The 24 hours of Le Mans, the 24 hours of the Nürburgring and Daytona, the Indy 500, the 1000 Lakes Rally and the Monte-Carlo Rally: these are motor racing's own staples, the untouchable and sacred races that hold a special place in everyone's heart. Racing drivers work and live to put the trophies of these races on their shelf: they want them because if they win, they become part of motoring history!
Unsurprisingly, for vintage car enthusiasts, the better versions of these events are those involving some classic car action: there is always a chance to see past racing heroes, speeding on their glorious machines like they did back in their day.
With all due respect to modern racing, which is great to watch for sure, nothing can beat the rumble of an old racing car and the sound of perfectly executed manual downshifts!
Crackles and pops from the exhaust, free-flowing intakes, no roll cages (most of the time) and that persistent and marvellous smell of gasoline that will stick to your clothes for days: this is, for many of us car nuts, the best part of life.
The Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique is one of those events where history comes back to life. Rallying used to be an endurance race and not a fast stint like today. Cars were slightly modified from stock and they would race at night, under all conditions, from one special stage to another.
The Montecarlo Rally is one of the oldest competitions in the world: the first edition was held in 1911 because Prince Albert I of Monaco wanted an event that could compete against the carnival of Nice and attract a large number of spectators from abroad that could benefit the Principality's economy.
The idea was to organize an automotive rally where the cars would start from different cities, all located at the same distance from Monaco, so that all participants would all have to do the same amount of miles. Upon arrival at the Principality, all cars would compete in a series of speed and regularity events that would prove the abilities of drivers through a fixed course.
For many years, rallies have been a competition which have had the same spirit of a car gathering: the crews would stop for a rest at local taverns along the road, before moving on to another grueling stint towards victory.
It wasn't just outright speed: it was a regularity race with special stages and challenging and ever-changing conditions. In fact, the main reason that made this competition so famous and important among drivers is that you could find ice, snow, rain and dry conditions while racing.
The contemporary Historic rally resembles those great old days of motor racing: the 2017 edition saw cars starting from Oslo, Glasgow, Barcelona, Reims and Bad Homburg, with all cars arriving in Montecarlo on Saturday 28th January.
I caught up with the cars at Saint André Les Alpes, one of the last checkpoints before the arrival in Monaco. It's a real competition, with all the crews coming from different cities, muddy cars and no sign of trailers: what a great thing to see!
With a bit of luck I arrived just when the Renault Classic Team, composed exclusively by official R8 Gordini’s and led by the one-and-only Jean Ragnotti, was checking its time. Needless to say that a thick crowd gathered all around the cars to take pictures, autographs and just stare at two living legends. It's funny how an old boxy shaped blue French car can instill so much passion and admiration in the hearts of the locals. With their distinctive raspy rumble and peculiar looks, these cars were among the most significant ones that participated in this competition.
Ford Escort's, Fiat 124's, 911's, Alpine A110's... The Rallye Historique is all about that peculiar classic cars which defined an era that will never come back.
The 2017 edition was won by the Belgian crew composed of Michel Decremer and Albert Yannick on an Opel Ascona 2000, followed by one of the most classic rally cars, a Lancia Fulvia 1200 driven by Gianmaria Aghem and Diego Cumino and the Fiat 128 Rally of Gian Mario Fontanella and Stefano Scrivani.
It's during events like these that you are able to see the passion of car enthusiasts: despite the icy rain coming down, every corner is filled with people cheering at every passing car, having the same reaction they had back when these old cars were dominating the world.
If something is truly spectacular, time will only make it better.
Jacopo Villa, contributor
Photo credits: Federico Bajetti for The Outlierman © 2017
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