Tuesday | 25 Jan 2022

View from the service park – Monte-Carlo

When you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life, the saying goes. Seems reasonable. And the same can well be said of Rallye Monte-Carlo after last weekend’s season-opener showcased the FIA World Rally Championship at its very best.

But behind the headlines, the outstanding storylines and Hollywood-style closing scenes played out in the French Alps, there was a service park back on the dock of the bay in Monaco. How great was it to be back based in the very heart of the principality?

Don’t get me wrong, Gap was fabulous and Valence before it, but Monaco is Monaco.

As soon as you cross the border from France, pulses begin to quicken. This is a place which lives and breathes motorsport. Every corner holds a story, whether it’s Ayrton Senna and his McLaren MP4/4 at Portier or Conrad Rautenbach’s Citroen Xsara WRC in the swimming pool section.

Walking into Casino Square on Thursday evening was like walking into a dream. The cars, the crews, the heroes and the hero-makers were all there, all lined up before the Hotel de Paris.

The WRC season had, of course, been launched in spectacular style in Red Bull’s Hangar-7 in Salzburg five days earlier, but Monte-Carlo represented the business end of proceedings.

Having watched the crews gather for the class of ’22 picture, there was time for a chocolat chaud in the Café de Paris and a moment to savour the silence as the world’s first factory hybrid Rally1 cars cruised across the ramp.

Monaco is an absolute haven for petrol heads and their all-new battery-powered equivalent. The sight and sound of supercar after hypercar chasing each other up Beau Rivage, applying a few more revs than strictly necessary soon passes the climb from Sainte Devote to Massenet.

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Once a year those names, borrowed from the Automobile Club de Monaco’s other annual gathering of motorsport excellence, mean something to rally fans.

Outside of Monaco and into the Alps for the stages, places like Entrevaux and Dignes-les- Bains provide the warmest of welcomes. The waft of wood fires drifts down from the hills to mingle with the gentle grilling of andouillete sausages, only serving to add to the ambience and atmosphere.

But if it’s real atmosphere you’re after, the Col Saint-Roch on Thursday night is the only place to be. Hearing the first car launch off the line is the signal to ramp up the noise and light the touch paper on rocket after rocket and flare after flare.

Video: Rallye Monte-Carlo - onboard of the rally

French pop fills the ebb and flow of the Rally1 rocketship soundtrack and builds the party feel to a crescendo.

And then Sebastien Ogier slams into view and the crowd goes wild. Every time, and without fail, the Monte provides an absolute sensory overload. Put short, it’s the most wonderful way to turn a page and begin a new chapter.

Welcome to the WRC’s 50th year. What a way to start.

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