Friday, March 07, 2008

Monte Carlo Historique Rallye 2008: 2nd Movement "The Classification Stage"

Mini at St Julien
PRX 720B pushing hard on ZR1 at St Julien

After a good meal and a decent night’s sleep I got up early and reviewed my notes for Sunday’s four regularity sections (known as ZR stages). These comprised a loop over the Ardeche plateau in classic rally country and we were to finish the day back in Valence. This first day of serious rallying is usually pretty demanding and compounded by the fact that crews are nervy. We made our way to the first stage at St. Pierreville. The ACM describes this stage as follows:

"There is a downhill start at the exit of the village of St-Pierreville, followed immediately by a climb up to the Ardeche plateau, along a chestnut-tree lined road, at an average altitude of 650 m, on a narrow, but well-maintained, road. Then, at the D244/D261 intersection, at Foulix, competitors return along the old Moulinon / Antraigues route, another great Monte-Carlo Rally classic, which climbs to the Col de la Fayolle, from St-Julien du Gua, on a wider but more uneven road, to the summit at 877 m".

Poetic indeed but make no mistake, this was a bloody hard, unforgiving, stage that was fully intended by the ACM rally planners to sort out the men from the boys.

We shot off from the start confidently and our recon notes paid huge dividends as we launched into the first series of hairpins. We went past crews evidently phased by the relatively high speed of the regularity and there were signs of mishaps –dropped exhausts, broken lamp and reflector glass everywhere. I kept Bill on course and according to my calculations we were pretty much dead on time.

The Crew hard at work at a service point at Antraigues; they were amazingly quick. Photo courtesy Stefan Sittner.

ZR2, Burzet to St Martial, was long (40Km+) and with a fast target time. Road conditions were pretty demanding and we encountered some snow, ice and even freezing fog. Fortunately none of these conditions persisted and we again appeared to finish close to the target time.

White out
White out on ZR2

ZR3 and 4 were also completed satisfactorily. ZR3 at St Bonnet was flat straightforward loop and relatively unremarkable. ZR4 at Lalouvesec was notable for a very nasty descending hairpin about 14km into the stage (Bill did a spectacular handbrake turn to the delight of the crowd) which then continued into some of the narrowest roads I’ve ever encountered. They were really farm tracks. We lost about 20 seconds, the biggest deficit of the day, but Bill thrashed PRX 720B mercilessly and pulled us back on the clock. We were set to clean the stage but in the last half kilometer we were quite unbelievably baulked by a non-competing AWD car coming in the opposite direction. Heaven knows how the driver found his (it was a “he”) onto the rally route but he must have been terrified as he just stopped in the middle of the road effectively blocking our passage. We lost at least 7 seconds tiptoeing past this twit and were too close to the end of the stage to claw anything back. Nevertheless we didn’t feel too bad about our performance and made our way back to the Valence time control feeling fairly optimistic. Sometime over dinner the results were posted. I was a little disappointed to find we were running exactly in the middle of the pack of 305 cars. However there was a mere 50 seconds between us and the leading car and the standard of regularity driving was just amazing. When I first started rallying I would have been happy to complete each stage within a minute of the target time! Nevertheless we were running ahead of many high profile crews including former MC rally winners so we had everything to play for and turned in with eager anticipation for the following day’s competition.

Mini over the Ardeche
Mad Dogs cross the Ardeche plateau

To be continued...

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