25 January 2017

Spectating the Monte in Style…


Jerry Williams has been covering rallying for more than 40 years, attending World Rally Championship events across the globe to get all the insider knowledge.

If there’s one truism about rally fans it’s that they will circumvent any barrier and endure any hardship in their determination to catch a glimpse of their heroes.

You could see that in rally town Gap last Wednesday evening, hours before even the shakedown stage was due to start. Every road around Rally HQ was lined by parked cars. No-one paid any attention to restrictions. Grass verges and pavements all became temporary car parks. And the Police, well they took no notice!

For sure, the excitement was fuelled by a huge blast of publicity about the new generation World Rally Cars; machines that are expected to take the WRC back to the good-old-days, something like the Group B times of the mid-1980s. 

No-one should ever underestimate the pull of those overpowered, under-engineered rocket ships. Even the younger generation of rally fans, who can’t possibly have seen them in action, go all misty-eyed at mention of them. Anything that puts the WRC today, even remotely, on a par is always going to bring out the crowds.

I was reminded of this when we stopped overnight on our way up to Gap. We’d flown into Marseille, then belted up the A61 (would that all motorways were as empty as that one!) and stopped overnight in Sisteron, 40 km south of Gap and the start of the famous stage to Thoard.

An almost fruitless search for a restaurant at 7.30 pm saw us end up in a pizzeria in the town centre.

In fact it turned out to be a bit of a find. I soon whacked down my pasta with mushrooms, parmesan, and ham and the house red by the carafe was well potable.

Anyway, we were much entertained by finding another Brit, just at the next table. His name was Andy Morgan and he had, he said, been an occasional co-driver in the distant past.

But this time he said he was just a spectator. I say ‘just a spectator’ but he was doing it in style. 

“My friends said I was mad but I got a free pass from my wife and borrowed her Golf R32 and drove down on my own, stopping halfway,” he said.

He had a programme open on the table in front of him. 

“I can’t quite decide where to go on Friday and whether to stay for Sunday,” he continued. 

We were able to tell him not to bother with La Bollene to Vesubie: “It’s the start at La Bollene and if you’re not there four hours before the cops won’t let you up the hill. It’s three miles at one in six or so!”

Then he casually dropped his bombshell… 

“I’m going to do the spectator helicopter on the Saturday,” he said with a sly grin on his face. “It’s expensive but it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. You get to see four stages in a day.”

Expensive? 

“Yeah, it’s £500 each for the day. Well worth it, I’d say.”

Wow! With fans like that the WRC is probably in a better place than it thinks!

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