After a three-year absence, the Monte Carlo Rally – the oldest and most prestigious event in the history of the sport – returns to the World Rally Championship this week, starting tomorrow and finishing on Sunday.
It’s the one that everybody wants to win, but the most successful driver in the sport’s most famous event is of course Red Bull’s eight-time World Champion Sebastien Loeb – who has won it five times already with Citroen.
In more than 100 years of history (the very first ‘Monte’ was run in 1911) it’s clocked up its fair share of dramas. Here are five of the best:
Mini headlamp scandal, 1966
The diminutive Minis, which epitomised everything that was plucky about the British underdog, won the Monte Carlo Rally three times in the 1960s against Goliath-like opposition. That would have been four times, had Gallic officialdom not stepped in. Fed up with a regular trouncing at the hands of the insolent rosbifs, rally organisers declared that the headlamp filaments of the Minis that finished first, second and third in 1966 were not legal (see image above) – and all three cars were excluded, handing Citroen victory. Citroen driver Pauli Toivonen was so disgusted that he refused to accept the trophy.
Peugeots fail to start, 2000
Don’t you hate it when your car fails to start on a cold morning? Now imagine that the entire world is watching and national pride is at stake. That was the somewhat embarrassing situation that the Peugeot team faced when they went from potential Monte Carlo Rally winners to laughing stocks over the course of a few minutes. The three factory cars had been left out overnight in parc fermé ready to start day two – except that they didn’t. One by one, each car refused to fire up: an experience that team boss Corrado Provera described as a “public humiliation.”
Ari Vatanen’s amazing fightback, 1985
Co-drivers are there to read the pace notes, but crucially to get the timing right at the time controls as well. Check in early or late and a hefty time penalty ensues: every co-driver’s worst nightmare. In 1985, the nightmare became true for Terry Harryman: co-driver to Ari Vatanen in the mighty Peugeot 205 T16. Sitting on a comfortable lead, Harryman checked the duo in early to a time control in Gap, costing them eight minutes and putting them four minutes off the front with 16 stages to go. Undeterred, they went on to win: probably the greatest ever fightback in the history of the sport. Harryman later said that he felt the need to change his overalls “several times” during the final few stages.
Waldegard stumped by concrete, 1979
Monte Carlo is well known for having a partisan French crowd, who will stop at virtually nothing to see their heroes win. In 1979, local man Bernard Darniche took the honours by just six seconds, but Bjorn Waldegard from Sweden – who went on to take the championship that year – is convinced that he would have won, had he not found a bridge on the final day mysteriously blocked by an enormous lump of concrete. How on earth did that get there?
All you need is 25 horses, 1911
Today’s World Rally Cars put out in excess of 300 horsepower, but the very first Monte Carlo Rally – which featured haphazard starting points all over Europe, before the finish in the Principality – was won by a certain Henri Rougier, in a 25-horsepower Turcat-Mery. The winner wasn’t necessarily the first person to reach the finish: instead the judges also took into account factors such as the condition of the car when it got to Monte Carlo, passenger comfort, and how much they liked the driver. The success criteria these days is a little more specific.
- Interview with legendary racer Vic Elford
- 100 years of the Monte Carlo Rally
- Check out our Monte Carlo Rally event page