Mountain concern

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188

Fresh from the co-driver’s seat, a first-hand account of an unexpectedly tough challenge

As I stood with driver Rick Pearson on the side of a lonely mountain in the Alpes Maritimes, in the pitch black, it occurred that I had misjudged the Monte Carlo Historique. I’d spent all week bemoaning the ridiculous team gear sported by a large proportion of the entry and mocked these plonkers as they lived out their fantasy of being Aaltonen or Blomqvist. This most iconic of rallies is a poseurs’ paradise if you want to approach it as such, but it is also a seriously tough event.

In truth, it is probably as big a challenge as you’ll find in amateur motor sport. I thought the competition didn’t matter and that we were just there for the craic. But as I stood there forlornly waving an empty jerry can just 4km from the end of the final stage, I realised how much I’d hoped for a good result.

With 14 regularity stages and on the back of significant, sleep-depriving concentration runs, it really is an event that sorts the men from the boys. This year’s event was all about the Mini, and both Paddy Hopkirk and 33 EJB were present at various points to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the win that shook the motoring world. To aid the authenticity, the weather contrived to be very mild, as it was for much of 1964, so there was much less snow than usual.

As the organisers are at pains to point out, the rally is a regularity event – penalties being issued for failure to maintain a predetermined average speed over a set distance. However, despite their protestations that competitors must drive within the law, there were frequently times when crews had little option but to press on.

The target is to get as close as you can to the perfect regularity stage. In Rick’s 1970 Lancia Fulvia, we got perilously close to it on ZR (Zone Regularity) 8 when we came fifth out of 308 rally starters with penalties equivalent to just two seconds of cumulative error over 25km – just two tenths of a second behind the stage winner. To do so, without the aid of recces (which the big boys do), pace notes (which they have) and an absence of digital and satellite technology to help was – even if I say so myself – remarkable. ZRs are typically 20-30km and there are seven to 10 hidden timing checks, one point being awarded for each tenth of a second over or under your due time. Being accurate to the tenth was almost impossible – but we did that a few times, too.

But having looked odds-on for a top-50 finish, a class podium and the bragging rights for being top Brits, we quickly realised that we weren’t ‘Stigs’ after all. Naturally, none of our fellow competitors reacted in any way to our jerry-can waving and nor would we have done for them. However, we were passed by a French competitor’s service crew who kindly gave us 10 litres of fuel. We were back on the road, not totally out of the game but non-plussed at how the Fulvia could drink more than Oliver Reed.

So it turned out that the event did matter to me, and the self-induced disappointment was briefly crushing. Mild conditions provided probably as good a chance as we’ll get in a decade to record a decent result, but we have resolved – sponsors willing – to return in 2015 and try again.

The Monte Carlo Rallye Historique is a cracking event. It is not the Monte of old, but I’d challenge anyone who witnessed the speed at which crews had to attack the Col de Turini in the dark, in a vain attempt to try and maintain something close to the 48.6kph average, to tell the difference. It certainly felt pretty authentic from where I was sitting. Stuart Pringle, club secretary, BRDC