The City Streets Of Reims Are The Perfect Place To Start The Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique
Photography by Mathieu Bonnevie
Just a few days after the WRC Monte-Carlo, the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique kicked off its 21st edition. As is tradition, the start of the race was celebrated simultaneously in six European cities: Monte Carlo of course, then Barcelona in Spain, Glasgow in Scotland, Oslo in Norway, Bad Homburg in Germany, and also Reims in France. I was there in Reims to see all the cars and people brought together by a love of vintage rallying before the group joined the rest of the 300 cars (and crews from 25 different countries!) set to meet up in Bourgoin-Jallieu, a commune near Lyon, France for a checkpoint before starting the regularity races.
In Reims, the start of the race was set for Friday, February 2nd, so after the technical verifications, the 97 cars—all models than participated in the Monte-Carlo between 1955 and 1980 (even if there was a 1951 Austin taxicab in the mix this year)—reached the city center in convoy before the nightfall. And so Reims, the Champagne and Coronation city, was for the 21st time overrun with rally enthusiasts to give the start of one of the most famous regularity races.
Having nearly race-prepped cars parked around the city hall and architecture rekindled the flames of those with cause to be nostalgic for not just the legendary rally’s heyday in Monte-Carlo, but even just the beginnings of this celebration of it in Reims two decades ago. The crowd was made up of those and the younger variety, and all the curious spectators were rubbing shoulders with the teams and drivers too. Their mechanical entrants ranged from the most classic to the the most atypical, and from our native Alpines to some unlikely Italian steel, the start of the race in Reims made for a great excuse to do some classic car spotting if you were in the area.
Before they started sending the drivers on their way though, videos from the 20 previous editions of the Historique were projected on a big screen, and a selection of iconic cars of the Monte-Carlo’s history were also shown off to the crowd, cars that all participated in this regularity race before 1998. As the city hall is surrounded by champagne bars and restaurants, the start of the race is a festive event centered around motorsports and merriment, with a degree of conviviality that’s recognized worldwide among classic race fans. Year after year, an increasing number of requests are made by racing drivers to start their race here: now, almost a third of the Monte-Carlo Historique starts in Reims!
Among the cars this year, a duo of ridiculous Vespa 400s really caught my attention; you must be crazy to drive these cars in such a race! It just so happens that one was driven by Bruno Saby, two-time French rally champion and the Monte-Carlo winner in 1988, with his son as a copilot no less! The other one was driven by Odilon De Varine. Easy to recognize which was which: one had a sticker that we can translate to “The one of Bruno Saby is the other one”!
More notable cars: a brave Japanese team drove a red Datsun 240Z; Michel Decremer and Yannick Albert—the winners of the previous edition—also took their start in Reims with their Opel Ascona; four Group 2 Renault 5 Alpines were brought out thanks to the Renault Classic department, with Guy Fréquelin, the multiple French champion and world champion runner-up. at the wheel of one of them. Between 1978 and 1980, Renault Sport had a lot of success with this little hatchback, more often than not leading its class and sometimes the overall results. For instance, Jean Ragnotti finished 2nd overall in the 1978 Monte-Carlo with it, and won the French Rally Championship in 1980 before being replaced by the Renault 5 Turbo in 1981.
Carlos Tavares, the director of PSA (the Peugeot-Citroën group) and above all a motorsport enthusiast, was also in attendance and driving a Peugeot 104 ZS. Still very active in historic races and seemingly always at the wheel of a Porsche, the legendary Jürgen Barth was there and bringing with him the experience of 11 times racing in the Monte-Carlo. He won Le Mans in 1977, and came to Reims with a car from the period, a beautiful 924 Turbo, identical to the one he drove during five editions of the original Monte-Carlo. And another less famous but still remarkable entrant was the remarkable Scottish team of David Mustarde and Willy Cave—176 years between them!
The Monte-Carlo start in Reims and elsewhere is typically very cold, but this year it was also heavily raining for a large part of the festivities. Competitors knew that the night would be long and many of them had a nap in their cars before starting their engines later in the evening when it’s time to go for a long dark drive to start their five-day race. Cold, snow, rain, shine, whatever the weather, long live the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique!