Barth and Roland Kuss­maul for a

while. Theyʼre do­ing nicely, down in 105th, but not stress­ing; they lived that dream nearly forty years ago. Itʼs OK for us, too, but itʼs not done yet, far from it. The rally crews are obliged to re­group down in Monaco, be­side the mega-yachts on the Quai Al­bert 1er, home to the F1 pits garages dur­ing Grand Prix time.

For now, thereʼs brief respite be­fore the noc­tur­nal show­down, high in the moun­tain passes above Nice. That means an­other au­toroute blast, and then a sin­u­ous run up the never-end­ing sin­gle-track hair­pins, via Sospel, Lan­tosque and Peira Cava, up to the leg­endary Cols de Turini and Saint-sau­veur-sur-tinée.

The op­ti­mum strat­egy for journos and snap­pers, if youʼre so in­clined, is to miss the fi­nal start­ing ramp in Monte Carlo and head early for Turini where there are a cou­ple of de­cent ho­tel restau­rants, ahead of the rally ret­inue. Even for a press­man itʼs not to be taken lightly: in pre­vi­ous years, Iʼve en­coun­tered longhorn cat­tle ly­ing in the road that would­nʼt budge, deep snow and ice, and once up there, the roadside scene at Turini is one of al­co­hol-fu­elled may­hem, bra­ziers, bar­be­cues and crêpe stalls all a-go-go.

As the rally cars come through, a cou­ple of min­utes be­tween each one, the vol­ume of en­thu­si­ast ac­claim drowns the engine noise and a hail of cam­era flashes blinds the crews. An­other year, a bunch of Ja­panese fans plays tag with the cars as they slither by. Else­where, ʻfansʼ kick snow onto the hair­pins to help liven things up. By mid­night we call time and wind our way back down to the Prin­ci­pal­ity, along with rally cars sim­i­larly bound.

Itʼs late morn­ing, and we bask in the much-revered sun­shine as we stroll down­town to parc fermé. Quizzing some of the crews as to con­di­tions on Turini last night, most are dis­mis­sive: it was­nʼt the chal­lenge it usu­ally is; lit­tle snow and ice and rel­a­tively easy: easy enough for ve­hi­cles as dis­parate as a Lan­cia Stratos and a VW Golf GTI to come out on top here.

Come mid­day the fi­nal reck­on­ings are posted on the boards out­side the AC de Mona­coʼs vast har­bour­side Por­tak­abin. Itʼs im­por­tant to point out that the His­toric Monte has been won by Porsches in the past: a 2.0-litre 911 in 1999, a 914/6 in 2006, a 2.7 Car­rera in 2007, and an­other 2.0-litre car in 2011 (which was lead­ing in 2012 un­til it was dis­qual­i­fied for punt­ing off a tardy Mini Cooper on the very last stage).

Have any of this yearʼs crop made it into the top ten? We scan down the lists: nope, itʼs not a vin­tage year for Porsche; the high­est-placed 911 is 14th, a 2.4 T crewed by Span­ish pair, Al­varo Ocha­gavias-temino and Marc Gu­tier­rez-dominguez. Then a gap to 21st, where thereʼs a 912 be­long­ing to Spa­niards An­to­nio Sainz-ce­n­amor and Se­cundino Suarez, with 911s (two 3.0 SCS and a 2.0 S) fill­ing the next three places from 22nd to 24th, then a 2.2 and a 2.7 in 34th and 36th, and in 40th, a Fin­nish 356B. So, you can tell from that theyʼre fairly well spread out, with the 914/6 of Alex Mce­wan and Alan Stark the low­est placed Porsche at 215th.

The home­ward run up the Au­toroute starts off bathed in glo­ri­ous sun­light, which lasts, iron­i­cally, un­til Va­lence. There­after, the weather de­te­ri­o­rates till we hit bliz­zards at Reims. Para­dox­i­cally, the con­di­tions in north­ern France are worse than any­thing weʼve passed through on the ac­tual rally. Weʼve cov­ered 3000 miles (5000km) in a week. Job done for an­other year! CP


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