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Monte Carlo Rally

The Monte Carlo Rally, undoubtedly the most prestigious rally of the World Rally Championship, was first brought to life in 1911 to attract spectators away from the hugely popular Carnival of Nice. In a bid to show the world that the January climate at the Riviera was just as pleasant in Monte Carlo as it was in its French rival city, the Monte Carlo governing body organised the Monte Carlo rally. A rally that would span a large section of Europe as competitors would start in various European cities to cross the Alps and finish in sunny Monte Carlo. Faced with snow, subzero temperatures and other adversity that the Alps provide in January, it was no small feat for those early pioneers to even reach the principality, let alone win the rally.

As the years past, and milding of the climate and advances in motoring technology allowed more and more teams to reach the finish without time penalties, tests were introduced at the finish to decide on an overall winner. Until the sixties, the final classification could take into account the usual parameters, such as mean velocity, distance covered, navigational tests and acceleration tests, but also some more outlandish factors such as, the overall state of the car at the end of the rally, number of passengers and transported luggage (in 1957, a bus seating 10 competed), comfort (in 1952 an English competitor had a small water-basin in his door, his seat swiveled to get to the back of the car more easily, where a reserve of food was stored).

But rallying has come a long way from these early beginnings and since the sixties the balance has shifted ever increasingly from a focus on endurance towards outright speed. The Monte Carlo Rally could not escape this trend, and at different points in time has had to make some radical changes, if it was to prolong its existence as a World Rally Championship rally. Special stages around Monte Carlo became the deciding factor for the final classification, and from 1964 the trans-European concentration run from various cities to Monte Carlo, even though it remained part of the rally in some way or another untill 1996, would no longer hold any bearing on the final results.

2005 saw the latest adaptation "the Monte" has made to concur with the FIA's regulation which allows only a single service park during the entire rally. Thus, whereas the stages in Ardeche had already disappeared, the course was limited to the 06 area, putting an end to traditional Friday competition in the neighbourhood of Gap, on illustrious stages such as Plan de Vitrolles and the Col de Fontbelle. To mitigate that, the ACM (Automobile Club of Monaco) is currently in negotiation with the organizers of the Sanremo Rally to create a leg in Italy and thus prevent that bashful occurrence of running the same stage of Col de Braus-Col de l'Orme 5 times over.

But despite the best efforts of the Monegasques to maintain the beauty of this rally, they too cannot stop us forever regretting the disappearance of the concentration run, the one week competition through all of France, the famous Night of Turini and the almost forgotten times when the vast amount of competitors turned the rally into a celebration of motorsports and not just a mere rally. (the edition 1953 counted 404 teams leaving, a shrill contrast to the 34 teams that competed in 2005!)

A rally, however, that still holds an unique place in the WRC. Traditionally the season-opener it is held at the height of Alpine winter with conditions that can change from completely dry tarmac to ice and snow as drivers ascend over the treacherous narrow mountain roads, and back to dry again as the drivers return to sea level. On a typical Monte stage it is not unlikely that drivers start the stage basking in the sunlight, +10 degrees and on dry clean tarmac, only to find themselves sliding on ice and snow in below zero temperature in the middle of the stage, and finishing the stage in the pouring rain with dark clouds suffocating the daylight. Only to drive the next stage on completely dry tarmac. These conditions make tyre choice very important, but also extremely difficult. The outcome of the Monte Carlo Rally depends for a large part on getting this choice right, and a bit of gambling is often needed. There have been years, however, when the rally is just like another asphalt rally and chosing tyres is relatively straight forward. That is part of the charm of the Monte Carlo, although often to the frustration of drivers.

Competing on mostly dry asphalt, having to skid over patches of ice which persist at the bottom of the valley, the wet spots in the shade, and the snow-covered roads up in the mountains, accompanied by steep drop-offs on one side and a rockwall on the other, with very little room to make a mistake, and on top of that having to predict these conditions up front, is not to most crews liking. It is safe to say the rally usually is not one of the most popular with the teams. Only seldom do crews appreciate the Monte, however none can deny that it is still one of the most challenging rallies in the WRC.

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