Classic Lancia Rally Legends Are The Best Teammates For The Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique
Photography courtesy of Roberto Deias for Kessel Auto
This February 2018, as in 1977, a Lancia Stratos conquered the Sospel-Lantosque, the stage of the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique that includes the legendary Col de Turinì mountain pass. It was part of a pack of classic rally machines, themselves a subset of over 300 cars that entered the race in 2018 for its 21st running.
The most famous vintage rally in the world finishes in the middle of the night between dusk and dawn, and the stages are often tackled with just the illumination of stars, headlights, and the occasional bout of flash photography. Over 70 hours of driving take place during the four days of the event, spanning a distance of over 2,300 kilometers among 15 “regularity zones,” where the cars are scored on their consistency.
For these few days, the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique becomes the center of the world for classic rally enthusiasts, and these spectators are treated to the efforts of 310 teams that set off from the Principality of Monaco. Dedication is a common theme, seeing as the competitors are driving their cars from all over Europe, from the Historique’s six “starting cities”: 18 cars came from Glasgow, 18 from Oslo, 52 from Bad Homburg, 38 from Barcelona, 97 from Reims, and 93 from Monaco.
For this, the 21st edition of the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique, the 310 crews represented 25 nationalities and were competing in cars from 47 brands, from Alfa Romeo to Zastava. The whole lot met for the first time in Bourgoin-Jallieu to set off for the famed city of Monte-Carlo, and after the tribulations of driving vintage race cars in high elevation and through the at-times dense snow-pack, the overall winner was the Aghem/Cumino crew in their Lancia Fulvia Coupé 1200—another instance of the Italian manufacturer’s dominance in the sport of rally, and on these very roads where they saw success in the period with the Fulvia, the Stratos, the 037, and of course the Delta.
The Lancia legacy is being kept alive by events like this, where their famed sports cars of yesteryear can see action in the snow and mud once again, and this year Kessel Classic had a few in their midst. The Swiss team brought two examples of the Stratos, two Fulvia HFs, a Mini, and a Zastava to Monte-Carlo, and the #204 Stratos driven by Perfetti/Kessel was the winner of the 2016 edition. This time they settled for 11th, but the satisfaction from competing in such a car in such a race as this was not diminished in the slightest—winning here is only a bonus.
“To win the Rallye, well it isn’t easy. Everything has to be perfect” said Ronnie Kessel, who spent a few snowy days inside the Stratos. “You need obsessive precision throughout, attention to detail down to every meter and centimeter. Trying not to be distracted by media and other cars, paying close attention to the weather to predict the best tires for each stage, deciding the assistance points and when to do work and when to eat and taking advantage of any opportunity to sleep for a bit. Losing concentration means losing the race.”
The Rallye may be for historic cars and is in the regularity format rather than outright time trials, but do not mistake this for anything one would call easy: it really a tough endeavor, a test of endurance and patience for both the cars and those inside them. Accidents, unforeseen mechanical problems, and driving up to 24 hours per day, both with the sun and under the stars, from the warm asphalt of Monte-Carlo to the snow on the top of the hills. But it’s here that classic cars can prove they are still worthy racing machines, not only legends that live in the mind.