The 22nd Edition
Few locations conjure up the magic and romance of rallying like Monte-Carlo and since 1911 the principality’s association with the sport has been inseparable, so what better way for HERO-ERA to kick off their 2023 season than with the Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo.
Of course this particular event’s history doesn’t reach quite as far back as the beginning of last century, but it does cover a 33 year period, and this will be the 22nd running of a modern classic and a rally that is a must do for many on the entry list. Beginning in the city of Troyes, to the South East of Paris, the 2000km route of this advanced level event will endeavour to deliver the crews into wintry conditions as quickly as possible, with the goal of many of the participants to enjoy as much driving in the snow as is possible. The competition will be fought across five days and 30 challenging regularities, with the eventual winner being crowned in Monte-Carlo, in amongst the history of so many motorsport stars that have gone before.
It isn’t just the history left by motorsport luminaries in Monaco that will garnish this event, the entire route has call backs from sporting history. Whether that be the Circuit de Charade at Clermont Ferrand, the home of partner Michelin, or the Monte Carlo Rally tradition of Tarte Pomme before the Burzet – La Champ Rafael stage, as well as the run up the Col de Turini, a must not just for rally fans but for petrol-heads in general. This is an event that is conscious of its own history and that of the sport, there is also the infamous night section that will have driver’s eyes on stalks and leave navigators scratching their heads.
The entry list is as exciting as the route, with many crews standing a great chance of triumphing in their hotly contested classes and overall (Class I, 2 and 3 eligible). Freshly crowned navigator’s champion and Golden Roamer winner Pete Johnson is switching to driving a VW Golf with owner Phil Cottam navigating. With snow possible, both Golf GTi crews, including the Paul Bloxidge, Ian Canavan 2021 championship partnership, will certainly be hoping to be in the mix for the class five win. Paul and Ian finished third during the last WC2MC outing in 2018 when they were competing in Paul’s 911, that would eventually carry them to HERO Cup and Golden Roamer success.
Someone else with experience is navigator Richard Lambley, who finished second on the last edition and this time will be on the maps for Chris Townsend in a Peugeot 504, a class triumph for a French car on a French rally perhaps?
For the overall winners in Class One, Two and Three, the Mini’s have to be strong contenders, especially if snow and ice materialise. Gold Medal LeJog winners Kevin Haselden and Ryan Pickering are Mini mounted as are Richard Phillipson and Lorna Harrison. Dave Maryon returns to the event, travelling from the States to compete with navigator Andy Ballantyne and with plenty of miles between the two of them they would certainly be worth a bet.
There will also be plenty of first timers and coming stars taking to the start this weekend, crews such as Malcolm Dunderdale and Anita Wickins, lining up in another French fancy, their gorgeous Renault 12 Gordini, a car that may just be a podium force if Malcolm channels his inner Jean Ragnotti. Angus McQueen and Mike Cochrane will also be hoping to build on a great couple of seasons where they have challenged for the HERO Challenge Championship and won gold medals on LeJog. They are now a finely tuned outfit in the BMW 323i they are synonymous with.
In fact, the entry is so competitive it’s almost impossible to choose the potential class and overall winners, let alone mention everyone in the column inches here. With entries from Ed Abbot + Paul Bosdet (Jaguar XJ-S), Nigel + Sally Woof (Volvo PV544), Klaus Mueller + Rolf Pellini (Lancia Fulvia), Michael Moss + Andrew Duerden (Golf GTi), Rod Hanson + Clare Grove (Ford Escort) there are some very competitive crews. Both the Woof’s Volvo and the Mueller + Pellini Lancia will have a chance of overall victory, but Klaus will be hoping for as much snow as possible so he can emulate Sandro Munari who won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1972 in a Lancia Fulvia!
This is a field that oozes talent and as such should provide an intense and enjoyable competition over the five days.
Aside from the competitors, one person very much looking forward to the event is Clerk of the Course Will Rutherford, although he is feeling the pressure somewhat leading the line on what he calls “the original winter classic.” But what can the crews expect? “Secret France” says Will, “we’re heading to parts of the country that have been left behind a little bit, there are brilliant roads but you can go for miles without seeing anybody, which offers lots of potential for us to really get the best out of the tarmac for the competition.” He’s loath to use the word ‘tricks’ when describing the challenge of the competition, but does hint that anyone who manages to hit every control is doing very well indeed. But what about the weather? “Depends which forecast you want to believe” he says, “there’s been a good dump of snow recently and so it’s looking like being fabulous for the competitors, but probably an absolute nightmare for us!” That is a nightmare Will would no doubt be delighted to have though.
Time is tight on the Winter Challenge, and the competition is set to be even tighter. On Sunday one of the true modern classic events will go under starters orders with the class of ’23, on paper at least, looking to offer up an absolute barnstorming start to the season. Buckle up and enjoy the slide into the principality, on the Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo 2023.
*The Shires host Round Two as the Challenge Increases