Monte Carlo Rally 1973

The 1973 edition of the Monte Carlo Rally is interesting in more ways than one. First of all, it's the first rally of the that year newly instated World Rally Championship for marks. And, as we will see, this edition was particularly plagued by disputes and several rows, as competition grew fierce.

But first of all let us observe the involved forces. At that time, the marks engaged in rallying are numerous, explaining the creation of a championship especially for them, even before the drivers would get their own WRC. One can quote for the 1973 season, on various levels of involvement, the presence of Alpine-Renault, Alfa-Romeo, BMW, Citroen, Datsun, Fiat, Ford, Lancia, Opel, Saab, and Toyota. This first world championship consists of thirteen rounds, of which nine results will count towards the championship.

Of these teams, Alpine-Renault is certainly the team which posts the strongest ambitions. Renault has just taken the majority of the capital of the firm Alpine. With sports-director Jacques Cheinisse now under the direct orders of Renault president Jean Terramossi. The car is the famous "berlinette" A110 1800, with a reinforced pinion box of R12 Gordini origin. In addition, the Alpine team has a formidable collection of french pilots, the three musketeers Jean-Luc Thérier, Bernard Darniche and Jean-Pierre Nicolas. For this Monte Carlo, Ove Andersson (who already won the 1971 edition), Jean-François Piot and Jean-Claude Andruet came to reinforce the works team. In addition to that Bob Wolleck and Claude Ballot entered with semi-private "berlinettes".

Most significant competitors facing the Alpine team were Sandro Munari in the Lancia Fulvia HF, Timo Makinen and Hannu Mikkola in the Ford Escort RS1600 and Bjorn Waldegaard and Rafaele Pinto (the European champion) in the Fiat 124 Abarth.

Overview of the Monte Carlo 1973 :

  • From 19 to January 21: Concentration run (approximately 2500 km). Towns of departure: Améria, Athens, Frankfurt, Glasgow, Assemble-Carlo, Oslo, Rheims, Rome and Warsaw. The concentration run ends in a special stage of 17 km.

  • January 23 and 24: Common test Monaco - Vals-les-Bains - Uriage - Monaco, divided into 25 legs (1653 km) including 8 stages (236 km).

  • January 25 and 26: Complementary test Monaco - Monaco reserved to the first 60 of the general classification, broken up into 11 legs (670 km) including 7 stages by night (153 km).

At the start of this 42nd edition of the Monte Carlo Rally were 270 crews.

The race :

The concentration run does not represent the same challenge as it could be in pre-war editions of the Monte Carlo. However, it is not without incidence as this year the constabulary is particularly present on the french roads. It writes out nearly 170 tickets corresponding to as many traffic violations, most of them for speeding, and some competitors are even withdrawn from the race for not having respected the highway code (for example: crossing of continuous lines and stops)!

At the end of the concentration run, the first stage of the Col du Corobin provides the first real test. As opposed to what one might think, the Alpine team does not immediately dominate the rally. At the first stage Munari (Lancia) takes the lead, followed by Mikkola (Ford), Makinen (Ford), Lampinen (Lancia), Waldegaard (Fiat). Only behind Bjorn the first Alpine of Andruet follows in sixth. But on closer inspection, this result is explained largely by very variable roads conditions. Indeed, the unfolding of the stage is spread out over four hours following the competitors order of arrival in the concentration run.

As of the first stage of the common test, the "Pont de Miolans", the Alpine of Andruet and Thérier set the best time. The time of Thérier is all the more impressive as he was handicapped by frosted carburettors! The other Alpine follows, only the Ford of Mikkola manages to break up the Alpine stronghold by setting himself in third position. From the start of the rally, the Fiat 124 Abarth disappoints and will never be in the race for victory. Mikkola winsbv the second stage of the "Col du Perty", and Munari makes a success of the exploit with his Lancia to take the lead in the rally at the end of the third, that of Burzet, which is extremely difficult.

On the stage of Burzet delay is inevitable, because it will know one of the many scandals which seem to be prerogatives of the Monte Carlo! As often in Ardeche, an icy wind (called the "Burle" in France) blows extremely and, associated with snow, forms snow-drifts. The first 65 crews succeed in passing, but not without trouble. Darniche stalls his car several times and loses much time. Waldegaard with his Fiat tries to pass him, but slides off and is forced to retire. Fritzinger in the Ford Capri also makes a mistake and crashes out. Unfortunately, his co-driver is wounded and needs care. The rally is neutralized to let medical aid arrive at the scene of the accident. The road becomes impracticable. Several undisciplined and unverifiable witnesses try to escape from this white hell, with their own vehicles. Utter chaos. The organization tries to use tractors to release the many cars disseminated here or there, without success. The delay accumulates, which pushes the organizers to exclude the 140 crews which have not been able yet to compete this stage! Of course this decision raises a general outcry. Spontaneously, the excluded competitors block the road towards Digne. In order to calm furious crowd, the organizers promise these unfortunate competitors to offer them free their participation for the 1974 edition. At this time everyone is unaware that the 1974 edition will never take place due to the oil crisis!
The fourth stage which is held in complete dry conditions is perfect for the Alpine. It is won by Darniche, followed by Andruet, Andersson, Thérier, Piot and Nicolas. Andruet takes the lead, in front of Thérier, Munari, Nicolas, Mikkola and Piot. In spite of the start of Munari and of Mikkola who carry out two best times and take the first both places at the end of the SS5 of Saint-Bonnet-Le-Froid, Andruet and his Alpine are of another world in the sixth stage as he firmly takes command of the rally.

In the two last timed sectors of the common test won by Darniche, the Alpine outclasses their adversaries again. In the penultimate stage, that of Saint-Barthélemy, Munari who up to now had performed miracles at the wheel of his old Lancia Fulvia HF crashes and gives up. Jean-Luc Thérier also leaves the road and loses approximately three minutes. Only Mikkola and his Ford manage to be spoilsports. Andruet is still leading, in front of Andersson, Nicolas, Mikkola, Thérier, Makinen and Piot. The small differences predict a fantastic brawl for the complementary test which consists of seven stages by night. It is the most magical moment of the entire rally. The cars hug with the walls of snow, lighting up the night with all the power of their headlights.

The Alpines dominate, and once more, only Mikkola manages to be involved in the battle of the blue cars. The rally seems promised to a crew of the french team, but which?

Jean-Claude Andruet, shouldered by his faithful co-driver "Biche", appears to have hold the best papers for victory. His more savage rival is Ove Andersson. In the first stage (Col de la Madonne), Andersson carries out a remarkable performance besides Nonglad to sign the scratch, he beats the stage record by 40 seconds! In the second (first passage on the Turini) and the third stage, Andersson little by little nibbles time away from the lead of Andruet. Suspense is hitting the roof.

At this time the inconceivable occurs in the fourth stage of the complementary test, the second passage of the Col de Turini: Jean-Claude is victim of a puncture. He thinks he has lost the rally. Despaired, he hesitates to give up, but fortunately "Biche" encourages him and pushes him to finish the stage with a flat tyre. He loses 2 minutes and 25 seconds as well as the lead of the general classification. He is now third at one minute and five seconds of Andersson, while Piot, who does not have a good rally (continuous backpains as a result of an accident in the last Tour of Corsica due to wrong tyre choice) finally takes a scratch.

But in the following stage (col de la Couillote), Andersson makes a mistake, dives in a wall of snow, bursts two tires and loses nearly forty seconds, while Andruet and Nicolas take the scratch with an identical time. Ove now has nothing more than 10 seconds in advance of the second, Jean-Pierre Nicolas. Andruet in the mean while drives like a possessed man, and succeeds in again taking command in the penultimate stage, the last passage on the Turini, with respectively 14 and 21 small seconds advantage on Andersson and Nicolas.

And so the battle will be decided in the 18 km of the "Col de la Madonne". Unfortunately Nicolas will not be able to defend his chances, because his mechanics forgot to fuel his car! Obliged to idly roll on reserve, he nevertheless succeeds in rejoining at the arrival. Andersson leaves as favorite, because he already won the first passage in the Col de la Madonne at the time of the first stage of the complementary course. He puts all his forces in the battle and repeats at the incredibly repeats his first time of 15mn23s! But it is finally a transcended Andruet which obtains the best time with 15mn11s in front of an awestruck Andersson. "Biche" will affirm later than Jean-Claude drove in this stage like never, and that Ove could've never beaten him there. The performance of Andruet is splendid, and he takes without any doubt his most beautiful victory. It should be noted that "Biche" is the first woman to register her name at the head of the general classification of the Monte Carlo.

Final classification :

  1. Andruet / "Biche" (Alpine-Renault A110 1800) : 5h42mn04s
  2. Andersson /- Todt (Alpine-Renault A110 1800) : à 26s
  3. Nicolas / Vial (Alpine-Renault A110 1800) : à 1mn35s
  4. Mikkola / Porter (Ford Escort RS) : à 2mn25s
  5. Thérier / Callewaert (Alpine-Renault A110 1800) : à 3mn57s
  6. Piot / Marnat (Alpine-Renault A110 1800) : à 3mn58s
  7. Pinto / Bernacchini (Fiat 124 Rallye) : à 10mn10s
  8. Kallstrom / Billstam (Lancia Fulvia HF) : à 10mn11s
  9. Fall / Wood (Datsun 240 Z) : à 11mn43s 1
  10. Darniche / Mahé (Alpine-Renault A110 1800) : à 15mn04s

At the general classification, Andruet precedes Andersson, then follow Nicolas, valiant Mikkola, Thérier and Piot. The triumph of the Alpine team is absolute, since one finds five "berlinettes" in the first six places! This splendid result will be followed by more, since Alpine, entering its cars on eight other rallies, will gain five additional victories. Darniche will gain the Morocco Rally, Jean-Pierre Nicolas the French round (Corsica), a rally marked by a new triplet of the Alpine. But the most powerful pilot of the season is without question Jen-Luc Thérier who will win three rallies: Portugal, Acropolis and Sanremo. Without a doubt he would have been crowned driver champion of the world, if only this title had existed at the time.

1973 is the apogee of the Alpine-Renault team in rally. It easily takes the first Manufacturers World Rally Championship with 155 points, in front of Fiat (89 points), Ford (76 points), and Saab (54 points)...

Text written by Philippe CALLAIS (2002) and published with its pleasant authorization.
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Sources :
* Maurice Louche, "Le rallye de Monte-Carlo au XXe siècle", éditions Maurice Louche, 2001
* Christian Descombes, "Alpine, Label bleu", éditions EPA, 1991
* Reinhard Klein, "Rally", Könemann, 1998
* Gilles Vallerian, "Championnat du monde des rallyes 1973: le sacre de la berlinette", Automobile historique n°8 de mai/juin 2001
* Echappement N°53 de Mars 1973