Strange how the mind plays tricks. I knew exactly how it was going to be. I’d seen it so many times before. Or had I?
Of course I had. A smear of headlights. A rip of engine. A big, big slide. An extravagant Scandinavian Flick. Another big, big slide. An ice ballet danced to a thunderously brilliant airhorn-flashgun son et lumiere. Yep, the most famous map reference in rallying was an attractive, cramped, mountain-top village — all solid stone cottages and flaking-paint shutters.
I hadn’t seen it one little bit.
The approach was as I had always imagined it would be — albeit minus January’s snows. The Col de Turini sets up a rhythm that draws you in. Foot-tapping throttle and brake. Throttle and brake. Bursting out of the eyrie of Moulinet, it’s faster than you might expect, lots of second and third gear (road ratios don’t forget), Plenty of K rights and lefts. Emerge from the treeline, however, and you enter handbrake hairpin land. A stupidgrin-inducing stretch of road in normal circumstances, it’s a concentrated-furrow-inducing one when every tenth counts.
We are there. Suddenly.
Not a cottage in sight.
The most famous map reference in rallying is — a capacious lay-by. The reason the slides are so big is that, by rallying’s stifling standards, there is lots of room. The asphalt where three Alpine passes meet is 50 feet wide. The houses, chalets actually, are set back from and above the road.
A grey metal tower to the left is the summer-silent ski lift. German bikers on flat-twin Beemer tourers have congregated at the summit, while genteel day trippers sip coffee under the Hotel Trois Vallees’ sunshades.
The air is breathgivingly clear, redolent with that glorious pine smell sickly-green toilet ‘fresheners’ never get within a sniff of. Yet the atmosphere is decidedly flat. It’s a disappointment, frankly.
We venture into the hotel for a Coke and to stare at walls no doubt festooned with emotive photos of slip-sliding Minis, Stratos and quattros.
Not a bit of it. Some cheesy hand-out mugshots of Malcolm Wilson and his late 6R4 co-driver Nigel Harris. And not much else.
We slug the (warm) Coke and hurry back to the still-pinging Mini. We fire off some snaps, like Hillary and Tensing, and begin the cliffhugging descent, with its tunnels and hairpin redoubts.
The grin breaks out once more. The foot starts to tap again.
The most famous map reference in rallying is a Tulip diagram that only flowers when the fans sow their fervour.
The roads either side of it, though, are where the sport’s geniuses have taken root, where they have flowered.