Tradition preserved

Whoever first wrote, or said, that tradition dies hard didn’t just create what has become an innumerably repeated chestnut, but told a lie. The reason? A tradition doesn’t die at all, either hard or otherwise. It can be ignored, forgotten or even deliberately suppressed. But die? Never! A true tradition, and that does not include those invented by some journalists to lend artificial weight to their credibility, is timeless. It can be conveniently discontinued but it cannot be killed off. Once forged, a tradition remains for eternity.

An event which is steeped in tradition is the Monte Carlo Rally. Although it has followed the course of other rallies and allowed some of its character to be reshaped by the mould of standardisation, many of its traditions are followed to this day. For instance, prizes are still presented in the courtyard of the Prince’s Palace, to which finishers drive in their competing cars; the final leg in the Alpes Maritimes, which replaced the former ‘around-the-houses’ race in the ’60s, is still held at night, ending with the customary finish at the quayside, opposite the headquarters of the Automobile Club de Monaco.

But the best known tradition is undoubtedly that of the multiple start. Gone are the days when just getting to Monte Carlo was a tough assignment and an achievement in itself, but starting points are still established in various European cities, even though Oslo, Glasgow, Warsaw and several other former start cities no longer figure. This year there were five; Sestriere, Reims, Barcelona, Bad Homburg and Lausanne, the itinerary from each being just less than 700 miles.

Another tradition of a sort, though not as well established, is due entirely to the rally’s position in the calendar. As the first major international event of the year it provides the stage on which new cars and new car/driver combinations usually make their first competitive appearances. This year there were two new cars and several crews having their first outings for teams which they have just joined.

One tradition which has been allowed to lapse, and which we would certainly welcome if it were reintroduced, is the former practice of the Monaco police for dealing with those who parked their cars improperly. A slip of paper was placed under your wiper blades, thanking you for visiting the Principality, wishing you a pleasant stay, respectfully pointing out the parking regulations and requesting that you abide by them in future. All very friendly and polite! Nowadays, wheel clamps and tow trucks are more in fashion and you certainly don’t get a second chance.

There was a time when you had to ‘apply for consideration’ before even getting an entry form for the Monte Carlo Rally. It was so popular that the selection process began even before entry forms were completed. If you were thought not to have the ability or the experience, you were rejected, although it cannot be doubted that connections and background were other factors taken into account.

A veritable convoy of cars used to line up around Glasgow’s Blythswood Square for the journey to Dover, usually via Llandrindod Wells, and British crews were always well represented in the start list, each anxious to participate in this uncomfortable and somewhat hazardous means of journeying to a little winter sunshine on the Mediterranean.

This year there were 141 starters, and not a single British competitor among them, although several cars bore GB plates, having been built, registered and prepared in the United Kingdom. Indeed, of the five professional teams taking part, three are based in Britain.

Lancia, as a car manufacturer, claims to have pulled out of rallying, leaving all competition activities to Martini and the Jolly Club, working together. However, the cars are still built at the old Abarth plant in Turin, are serviced by the same mechanics using the same vehicles and are managed by the same staff. If it’s a departure at all, then it is merely a paper one, for the team turned out at Monte Carlo in just as much strength as it did last year. However, on the paperwork and on the cars, Lancia Martini has given way to Martini Racing. The new Lancia integrales differ considerably from those used last year. The turbocharger (Garrett T3) is new and the whole engine has been reworked in a quest for more torque, better acceleration and an immediate throttle response. Cooling has been aided by more frontal vents and a water jet system to help the intercooler. Front and rear tracks are wider and shock absorbers repositioned to increase travel and to allow the use of 17 in wheels. The transmission, save for longer halfshafts, remains unchanged.

Three works Lancias appeared in Monaco, driven by Juha Kankkunen/Juha Piironen, Didier Auriol/Bernard Occelli and, French newcomers to the team, Philippe Bugalski/ Denis Giraudet. The latter crew was entered by the Jolly Club; the other two by Martini Racing.

Toyota was also fielding a car considerably improved from that of last year. Still called the Celica Turbo, it features a variety of changes which enhance performance, handling and reliability. Like the new Lancia, additional air vents have been placed, and the wheel size has gone up by an inch. The body shape has been made rounder, although its colourscheme is odd, to say the least, with a large, teardropshaped red patch on each wing.

There were three Celicas entered, driven by Carlos Sainz/Luis Moya, Armin Schwarz/Arne Hertz and Markku Alén/lIkka Kivimäki.

From Boreham came two Sierra Cosworth 4x4s to be driven by François Delecour/Daniel Grataloup and Massimo Biasion/Tiziano Siviero. The latter pair followed Alessandro Fiorio’s footsteps from Turin to Boreharn, moving from Lancia after team manager Claudio Lombardi left to run the Ferrari team. Delecour, of course, is the French driver who caused a sensation last year when he led the rally in his works Sierra Cosworth 4×4, only to drop to third on the final stage when a rear suspension component broke.

The Sierras have been made lighter since last year by the use of titanium and kevlar in place of steel for some components. The roll cage has been redesigned to increase body stiffness and there have been suspension changes to match the switch from Pirelli tyres to Michelin. Mobil has replaced Q8 as the Ford team’s major sponsor, whilst additional backing came from Autoglass, which uses the name Carglass in certain countries.

From its base in Milton Keynes, Nissan Motorsport Europe brought two Sunny GTI-Rs for François Chatriot/Michel Perin and Tommi Mäkinen/Seppo Harjanne. Both crews were in the team for the first time, although Harjanne spent much time co-driving in Datsuns some years ago. Frenchman Chatriot has plenty of experience of driving on alpine roads in France, but Mäkinen, from Finland, was competing in the rally for the first time. However, he is perfectly at home driving on ice and snow and was hoping for conditions as wintry as possible.

Another two-car team was that of Mitsubishi Ralliart, which is also based in Britain. Driving the two Galant VR-4s were Timo Salonen/Voitto Silander and Kenneth Eriksson/Staffan Parmander, both crews having been regulars in the team for some time.

Like all the other teams, Mitsubishi has had to rework its engines due to the FISA rule which came into force on 1st January that the openings in turbocharger air intake restrictors be reduced from 40 mm to 38 mm. Generally, teams have found that this has only affected performance at high rpm. Torque, low-end power and acceleration seem to have been affected very slightly. Following an overnight stop at Monaco after the five converging itineraries, the competition itself opened with six special stages during the first day, Saturday, on the way westward, crossing the Rhône into the Ardèche for a night stop at Aubenas. Six more came on the Sunday, during the return journey to the second night stop at Digne, and another six on the Monday during the home run to Monaco.

Tuesday’s restart was not until 4 pm. so crews had plenty of rest before tackling the final leg which went on all night, through eight special stages, before finishing at Monaco from 8 am. onwards on the Wednesday.

Any rally can have varying road conditions wet or dry, muddy or dusty – but the Monte Carlo Rally is unique inasmuch as it can have more permutations and combinations than any other. Dry, damp, wet, ice, frost, snow, fresh, packed, solid, patchy; all are words which are commonly used when special stage surfaces are being described, and it is not unusual to find a stage to which every one of them can be applied. When conditions in a single stage vary so much, the big tactical headache of the rally is at its most intense – choice of tyres!

To do well a driver must have the tyres which provide the best possible grip. On a completely dry stage, the choice is easy. On a stage which is snow-covered from start to finish, it is equally easy. It is when mixed conditions are encountered that heads are scratched, oracles consulted and even coins tossed. If a mountain pass has snow on the top but not on the ascent and descent, do you take studded tyres and drive carefully on the ascent in order to preserve the studs for the snow, or do you take unstudded tyres to make good time on the dry and poor time on the snow?

The permutations between slicks and fully studded tyres are too numerous to list, but the main factors involved are size, tread pattern, stud pattern and tread compound. There are many variations of each, and as many as possible must be available for every works driver at the start of every stage. That adds up to an enormous quantity of tyres, and making sure that the maximum choice is available for every team driver at every stage is a logistical nightmare.

Tyres can win or lose a Monte Carlo Rally. Indeed, they often do. It is vital that the correct choice is made, and it is quite amazing that, in these days of officially recognised ice-note crews travelling ahead of the rally to note carefully every single variation of surface condition and temperature and delivering them to drivers as annotations on copies of their pace notes, drivers still make errors in their selection.

Ice-note crews used to function almost surreptitiously. Not officially recognised by the organisers, they took pot luck on being able to traverse special stages as late as possible before they were closed, in order that their data was as up-to-date as possible, yet early enough to have time to return to the stage start and deliver the notes to the competitors concerned. There are so many of them now that the organisers issue them with car plates, personal identity tags and a list of latest times for driving through special stages.

It was common at one time for a team to have three ice-note crews leap-frogging around the route, each making notes for every competitor in the team. Indeed, we recall doing the job for a team whose three drivers used three different languages for their notes. With time only for one run over a stage, transcribing the ice notes afterwards demanded great care. A red line drawn one bend later than it should could well send a car careering off the road. Nowadays there are three ice-note crews for each car, not just each team, and, with a dozen works cars in the event, that adds up to 36 ice note cars moving rapidly around the alps, almost as though they were in a separate rally of their own.

Although the weather this year was fine, temperatures on most stages were below zero, which meant that wet patches froze and snowy patches did not melt away. Unquestionably, it was a year of hard work for ice-note crews and one of very difficult tyre selection for competitors.

A surprise at the end of the concentration run came when Kankkunen checked in at the Monaco arrival control just a handful of seconds after his correct minute. He was thus clocked one minute late, collecting a penalty of 30 sec. A Martini spokesman later said that this was due to a delay at the Menton customs post, but we wonder.

Another concentration problem was caused by heavy snow in the Pyrenees, blocking all roads over the mountains. The Barcelona starters seemed already to have the dice loaded against them, but eventually they got through along the coast road, in atrocious weather.

The first stage on the Saturday morning was up the famous Col de Turini from Moulinet, but not over the top and down to La Bollène-Vésubie. The stage finished about half a mile before the summit. It was largely dry, but the last few bends had been ‘snowed’ by spectators, and this caught out several drivers who were using slicks.

It was Schwarz who took the lead, setting a time three seconds quicker than Kankkunen and Delecour. Eriksson spun, Bugalski went off and later needed front axle attention, whilst Biasion slid slowly into a wall in front of which an amateur video-maker was standing. The unfortunate man had his legs crushed and was later taken to hospital with fractures, though he lay there at the roadside for a good 20 minutes before a stretcher party ran down from the top of the pass to take him away. The stage was not interrupted.

Next came the well-known stage from Pont-des-Miolans, starting by ascending the famous ‘chute’ (which used to be frightening in the reverse direction) and finishing through the very narrow gorge at St Auban. Both Mäkinen and Auriol had their intercoms fail, but that didn’t stop Auriol posting best time, equal with Sainz. Bugalski, who was perhaps being over-cautious on his first Lancia drive, spun and had to use reverse gear in order to get going.

The third stage was over the Col de Corobin, starting at Chaudon Norante and finishing at the thermal baths just outside Digne. Biasion suffered power steering loss here, the first of some half a dozen such failures during the rally. He also chose studded tyres which turned out to be the wrong choice for that test. Bugalski also used studs, but they were taken on deliberately as Lancia was using him for on-event tyre testing.

After a 15-minute stop in Digne, the rally moved on through Sisteron into the Drome region where the next stage was over the Col St Jean and the Col de Perty from Eygalayes to Ruissas. After a slow start, Delecour recorded best time here, all of 20 seconds better than that of Auriol and Schwarz. The latter driver still led the rally, but Delecour was now up in second place, only six seconds behind.

The stage was dotted with stretches of ice and snow, on one of which Alén’s rally came to an end. Using slicks, he slid off the road, down a snow-covered bank and could not regain the road. There were not many spectators at that spot, so Alén and Kivimäki had to resign themselves to leaving a perfectly good car and getting a lift back to Monaco.

Another to stop here was Eriksson. He had been indulging in corner-cutting, which works well in some places but not in others. When the verges are covered in snow there is always the risk that the snow might be hiding something solid, which was just what Eriksson discovered. Whatever he hit, rock, tree stump or post, it knocked his front left wheel completely out of line and he was only able to continue very slowly. Alas, he didn’t make it and Mitsubishi was left with just one car.

Bugalski lost a little time here, having been held up by both Eriksson and Alén, whilst Sainz wasted a few seconds by spinning.

The stage from La Motte Chalancon to St Nazaire-le-Désert is one which almost lives up to its name, for it crosses some very sparsely populated countryside. Earlier, the road had been damp but by the time the stage got under way, at 4.20 pm, it had become icy. Schwarz let go of his lead here by choosing the wrong tyres and losing some 40-odd seconds. He dropped to fourth place, furious with himself for having done so, whilst Auriol moved just ahead of Delecour to take the lead. After crossing the Rhône just south of Valence, competitors came to the last stage of the day, from St Pierreville via the Col de la Fayolle to Antraigues. This one was dry, except for a mile or two of solid snow on the summit. Opinions on tyre choice were varied, and it’s interesting to note that the leading crews were by no means in accord. Sainz and Kankkunen used studs and later said that they felt slicks would have been better. Auriol, on the other hand, used studs and considered that he had made the best choice. Schwarz used slicks and felt that it had been a mistake.

If leading drivers such as these do not agree about the best tyre choice, how can anyone say, as some did, that ice-note crews were sometimes making wrong recommendations?

At the end of the day Auriol held his lead, 17 sec ahead of Delecour. Kankkunen was another 20 sec behind, ahead of Schwarz, Sainz and Salonen. Biasion was off the pace in seventh, nearly three and a half minutes behind the leader.

The first of Sunday’s stages was up to the top of the plateau from Burzet, scene of many an incident in the past, from total snow blockage leading to serious riots when the organisers refused to grant a delay allowance to those held up, to near riots after protesters scattered four-pointed nails on the road, causing wholesale punctures among marshals’ cars, course cars, ice-note cars and almost an entire convoy of police vans.

This time the rally did not turn right at Lachamp Raphael on the plateau, to loop back to Burzet town, but continued to finish the stage at St Martial. The ascent was dry, but the plateau top at some 4,700 ft very icy. There was also considerable snow, and there was no doubt that studded tyres were the best choice. However, many found that their studs had lost their full effectiveness by the time they got to the snow. Pierre Bos, who drove a Ford Sierra Cosworth 4×4, summed it up: “I started with studs but I left them all behind on the tarmac.”

Delecour beat Auriol by 11 sec, cutting the leader’s margin down to just six. Schwarz lost his intercooler coolant whilst Mäkinen arrived at the finish with a flat front right tyre.

St Bonnet-le-Froid rarely fails to live up to its name. The town at which the stage both starts and finishes was bitterly cold and the stage itself covered entirely in snow, although Sainz said later that he lost most of his studs. Schwarz ran wide on one bend, breaking a rear suspension link and allowing the wheel to flap, whilst Auriol’s intercom again refused to work and his lead over Delecour was shortened to four seconds.

The stage from Lalouvest to the Col du Marchand did not take the short route but looped around for some 20 miles via the Col du Buisson. By contrast, this was mostly dry, although frosty in shaded areas. Auriol made best time, extending his lead to just over half a minute, whilst Bugalski again used unsuitable tyres for testing purposes and Chatriot experienced a wheel bearing failure which caused a brake fluid leak. He had to pump several times to get any effect.

After the St Jean-en-Royans stage, where Schwarz was fastest, all the Lancias had routine turbocharger changes prior to the run down to the fifth stage of the day, from Rosans to the Col de la Saulce. This was another with hugely varying surface conditions, and when Delecour lost considerable time after his turbocharger blew he must have wished that Ford had arranged a turbo change after St Jean, as Lancia did.

The last stage before the Digne night stop ran from Sisteron over the Col de Fontbelle to Thoard, and it was here that things were really turned upside down. It was all down to tyres once again and, when we were chatting to one of Lancia’s ice note staff at Heathrow afterwards, he was quick to remark: “But I didn’t do the Sisteron stage!”

The Lancias used slicks, and this proved to be disastrous. On a slippery upgrade they just couldn’t climb the hill and, in turn, had to be pushed up by spectators. Auriol destroyed his clutch in the process and, the next morning, had a new gearbox and clutch fitted after he left the restart control.

Chatriot also had to be pushed, whilst Biasion slid off the road at one point. Delecour did not actually get stuck, but nevertheless he lost more than a minute to Schwarz, who was fastest. It was on this stage that Toyota tried out a new idea for cutting treads into tyres. Instead of one of the customary tread patterns, transverse cuts were made across the tyre. There were neither longitudinal grooves nor diagonal ones. The idea worked. The tyres were good on the dry tarmac and gave enough grip on the slippery hills to allow the Toyotas to get up without assistance. Schwarz was fastest followed by team-mate Sainz. Incidentally, Toyota team manager Maurice Guaslard is a former Michelin tyre expert.

In Bugalski’s car the co-driver’s window handle came off, slid across the floor and became wedged under the accelerator pedal. The lack of full throttle became doubly apparent when he caught Biasion but just couldn’t get the power to pass him.

That night in Digne, where Delecour had new transmission shafts and Biasion a new prop shaft and rear springs, Sainz found himself in the lead, all of 49 sec ahead of Auriol who was in turn the same margin ahead of Schwarz. Delecour was another minute back.

On the short (7.7 miles) stage from Malijai to Puimichel Biasion’s power steering failed once more, whilst Delecour found that he had to keep pumping his brakes again. New rear axles were fitted to both cars before the next one, over the Col du Defend from Clumanc to Lambruisse, where the two Toyotas again made best times.

Lancia had found that although their 17 in wheels were useful on fast stages, they were not so good on twistier ones which demanded quick gear and speed changes. They found that braking was improved and that tyres lasted longer, but the big disadvantage was that they didn’t suit the gear ratios that were being used. So they decided to replace those gears, at the first opportunity, by ones which would result in better overall ratios when used with 17 in wheels.

After passing through Castellane, where the all-night bakery still flourishes in a corner of the town square, the rally then passed through the gorges of the Verdun valley to that nasty, very twisty and very narrow stage from Trigance to Chateauvieu via Comps and Jabron. Both Delecour and Biasion had their turbochargers fail here, and both drivers had to operate the in-car control to close a valve which prevents the oil being pumped away after the turbocharger stops functioning. Schwarz made best time, two seconds better than Auriol’s.

Salonen had his power steering changed after the stage over the Col de Blein from Les Quatre Chemins to Aiglun, the stage which runs close to, and almost parallel with, the earlier one up the ‘chute’ to St Auban. Then, via Roquesteron and Pont Charles Albert, the bridge over the River Var which was always referred to as Charlie Albert’s Bridge by British mechanics, to the Loda-Luceram stage, over the Col de la Porte.

This was the last one before returning to Monaco via La Turbie, and Auriol managed to beat Sainz by 12 seconds, whittling his overnight lead down to just three. The overnight leaders of the Group N category were the Spiliotis husband and wife crew from Monaco who, in their Ford Sierra Cosworth 4×4, were 10th overall and kept that position until the end. Chatriot had intercom failure, whilst Schwarz lost his third place and left the rally when he went straight on at a hairpin, leaving Toyota with only Sainz left.

Before La Turbie, after which service was not allowed anywhere on the descent to Monaco, cars were given much routine attention in preparation for the final night, turbochargers, differentials, brake discs and shock absorbers being the most common parts changed.

The next morning, many people slept on in preparation for the night to come, but service staff and ice-note crews were busy from early morning, the former restocking with spares and tyres and then leaving early to get a good position, and the latter heading off to have an early look at the stages. There was a time when competitors used the morning before the final night to have a last look at the Col du Turini. For all we know, some may have done it this year.

Tuesday evening was fine but cold, though not as cold as it had been in the Ardèche. There was no stage over the Col de la Madonne this year; instead, the rally went straight to the Turini, this time going straight over the top and finishing down at La Bollène-Vésubie on the other side. The road was dry, although everyone knew full well that around the top of the pass there would be ice or snow on the road, put there by spectators who regard the final night as a festive carnival during which anything is acceptable. There were bonfires, TV floodlights, hot-dog stalls and all the jollification that has always accompanied the ‘Night of the Turini’. Somehow, we can think of better locations for an all-night party than the top of a cold, French alp!

No driver was going to risk relying implicitly on his ice notes near the top; snow or ice might appear anywhere, having been put there after the course cars and the ice-note crews had passed.

Sainz extended his lead by a single second, whilst Biasion was without power assistance for his steering again. Both Chatriot and Mäkinen had their turbochargers changed before the stage.

After a 15 min stop at La Bollène, cars moved on to the Col de la Couillole, from St Sauveur to Beuille. It was at St Sauveur in the past that, in our opinion, the atmosphere of the Monte Carlo Rally was most pronounced. Mechanics set up service areas in the town, preferably close to a convenient restaurant; ice-note crews came and went, and everyone stayed to enjoy friendly banter and a good meal between the first and second passages of the rally. Alas, service is no longer allowed in the town itself.

It was on the Col de La Couillole that Auriol, by beating Sainz by nine seconds, got into the lead again, and this time he held on to it determinedy.

The next stage ran from the Col St Raphael through Ascros and Toudon to Tourette du Chateau on the hill overlooking the Var valley and Pont Charles Albert. This road reaches 5,000 ft and can be very tricky indeed, often having an icy surface when all others are dry. Again Auriol extended his lead, although he was 13 sec slower than Delecour. Sainz, it seems, had a problem with his brakes and lost some 26 seconds.

The next stage was new, crossing from the Tinée to the Vésubie valleys from Pont de la Lune to Utelle, a few miles north of the junction of the N202 and the road leading up to St Sauveur. As a Monte Carlo stage it was not popular, there being much loose gravel on the road. Bugalski punctured his oil cooler radiator here.

The second running of the Turini was disastrous. Since the first crossing had taken place, a forest fire had required the attentions of the fire brigade and front runners were afraid that pumped water running on the road would have frozen into sheet ice. In the backs of their minds the antics of spectators must also have been a worry, and the result was that the leaders were disinclined to start the stage until another course car had made the trip. But none was available and Sainz, as first driver on the road, made it quite clear that he had no wish to take the risk of driving into the unknown.

Initially, stories were that Sainz was the only one to complain, and that he risked a penalty for refusing to start. But this was not so. All the front runners were of the same mind. Finally, the stage was cancelled and competitors drove through as a road section, much to the dislike of the massed spectators.

On the next run over the Cuillole Sainz had stopped going absolutely flat out, being content to hold his second place. At the end of the stage his total penalty was exactly a minute greater than Auriol’s. Bugalski drove slowly, thinking that his oil pressure was low, but it seems that the warning light was at fault because both oil level and pressure were found to be normal.

After a second crossing of the high road through Ascros and Toudon, the final stage was over the narrow, gravelly road to Utelle. Punctures were the risk here, but no-one took chances. Delecour made best time, as he did on the previous stage.

All that was left was the return to Monaco, past Levens (not up the hillclimb) and through La Turbie to a control at Roquebrune Beach before the final arrival at the Monte Carlo quayside.

It had certainly been an eventful rally, emphasising not only the complex stage to which cars have been developed, but the tremendous progress made in tyre advancement. The two technologies go hand in hand, but they can both come to nothing if simple things like weather predictions and the correct choice of tyres are not spot on. It’s like having the best and most complicated computer in the world and then banging the wrong keys! The human factor is still vital.

It’s too early, after just one event, to talk of the World Championship situation, but positions are nevertheless given in the table accompanying the rally results. Of the season to come, we can say that most teams have definite programmes up to and including June’s Acropolis Rally. After that, their options are open so that they may decide on their second half appearances when their championship chances become clearer. GP