In a way, Monte Carlo is synonymous with rallying in general, similar to Wimbledon for tennis. It’s a spectacular event, and not just because it’s the first competition on the world championship calendar since time immemorial. The magic of Monte is in the profile of its course, where a significant part of the competition is driven on narrow roads that are lined on one side by rock and on the other by an abyss. But there are a lot of such speed tests. Nowhere else, however, does it happen that competitors drive on dry asphalt, mud, snow or ice plates during one test. It is in Monte Carlo that you need so-called spies more than anywhere else. Put studded winter tires and you will lose time on asphalt. Put on sticky slicks and on the first plate you will get to know the local flora…
And one more thing is unique here – the first special stage is run at night, the light ramps cut through the darkness, the schedule is something like the holy grail and it is quite possible that the crews will encounter all possible surfaces in the very first stage. After the winter break, the first race of the season, for many drivers in a new car. Few starts can offer more adrenaline.
But that is the Rallye Monte Carlo of today, as you, or our dads, know it. But did you know that in the beginning the Monte Carlo Rally started from five different places and the finish was in Monaco? It all started back in 1909, when, with the approval of Prince Albert I of Monaco and under the supervision of Alexandre Noghès, president of the association, which later transformed into the Automobile Club de Monaco, serious planning began for the inaugural Rallye Monte Carlo. Funded by the Société des Bains de Mer, the road rally was intended to encourage car enthusiasts to descend on Monte Carlo from all corners of Europe, just like the racers.
The first edition was scheduled for January 1911 and took place with participants covering thousands of kilometers from five starting points in Paris, Brussels, Geneva, Vienna and Berlin. 23 cars from 11 different places entered the race and Frenchman Henri Rougier was declared the winner. But it wasn’t about who would be the first at the finish line, the judges evaluated, among other things, the elegance of the car and the condition in which it arrived at the finish line of the competition. The winning Turcat-Méry car had a power of 25 hp and was definitely not the first to reach the finish line. You can probably imagine what it was like for the German rider Von Esmark, who set off from Berlin and drove the seventeen hundred kilometers at an average speed of 30 km/h, which was a real mess by the standards of the time.
A year later, the first Czech car was at the start, Count Alexander Kolowrat-Krakowský started with an open Laurin & Klement car. He was traveling from Vienna, which was one of ten places from which crews could start the star drive. Count Kolowrat-Krakowský completed the 1,319 km long route and encountered temperatures well below freezing along the way. The third edition of the Monte Carlo Rally was held in 1924 and was not interrupted until 1939 when World War II broke out.
Then you might be interested to know that the full-fledged history of the Škoda brand began to be written at Monte Carlo in 1936, when the well-coordinated crew of Zdeněk Pohl and Jaroslav Hausman took to the start with the Škoda Popular Sport roadster. And I will tell you right away that only 72 cars reached the finish line out of 105 registered cars and that the Czech crew took a fabulous second place in the class up to 1,500 cm3. Even then, however, it was more of a long-distance rally, where points were collected for the technical condition of the cars or driving skills, than a competition as you know it today. From the offer of starting locations, they chose Pohl and Hausman of Athens, Greece. The crew had to take care of everything back then, no mechanics, no service facilities, just what you can do and what you can carry. The race route, 3,852 kilometers long, led through Thessaloniki, Belgrade, Budapest, Vienna, Strasbourg and Avignon to Monaco, most of the competitors managed it in four days, just like the Czech crew.
The competition began to gain importance after the Second World War, when it really started to be a race where the fastest one won. The first modern edition was started in January 1949, and since then the Monte has been run every year, with the exception of 1957 and 1974, when the world fuel crisis caused by the wars stopped the start.
A while ago we remembered Skodas and we also know the legendary Audis, Lancias, Mitsubishis, Toyotas, Citroëns and others, but in the post-war period there were many different cars that won the title and which you might not even remember. Or do cars like Hotchkiss Gregoire, Delahaye 175, Allard P1, Ford Zephyr, Sunbeam-Talbot 90, Jaguar Mark VII, Renault Dauphine, Citroën ID 19, Mercedes-Benz 220SE or Panhard PL17 speak to you?
No, I won’t bother you anymore. Experts say that the Monte Carlo Rally competition as you know it today actually started only in 1962, when Erik Carlsson won with a Saab 96. It was then that Monte became a spectacular event, when people really fought, the same special stages were raced as today and when it became a real sport.
Two years later, the most famous edition of the Monte Carlo Rally took place, when the legendary Mini Cooper claimed the first of its four victories. The small and cute little car outclassed stronger competition and literally caused a revolution. Although the victories are officially only three, as in 1966 ten cars were controversially disqualified due to non-homologated bulbs in the headlights, among them the three minis on the podium, which was undeniably the fastest. At that time, it was close to being the last year of the competition in history, as the teams began to riot en masse. To this day, the 1966 vintage is referred to as the “Monte Carlo Fiasco”.
Another milestone for the competition was 1973, as the World Rally Championship was founded then and the 42nd edition of the Monte Carlo Rally was the first event of the championship. Jean-Claude Andruet won with a beautiful Alpine-Renault A110 1800, the same cars then finished second and third. And here it might be appropriate to mention that in the entire history of the competition, i.e. in those ninety years, it happened only seven times that three of the same cars were on the podium. Apart from Alpine-Renault, neither the Peugeot 205 T16, nor the Fiat 131 Abarth, nor even the Toyota Celica, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo or Subaru Impreza could do it! Interesting, isn’t it? In fact, only the Mercedes 220 SE did it in 1960, a year later the Panhard PL17, then the Lancia Stratos, Audi Quattro A2, Lancia Delta HF Integrale and finally in 2015 Volkswagen did it with the Pole R WRC.
Because, just so you know, you don’t just need a great car on the Monte, you also need a well-written schedule, a great navigator, a good hand at choosing tires and a lot of luck. It is the tires that are the key, and it is not without interest that many riders have started driving tires on the so-called cross, where they have different tires on the left front and right rear wheels than on the right front and left rear.
In the mid-seventies, the modern history of our Škoda began to be written at Monte Carlo, when a car marked 130 RS appeared at the start. The racing car weighed only 825 kilograms and the engine had a volume of 1,298 cm3 it could be tuned up to 142 hp.
But back to the competition itself! After the three-year dominance of Sandro Munari and the Lancia Stratos HF, the era of the brilliant Walter Röhrl began in 1980. He won four times with four different cars – Fiat 131 Abarth in 1980, Opel Ascona 400 in 1982, Lancia Rally 037 in 1983 and Audi Quattro A2 in 1984. In 1985 Walter Röhrl finished second and the divine Ari Vatanen scored his first and the only victory in Monte Carlo. He was driving a Peugeot 206 Turbo 16. It was the era of Group B monster cars. Henri Toivonen, whose death caused the Group B ban, achieved his last career victory in Monte Carlo – he was the winner in 1986 with a Lancia Delta S4. He killed himself in the same car just months later at the Tour de Corse.
More winning years for Lancia followed, then came the Toyota Celica GT-Four and Celica Turbo. “I think that at that time, rally racing and the Monte Carlo Rally itself were at their peak,” recalled Pavel Sibera, who raced at Monte and won with a Škoda Favorit, during one of our interviews. “At that time, eight hundred kilometers of tests were driven, which we had to honestly write down because, with a few exceptions, they were not repeated. The service zones moved almost every day, and the mechanics and pilots worked together on the car. Years later, when I was at Monte and saw that now everyone is in one place all the time, what is happening around the cars and what conditions the drivers have, I immediately remembered what the old greasers used to say when we were racing. They remembered how they used to drive fifteen hundred sharp kilometers for the competition, how they often repaired their cars by themselves and how they helped each other.”
Between 1997 and 2002, the Monte Carlo Rally was dominated by Japanese cars Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla WRC and Mitsubishi Lancer. Tommi Mäkinen’s four wins in a row seemed unrepeatable, the funny thing is that the last one came in 2002 only a day after the end of the race, when provisional winner Sébastien Loeb was penalized for an illegal tire change. Sébastien Loeb had to wait another year for his first victory in Rallye Monte Carlo…
And then Škoda became extremely famous, but not in the way she imagined. In 2002, Roman Kresta crashed his Octavia WRC and not a year goes by without this video showing up in edits reminding us how tough Monte Carlo can be.
It was Loeb who became the symbol of this demanding competition for many years, with the only exception he dominated Monte until 2008. He returned to the throne in 2012 and 2013. Invincible Seb, everyone said… And Loeb really reigned, his professorial driving style is something , which will take your breath away.
But even Loeb probably had no idea at the time that when he was giving an autograph to a certain youngster named Sébastien Ogier, it would be him who would take the record from him. Ogier won the Pole R WRC at Monte in 2014, 2015 and 2016, in those seasons he also won the world championship titles. He changed teams in 2017 and won with Fiesta, repeating it a year later. And in 2019 another change and another victory, this time with a Citroën C3, in 2021 he won the competition again and again last year, both in a Toyota Yaris.
And who will win this year? You can’t predict that in advance, because all teams start from scratch and Monte is simply unpredictable. And that’s its beauty.
It has been more than ninety long years since the Monte Carlo has been driven, and it still has the stamp of exceptionality. Casinos in the city, the princely palace, the port, but also winding roads, the legendary test in the Col de Turini pass and tracks lined with fans. The years of the competition have not diminished the attractiveness, the diverse conditions still represent a huge challenge for riders and teams.