WRC 2018: Rallye Monte Carlo

WRC 2018: Rallye Monte Carlo

30/01/2018 race 0

In the long list of 4-wheels motorsports, I believe rally is my favorite and the one that impresses me the most especially when it comes to attend one of the World Rally Championship’s round where skills, perseverance, intelligence and drivers’ madness are the qualities of these aliens fighting against the clock.

In 2017 I was able to be at my first ever WRC event, still the Rally of Monte-Carlo, now at its 86th edition, which is the most convenient and closer WRC’s round to my hometown in Italy. Although it’s called “of Monte-Carlo”, a bit of logic is enough to understand that all the stages are carried out in French territory and not in Monaco for obvious reasons of space.

Apart from the starting ceremony and final podium celebrations, since a few editions the assistance park is placed in the town of Gap central, in the High Provence around 100 kms far from the Italian border and almost in a straight line with Turin. Of course most of the special stages take place around Gap. The schedule includes the Wednesday’s shakedown, a test run of a few kilometers located on the outskirts of the city, followed by four days of hard special stages that branch out in the four cardinal points compared to Gap, except for the last Sunday’s ones, located nearer to the Principality of Monaco so as to be convenient for the finish ceremony.

During the week antecedent each rally event, I generally spend one or two hours a day carefully planning my trip, in particular I focus my attention in learning where the various special stages are located compared to my hotel, closed roads, parkings, departure times etc. But mainly I do a detailed analysis of each stages (using Street View/Google Maps and on-board videos from previous years) in order to find the best spots and places from where I’d like to record the cars, keeping in mind my needs and preferences for the final video. In addition to this, I also look for some reserve places in case my first chosen ones turn out to be off-limits areas for public or they prove not suitable for my liking once I’m on site.

That said, for the shakedown I had little to plan: a short section of 3.3 km with a mix of fast points, wide radius corners and few hairpins. Since the competitors are free to do as many runs  they want during these tests (even if they are generally limited to 3-4), my goal was to start from a certain spot, to film some passages there and gradually move along the course in order to have more variety for the general shakedown video. And I would say I’m really satisfied with the final result.

I realized that the 2018 edition would have been remembered as an anomalous edition of the Monte-Carlo rally, since day one. Considered one of the most difficult rallies due to the shifting surface conditions, alternating snowy and icy sections to completely clean ones, the Wednesday’s temperatures were well above the seasonal average this year, with peaks of 13-15 Celsius degrees in the afternoon. I still remember I suffered a lot from cold during the shakedown, since the thermometer bar had never risen above 3-4 ° during the 2017 edition.

Thursday’s schedule established for the whole WRC’s circus to move to the Principality, around 300 kms far away in the South, for the official start of the rally in the late afternoon, and then to go back North, passing through two night-time stages located on the way to Gap: Thoard – Sisteron and the Bayons – Bréziers. For “logistic” reasons I opted for the first one, a 37km long course, that ended in the town of Sisteron. I immediately spotted the last 4 downhilling kilometers, especially a long part where I assumed the cars would have arrived in sixth gear and almost have hit the rev limiter. And so it was.

For Friday it was a bit difficult to choose which of the three special stages choose to record. All located in the southern area of Gap and north of Sisteron, some of them could present snow covered parts (which then turned out to be non-existent) and others had, again, some beautiful straights almost too long for WRC Plus gear ratios. Again for pure convenience reasons, having the accommodation 200 meters from the Vaumeilh – Claret special stage, this was the best choice.

Being the first day with a “complete” program, the three stages were repeated in the afternoon and this gave me the opportunity to choose two different points from where filming. I focused my attention on a nice sound shot, where the cars’ exhausts were pointed completely perpendicular towards my microphone coming from a slow right corner and accelerating down a long straight. Here is where I realized that sometimes the programming that I do at home is not always successful: in fact I thought that straight was long enough to allow the WRC to put the 6 gear in, but it turned out to be almost short. Still pretty satisfied with the result.

And now, let’s talk about Saturday, my last day of stay in France for this already beautiful rally up to here. That 27th January 2018 will remain imprinted in my mind like the day I realized that WRC drivers aren’t humans. If temperatures were those of springtime till the day before, during the night between Friday and Saturday a low-pressure area hit Gap, bringing an abundant snowfall especially on the mountains and just a few hours before the starts the first stage. 

Honestly I really hoped to record some action on the fresh snow but then, thinking it over, I evaluated how slow the machines would have gone, given that the previous years they were struggling driving on ice. And this turned out to be the fluke in choosing the filming location on the 17km Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes / La Bâtie-Neuve stage, second one of the day and characterized to be covered of snow for the first ¾ of it turning into wet conditions for the last downhilling part.

Obviously I placed myself in this last part in a point that I had kept as “reserve” but of which I wasn’t very enthusiastic, judging by the on-board videos from the previous year. 

My view there was a blind bump from which the cars would have come already in 6th gear, a slight right corner and, after a forty meter straight, a left corner they would have taken flatout. As soon as the first car passed in front of me goose bumps on my arms and wide open eyes on my face even if watching the video back at home that wasn’t nothing special compared to the following ones.

Until Elfyn Evans arrived on his Ford Fiesta WRC: right foot glued on the throttle while the left one was gently caressing the brake pedal to point the car’s nose in the right direction. All this done with studded tires mounted, on wet asphalt and a speed never below 170 km/h. It’s like a dream!

It took me a while to recover from what I saw and, trying to draw some conclusions, but actually I haven’t reached a conclusion yet on the fact that in 2017 that passage was totally different and slower despite the perfect dry asphalt. 

Before getting back to my car and return to Italy the same special stage was repeted a couple of hours later and despite an overwhelming desire to stay in the same spot to enjoy that unique show again I preferred to move a little bit more down to the final corners of the stage. 

I don’t think i’ve ever come back home so satisfied and so happy from a event like this time. So I’m sure iI will never loose an edition of the Rally of Monte-Carlo in the future.

I leave you with the general video of the event made with the best scenes.