Gambling | The Smart Money

Driven to distraction

The Monte Carlo rally puts motorsport’s top cars through their paces – but it’s the crowd at the Historic Rally that really gets exercised.

December 23 2011
Jamie Reid

It’s going to be Monte Carlo or bust for motorsport enthusiasts next month as the 2012 Monte Carlo rally gets under way in the South of France. The formidable contest, which dates back to 1911, is organised by the Automobile Club de Monaco, which also presides over May’s Formula One spectacular, traditionally the most glamorous Grand Prix of the year. The action begins in Valence on January 17 and there will be special stages in the Ardèche, Haute Loire and vertiginous Vercors Massif, east of the Rhône, before the competitors reconvene on the Côte d’Azur.

The highpoint will come on Saturday January 21, which includes the classic night-time stage between Sospel and La Bollène, north of Nice. Drivers must negotiate the ice, snow and hairpin bends of the Col de Turini, rally driving’s equivalent of Mont Ventoux in the Tour de France. The stage is nicknamed the “Night of the Long Knives” due to the powerful headlights needed to illuminate the route over the treacherous mountain pass. There will then be a short “power stage” on Sunday morning with bonus points awarded to the three fastest finishers and, by Sunday afternoon, the winning drivers and manufacturers will have been decided.

The following Saturday, January 28, will mark the start of the 15th Historic Monte Carlo Rally in which more than 300 vintage cars driven by a mixture of amateurs and old hands will be able to experience the race for themselves. They even replicate the Rally’s pre-1991 schedule with the cars setting out beneath wintry skies from a number of different cities, including Barcelona, Oslo, Glasgow and Warsaw, before meeting up in the Principality some 48 hours later.

To be eligible, cars must be a model that competed in the main event between 1955 and 1980. For competition purposes they are divided into four classes: pre-1961, 1962-1965, 1966-1971 and 1972-1979. Among the famous old marques that you can expect to see are Alvis, Armstrong Siddeley and Aston Martin, though the perennial favourite of British car lovers is the classic red Morris Mini Cooper S in which the Ulsterman Paddy Hopkirk and his co-driver Henry Liddon gained a historic victory at Monte Carlo in 1964. No all-British combination has won the Rally since, although the Cooper team returned to Monte Carlo to notch up victories in 1965 and 1967, and a few years later three red, white and blue Mini Coopers, driven by a French stunt team, achieved lasting fame as the getaway cars in the classic heist movie The Italian Job.

No group of sporting enthusiasts, not even collectors of football memorabilia, get quite so excited about vintage models as the motorsports fraternity. But the Historic Monte Carlo rally – now included in Debrett’s Guide to the Social Season – is not just for the motoring obsessive. There’s plenty of eating, drinking and socialising too, culminating in a Gala Black Tie Dinner in the Salle des Etoiles at the Sporting Club.

Citroën’s French ace Sébastien Loeb has won at Monte Carlo five times and will be long odds-on to add to that record in January. If you want a bigger-priced motorsports bet, the Finn Kimi Räikkönen is considering a return to the Grand Prix circuit after two years’ rally driving and can be backed at 100-1 for the 2012 Formula One title with Fitzdares.