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Rallye Monte Carlo Historique, or the nostalgia of the pioneers

Experience this unique vintage rally from the inside, hosted by Vaudois Michel Chatagny, winner of the 2019 edition.

 

For Michel Chatagny, the Rallye Monte Carlo Historique is the pinnacle of regularity rallies. It allows you to immerse yourself in post-war conditions to rediscover the spirit of the pioneers. The Monte Carlo indeed offers the same events as in its beginnings, always combining technicality and unpredictability , requiring good basics of piloting as well as a strong capacity of adaptation to face the surprises of this race. In a word, it’s adventure! “.

Since its creation in 1911, the primary objective of the rally has been to successfully complete the concentration course. You have to leave from one of the departure cities listed, such as Glasgow, Minsk, Barcelona or even Athens, to reach Monte Carlo within a deadline. This endurance stage is already setting the tone by putting drivers and mechanics to the test, who set off between 7 p.m. and midnight, for a journey of 1,000 kilometers at an average of 50 km/h, which represents 20 hours of stop. To this is added, for the competitors starting from Glasgow, an additional 1000 kilometres.

With his five participations between 2014 and 2019, Michel is well aware of the pitfalls that such a race has in store for you. Its difficulty is unparalleled, half of the fifteen specials totaling 450 kilometers are on the open road, with the wall on one side and the precipice on the other. To this binary problem is added the unknown of the road surface which can be snow-covered, for its greatest pleasure, or, without warning, be covered with ice. Icy air currents then cross the car and the frail windscreen wipers beat time at the same time as a rag that must be waved against the mist. Without forgetting the long February nights biting on the stages, which sometimes start at 6.30 am and can end at 1 am.

It is under these conditions that Michel Chatagny’s Mini, equipped with its original lighting and two fog lights, all barely illuminating at 30 m, rushes into the night. When climbing the Col de Turini, Michel remembers being overtaken by a car using a ramp of modern headlights: “when the car appeared behind us, its headlights flooded all the surrounding mountains with its light. So accustomed were our eyes to the darkness, the road lit by our own headlights had become a black hole, into which we were sinking”.

For Michel, the difficulty will have been to find a real Cooper S. In 2008, he finally unearths his happiness with this superb 1964 model that he frees from the ice of Brévine. Rare thing, it is equipped with a 1071 cm3 engine fitted to the very first S models produced. Although this one has been driven very little, its thirty-year immobilization requires everything to be redone: there is rust through the floor, a sunken connecting rod, and the elastomers are all in tatters. Two years of work will be needed to strip the hull bare, sand it and carry out a complete overhaul including reboring the cylinders and balancing the shafts.

In 2013, the year of its resurrection, it participated in the International Mini Meeting in Mugello (IT), an event bringing together all European enthusiasts of the brand.

During this demonstration, he finds a ticket on his windshield enjoining him to participate in the elegance contest, in the middle of 4000 Mini. He took it very badly since he won the “Best of Show” prize, without even thinking about it.

Then, in 2014, while he was sunbathing on a terrace with his friend Fabrice Redard, the latter showed him a poster for the 17th Monte Carlo Historic Rally, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the victory of a Mini in the Monte Carlo Rally. (MORRIS Cooper S, P. Hopkirk/ H. Liddon). A knowing look is exchanged between the two men, a simple handshake and the adventure begins. With only a quick reliability of the car, two headlights added, the installation of two bucket seats and after filling up with road maps from Gap to Monte Carlo, they set off on the roads of the Alps towards Monte Carlo , without timers or electronic gadgets. Only a chronometer and a Speed pilot are carried. This calculates the average speed by combining the information from the odometer with that from its clock. Being free of sponsors and having imposed no constraint of result, they set off with this super handy and light Mini, tailor-made for this alpine setting. The pleasure is there for the crew, so much so that the decision is made to repeat the following years.

In 2019, for his fifth participation, Michel Chatagny is rushing this time towards his coronation with his accomplice Rolf Weiss, his co-driver since 2018. As the race goes off without a hitch and their position in the general classification improves day by day, they decide by mutual agreement that it is time to try to win. Unfortunately, fate did not favor them. Arriving at the stage point in Crest, they see smoke coming out of the bonnet. The by-pass hose between the water pump and the cylinder head broke. Miraculously, the mechanics of the Automobiles BMC assistance team managed to replace it in twenty minutes, which allowed the crew to get back on the road. We now have to make up for a huge backlog. This is how, foot to the floor, they rush into the night for the last 40 kilometers of the day which bring them back to Valence, just within the imposed deadlines.

At the start of the last night of the race, the night of the Turini, the crew is positioned in thirteenth place in the general classification out of 330 competitors, and second in its category. In order not to have any regrets and despite the risks and the accumulated fatigue of the five days of racing, Michel and Rolf decide to seek first place in their category. The lack of power of the small 1071 cm³ is felt in the climbs, the snow and the switchbacks. There is no longer any choice, you now have to get back on the descent and give it your all. Boldness, recklessness and a bit of luck will eventually pay off: ninth overall and first in the category of vehicles built between 1961 and 1966! So congratulations for this title, for this adventure, and for bringing this legendary rally to life!

 

 

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