The original Monte Carlo Rally, or Monte, as it is affectionately known, was dreamed up as a way of bringing tourists to Monaco. Its mix of adrenalin and track-side style soon made it a favourite with the Jet Set.
Billed as a race of mechanical and human endurance, the first rally took place in 1911. For almost a week twenty-three cars departed from Paris, Brussels, Geneva, Vienna and Berlin, all set to brave snow, ice and more in the winter race to Monaco. Expected to clock up an average speed of 10 km/h including stops, the winner, it was declared, would be the first car over the finish line, with allowances made for the elegance of the vehicle and the comfort of the passengers it carried.
Sixteen cars reached Monte Carlo at the end of January. Von Esmark was in fact the first to arrive, after driving 1,700 km at an average speed of 30 km/h. However because he didn’t participate in the parade, he was relegated to second place, leaving Henri Rougier in a Turcat-Mery as the winner. It was Rougier who had completed the first flight over the Mediterranean at the controls of his Voisin biplane just a few months earlier.
Over the years the race developed with the times. A women’s event was added to bring glamour and elegance to the occasion. From the 1960s onwards, pure speed was also taken into consideration. The era of ‘gentlemen drivers’ gradually began to wane and the route changed to cover steep roads in the Ardèche and the famous Col de Turini mountain pass leading to the renown of Alpine Renaults and Mini Coopers.
In the mid-1900s, with starlet Grace Kelly marrying Prince Rainier III the Monte Carlo Rally assumed legendary status. With the eyes of the world on Monte Carlo news of the dangers of the rally spread, attracting ambitious drivers with their glamorous entourages from all over the world to tackle roads treacherous with ice, snow and wet asphalt.
For the past 20 years, a new event held a few days after the main event has been keeping the magic alive: the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique. It sees vintage cars that took part between 1955 and 1980 go head to head once more.
The latest addition to the Rally is the addition of an environmentally friendly race. Only days ago the winners of the eRallye Monte Carlo, Artur Prusak and Thierry Benchetrit, drove a hydrogen-powered Toyota over the finish line.
“We are thrilled to have won because it is the first time in history that a rally of this size has been organised for zero-emission cars and we have achieved a world first with a hydrogen powered competition car.”
This now regular event, involving only 100% electric and 100% Hydrogen cars this year saw drivers cover 1200 kilomters from Nevers through Valence, Laragne-Monteglin and ending at the Quai Albert 1er, in Monaco.
Whatever the car, the Monte Carlo Rally continues to attract the Jet Set, with its alluring mix of glamour and danger calling on their daring and flair in the quest for first place.