At the Table of Legends (Monte Carlo 2023)
I am nostalgic for the “real” and magnificent Monte Carlo, for those who made this event so prestigious and legendary. I am often very angry with the FIA, ACM or the manufacturers… When I found out about the program for the 2023 edition, I was not very keen to go to the 27th Monte Carlo as a spectator… The first thing that struck me was the length of the specials: the longest is only 24.9 km… But I will be honest with you, even if it is cut, even shortened, even distorted, Monte Carlo always gives me an irresistible attraction, a special fascination. . The course of the 91st edition, of course, focuses on and stops at Alpes-Maritimes and Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, but these are great regions with great roads!
For rally teams, actors and “spectators”, this discipline is primarily a journey. It is sometimes an experience, a journey, an expedition. These are, above all, meetings and wonderful moments of sharing. Despite my misgivings, I returned from Monte Carlo with sparkling eyes, incredible views and wonderful memories. The passion is still there, somewhere, but it has to be earned. You have to be a little crazy to walk for hours, wait in the cold, shiver on the beach for a few seconds of adrenaline. ACM, despite its extreme concentration, had the merit of offering an updated, selective and diverse course. And it’s not easy in 2023! Most of the specials go through amazing scenery and there are a few night time ones too. Contrary to what I read and heard a lot, the marshals and officials of the rally were careful towards us. We always arrive very early to get to the safe side of the road and had no problems during this launch. Overall, I found the commissioners to be attentive, open to dialogue, consistent…and courageous. It wasn’t always like that!
After our exploration, one thing became clear: this year is not the “big” Monte Carlo, but there is a real “justice of the peace”: Ubraye – Entrevaux. A section that should give a certain hierarchy … at least in terms of courage and especially during the night passage! A time when Sisteron, Rosance, or Faye had nothing to envy…except the distance.
For Fabien, Christophe and me, Monte Carlo 2023 starts at 6am on Thursday 18 January. We are on our way to our headquarters in Saint-Andre-les-Alpes. Briançonnet – We get the spectacular Malijai-Puimichel special stage before looking for the “point” for Friday at Entrevaux. We set our sights on a super fast section around km 10, then back to Saint-Andre in the heat. Finally!
Saint-Andre-les-Alpes is a beautiful village in the Verdon Regional Nature Park. Saint-André, on the shores of Verdon and Lac de Castillon, is a bit like the “Mecca” of paragliding, but not only… Our “restaurant” a few steps from our accommodation, Actually it’s an old pub owned by a local hero, a certain… Patrick Magaud ! In 2012, the former Citroën driver and French rally vice-champion handed over control of the La Table de Marie restaurant to Sandra and her partner. Patou is now open to Adrien Fourmaux. As soon as we cross the threshold on Thursday evening, we step straight into the history of the rally and Monte Carlo. The walls are decorated with photos of the feats of the country’s son, but also living legends like Andruet, Loeb, Ogier, Elena… The table is good, welcome, Sandra evokes all her memories, all our memories. He tells us about Ragnotti, about the past, about Calle Rovanpera, who came here to eat a few days ago, about Patu’s golf or Puma races and his victory at Ronde-Cévenole… The next two evenings, Laurent, Stephanie and Bruno, we sit at the table of legends. we pass through the door of the shrine again. If there’s one thing that sticks out from this 91st edition, it’s that for us. Thank you Sandra for these beautiful and beautiful moments of sharing, thank you for passing the flame of passion to all generations who come to sit at your table!
On Friday, January 20, early in the morning and with a good mood, we are patiently waiting for the competitors from our coast. We meet the pure and hard endurance rider Jean Michel, the incredibly talented amateur photographer Jean Paul and two passionate “kids” one of whom makes Samba GrB… The hours fly by. However, it’s slower than Kalle Rovanperä’s Toyota at 180 km/h and brushes the right rope under our feet with disturbing ease… These cars are incredibly efficient and a real rocket. The rhythm is incredible! Neuville and Lappi are fast, but the Hyundai seems a little easier than the Japanese. King Sébastien Ogier is fastest, unsurprisingly, and if these hybrid WRCs are a bit slower than the 2017 versions, things are still going hellishly fast. Disappointment for us is that after 10 cars the show is over! Almost… because we are amazed at the level of the WRC2 drivers and the level of the new Skoda Fabia, which is already a step up. Behind the wheel of the Czech bombers, Grzyzin and Solberg are “sizzling hot”, while the C3s of Lefebvre and Rossell struggle to keep up. A good surprise in this category is the 2016 French Peugeot Volant winner Pepe Lopez’s Hyundai. The Spaniard keeps pace with two tricolors. I am looking forward to one of the biggest discoveries of 2022, the 23-year-old Czech driver Eric Kay, who was already 9th in Monaco last year. We are not disappointed with the prodigy Fabia from Zlin, who is making his 6th rally at this level, developing here at the level of Fourmaux. Adrien is on the attack, but his Fiesta can’t keep up, it’s clear. Annoying!
At 4:39 p.m., full speed for the second lap, we pick a slight right switch down the downhill, then see the cars come in a nice string of sequences. There we met a young man accompanied by his father, the generation made its first rally in 2022 with a rented Clio N3. Discussions go well when Kalle Rovanpera appears and makes a strong impression. A right is swallowed at about 150km/h and the Finn continues to pick up speed, throwing himself into the ropes with a trailing left/right before braking… The world champion hits the mark. In WRC2, 6 drivers are 2s 8 away from the finish after 14.5km. it’s beautiful! Oliver Solberg is the fastest, gaining speed and swimming 0 seconds ahead of category leader Eric Kay.
A change of scenery the next morning. The thermometer in Saint-Andre-les-Alpes shows -14°C… Well, we have already slept at -15°C in the tent in Vercors… motivation trumps everything! We pass quietly through the magnificent Lac-de-Castillon and close at Ubraye – Entrevaux. Between the Col-de-Laval and the big Entrevaux crossroads, more than 6 km of descent, a completely crazy, bumpy section, with big ropes, lots of blind corners, a kind of Ouninpohja on asphalt! Flying through this unprecedented section, the WRCs absorb all the difficulties of the passage in a kind of devilish dance.
Ogier and Evans are breathtaking, plus they’re equal to the finish… but 4 seconds from MT after 21.8km 6. Neuville gives it all and more, but his ride moves a lot in the bumps, 190km/h it’s hot… It’s almost scary. When in doubt, Thierry puts his right foot on the plate. Hat! Rovanperä is amazing in its ease and accuracy, it is the fastest. There is nothing in the forest roads that impresses this boy who was raised by the “Starman”. Kalle has amazing adaptability. In WRC2, Adrien Fourmaux “disconnects” and compensates for the weaknesses of his assembly, he is 3rd in his category with his colleague ……! Gryazin furiously hits MT, but only 1 second in front of Eric Kays, who is clearly improving in a place worthy of his great courage. Bluff!
The second passage in this piece of courage, night, promises much. The sun’s out, the temperature’s dropping, we’re covered in some shivers, but far fewer than the crews who will have to throw themselves into the darkness and the dreaded descent after Col-de-Laval. I imagine that concentration and tension must be at their peak in the halls. This is the “highlight” of the rally. It’s true that it’s very easy to puncture a tire on the rope there, and some riders like Ogier prefer to be logically confident. But one thing is certain, here the watch will be ruthless and can only bring out the best and the bravest. Rovanperä continues the festival and increases the time of day by 5 seconds (!). He gives 6 seconds 7 poses to the heroic but powerless Thierry Neuville. Evans and Ogier follow them. In WRC2, Alejandro Cachón shows undeniable potential. Less than 5 seconds behind Spaniard Stephane Lefebvre, the hopeful behind the wheel of the C3. Eric Cais, he confirms. He is amazing in terms of attack and speed and has set the best time in WRC2. He earns 8th points by 1 second per kilometer from the world champion… Achievement! It should be noted that in the first WRC rally, Catalunya 2021, Eric already won the WRC2 MT ahead of Solberg, Fourmaux and Lopez…
The big man and undisputed king of this Monte Carlo 2023 is obviously Sébastien Ogier. We can consider his co-driver Vincent Landais impeccable. It’s not too difficult to get the 9th win here. Ogier is more than a champion, he is a rallying legend. However, as seen from the side of the road, the double courage of the rally was achieved for me by the light of special headlights in this famous Ubraye. Kalle Rovanperä flew on a special cut for his great talent and legendary courage. These few kilometers of madness and adrenaline also exposed Eric Kay in front of the world. In 12 minutes and 03 seconds, he can enter the closed circle of rally stars. He should soon sit at the table of legends.