GP drivers in the Monte Carlo Rally


Robert Kubica has lost his Formula 1 cheekbones and gained some ‘Hannu Mikkola’ puppy fat. He has become by definition – and admittedly from necessity – a rally driver of the first rank. His stunning times at the treacherous opening of last week’s Monte Carlo Rally put the sport back on the map.

At the end of the first stage, he looked more flustered than ever he had been in F1 and declared it the toughest test of his short rallying career. From without, however, all had appeared serene. His driving still possesses the pared accuracy demanded by the aero, hi-tech and tyres of modern single-seaters.

No unsettling blips. No unnecessary hand movements. Patience. Then total commitment.

Zero wasted effort. Fourteen seconds gained.

The nagging fear, of course, is that natural-born racers tend not to allow sufficient margin for error in a rallying scenario. Kubica’s off, when it came, was terminal though relatively gentle. (Was anybody else impressed by the solidity of that bridge’s curlycue metalwork?)

At the time he was battling Kris Meeke’s Citroën for third place – for VW’s reigning world champion Sébastien Ogier had restored the natural order after a fraught first day in which he appeared to be the novice. The 50km SS9 was the rally’s crux and, finding grip where others couldn’t, and riding his luck and a ditch when he couldn’t, Ogier blitzed his uppity rivals by a minimum of 22 seconds.

Such pacing, knowing when to attack, defend or consolidate – and by how much – will be Kubica’s biggest stumbling block because it can only come with experience. Unlike Kimi Räikkonen, however, he has earned his rally spurs, having dominated the 2013 WRC-2, and appears to be in it for the long haul rather than filling time. He also appears to listen to and trust his pace notes.

Thus there are compelling reasons to believe that he will become the first GP winner to prevail in a WRC round. That something so positive has emerged from something so negative – the rally crash of 2011 that almost killed him – is testament to the Pole’s talent and will.

Räikkönen never did the fickle Monte, with its unpredictable and drastic changes of grip and thus sometimes improbable and occasionally impossible tyre choices. The event was a round of the rival Intercontinental Rally Challenge during the Finn’s seasons of WRC.

Plenty of GP drivers have, however, contested the world’s most famous rally.

Pre-war GP drivers

In 1931, English winner Donald Healey’s Invicta defeated a Lorraine driven by 22-year-old Jean-Pierre Wimille. Though the Parisian would not enjoy a fantastic record at the Monaco GP – he finished a distant sixth in 1936 at the wheel of an outdated Bugatti Type 59 – he would become the GP benchmark of the immediate post-war period as Alfa Romeo’s number one.

Fellow Parisian René Le Bègue was, as a rule, no match for Wimille on the circuits, yet his stripped-sports car Talbot finished third, best of the rest behind the all-conquering Silver Arrows, in the 1939 French GP at Reims. Some two years earlier he had won the Monte in a Delahaye 135 MS. (On that same event, Luigi Villoresi, future Maserati and Ferrari GP ace, finished 13th overall to win his class in a Fiat 1500.)

Le Bègue’s is an interesting and ultimately tragic story. As part of millionairess adventurer/team owner Lucy O’Reilly Schell’s equipe, he was excused military service to contest the 1940 Indy 500. Pour La Gloire! He qualified his supercharged 3-litre GP Maserati 8CL in 31st and, with assistance from co-driver René Dreyfus – fifth on the 1937 Monte – finished 10th.

2014 Monte Carlo Rally results
1 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo)
2 Bryan Bouffier/Xavier Panseri (Ford Fiesta)
3 Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (Citroën DS3)
4 Mads Østberg/Jonas Andersson (Citroën DS3)
5 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Volkswagen Polo)

Dreyfus, a Jew, did not return home for fear of persecution and became a famous New York restaurateur. Le Bègue did – and fought for the Free French in Africa, Sicily and at Monte Cassino. He also somehow found time to return to Indy in 1941. He did so using an Indiana Jones-type route across the Pyrénées to Lisbon, where he haggled with a ship’s captain and an airline. Sadly, his Talbots proved uncompetitive at the Brickyard and he and team-mate Jean Trévoux failed to qualify.

Having survived all of that, and having recently been voted vice-president of the French racing drivers’ association, he was gassed to death in 1946 – by a faulty bathroom boiler.

Dapper Monégasque Louis Chiron won his home GP for Bugatti in 1931 and, 23 years later, won the Monte in a Lancia Aurelia GT. He remains the only man to achieve this double.

Moss, Elford and Larrousse: all-rounders

Stirling Moss – who couldn’t have known at the time – came within four seconds of achieving this feat. His underpowered and overweight Sunbeam Talbot 90 – its three-man crew comprised Moss, Autocar journalist John A Cooper and BRDC Secretary Desmond Scannell – was pipped at the 1952 Monte post by Syd Allard’s eponymous P1 saloon.

Moss, Cooper and Scannell in 1952

Moss also contested the 1953 Monte for the Rootes Group. Calling it a “long drive in the country” so clement were the prevailing conditions, he finished sixth with the same crew.

His Monaco GP victories were secured in 1956, ’60 and ’61.

‘Quick Vic’ Elford is the other GP driver to have won the Monte. Having persuaded a distinctly cagey Porsche that its 911 would make an excellent works rally weapon, he led the 1967 event before slipping to third during a late snow flurry.

The following year it was he who made a late charge through snow to win. The man he was chasing was fellow future F1 driver Gérard Larrousse: two GPs in 1974 in a privateer Brabham.

Elford immediately boarded a plane to the USA, where he won the Daytona 24 Hours for Porsche.

Elford and David Stone in 1968

He made his GP debut that year, too, and finished fourth; aboard an uncompetitive Cooper-BRM; at daunting Rouen; and in the pouring rain.

His only Monaco GP start, in 1969, saw him finish seventh in Colin Crabbe’s bulbous Cooper-Maserati.

Larrousse, who crashed his Alpine A110 out of contention in that 1968 Monte, would finish runner-up three times for Porsche: 1969, ’70 and ’72. France’s answer to Elford, he also finished second, also for Porsche, at Le Mans in ’69.

Two years later, he won the Sebring 12 Hours and Nürburgring 1000km in iconic Martini Porsches, 917 and 908/3. His co-driver on each occasion? Elford. Has there ever been a more rounded pairing? I doubt it.

Patrick Tambay took the start of six Monaco GPs. His best result was a fourth place for Ferrari in 1983; his worst a broken leg with Renault in ’84.

This ex-skier, however, was still a promising single-seater novice when he contested his first rally: the 1973 Monte. Driving an unlovely Renault 12 Gordini fitted with a standard engine after its original had lunched itself, he did well to finish a chaotic event in 20th.

The modern era

In more recent times, Stéphane Sarrazin, a one-GP wonder as Luca Badoer’s substitute at Minardi in Brazil 1999 – he was doing commendably well until a broken suspension stuck him in the wall – has met with much Monte success.

In 2005 and ’06, he drove a full-shot Prodrive Subaru Impreza. He crashed on the first occasion and finished fifth on the second. And twice, in 2009 and ’11, he has finished third, both times in an IRC Peugeot 207 S2000. On the latter occasion, however, he purposely accrued a time penalty to promote his British team-mate Guy Wilks.

Sarrazin with Denis Giraudet in 2005

Sarrazin was joined on the 2011 Monte by Alex Caffi. The Brescian, who scored the best result of his 56-GP career at Monaco 1989 – fourth in a Pirelli-shod Dallara – finished 11th in a Skoda Fabia.

The above is an impressive list yet, barring Moss, Kubica has the ability and has earned himself the opportunity to top the lot.

‘Mr Monaco’ is probably beyond his reach, too – even though five-time Monaco GP-winner Graham Hill finished 107th when he tackled the 1964 Monte in a Ford Falcon.

More from Paul Fearnley
Mini’s Monte Carlo anniversary
Timmy Mayer: McLaren’s lost talent
Colin Chapman’s final years

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