Friday | 10 Jan 2014

Monte Carlo Countdown: This year's stages

Just as in 2013, the Monte's route has changed considerably again 12 months on but it remains a classic with all its usual breathtaking backdrop, panache and pizzazz right up to the finish in the principality.

As if by magic this year’s Monte starts from reigning champion Sebastien Ogier’s hometown of Gap – that’s around 300km north-west of Monaco. 

Unlike Sebastien Loeb’s hometown of Haguenau, there’s no stage in Gap but still expect Ogier to receive a hero’s sending-off when he departs the start line on the Thursday. And, if all is going to plan, a hero’s welcome as well when the cars return after the opening day of action for an overnight halt.

Six stages in all on the Thursday total more than 125 of the day’s 500-plus kilometres. Friday’s route, though, consists of more familiar territory – notably the Sisteron stage name is on the itinerary – and leads to an overnight halt in Monte Carlo.

Significantly the first four of the day’s five stages are sizeable in length with two runs each of the 49km Vitrolles-Faye and 37km Sisteron-Thoard tests. But it’s the closing four stages on Saturday that pose the biggest challenge of all. At 23km and 17km respectively, they are by no means the longest but names such as La Bollene Vesubie-Moulinet and Sospel-Breil sur Roya will strike fear into most crews. 

This is the stretch known as the Col de Turini – one of the all-time legendary sections of road used in the WRC with a reputation for making and breaking reputations. Two runs through each stage – first in daylight and then by night – complete the rally and it’s the final pair in particular that will play a pivotal role in the outcome.

It has become nicknamed the ‘Night of the long knives’ thanks to the image of headlights searching through the darkness as the cars wind their way up high round numerous hairpin bends until reaching the summit at close to 1600 metres above sea level and descending once more.

Depending on a driver’s hero or villain status – often dictated by their nationality or that of the car they are in – thousands of fans line the stage side, all ready with catcalls, jeers, cheers and whistles. It’s an intoxicating and intimidating yet totally unmissable end to the most prestigious event on the calendar.