Final day of Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo, Sophia Antipolis – Col de Turini
Kevin Haselden and Ryan Pickering win, leading from start to finish
Highlight is Col de Turini with 34 hairpins
Road disruption causes anxious moments for leaders
Finishers enjoy the sparkle of Monte Carlo for Gala Prize Giving dinner
With a masterful performance over five days, two nights and 26 regularities and three tests, Kevin Haselden and Ryan Pickering controlled the Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo from the front. The duo who won Gold Medals on LeJog in December teamed up again for the second tough rally in a row, demonstrating what a powerful combination they are. Kevin’s Mini Cooper S was equal to the challenge and never missed a beat – a fitting win for a type of car that first won with the late, great Paddy Hopkirk in 1964 on the Monte Carlo Rally.
Another star car from Monte Carlo rallies of the past, the Lancia Fulvia, starred again, although this time not winner Munari in 1972 but in 2023 as the German-Italian combination of Klaus Mueller and Rolf Pellini finished second, three minutes behind the winning Mini. Not an easy rally, graded red in difficulty, which as Rolf pointed out, is run in the traditional UK way without any electronic aides and can be difficult for international crews to adapt to. Nonetheless, the pair will be in the UK in a month to compete in the Three Legs of Mann, ready for more punishment.
A fine performance for the final podium place came from Dave Maryon and Andy Ballantyne in their MGB, which at one point had been stuck in snow on a regularity. Dave drove a great rally, but he rightly credited Andy Ballantyne whose navigation work was sharp both day and night, pinpointing the hidden tracks that many had missed.
As Andy and Dave stood by the finish arch on the Col de Turini, they fondly remembered Bob Rutherford, who had played a big part in this event, they had stood with him at the very same place three years ago. They commended the Bob Rutherford Historic Rally Scholarship for Young Navigators, and like HERO-ERA Competition Director Guy Woodcock, equally praised Bob’s son Will, who was Clerk of the Course for this 22ndWinter Challenge for devising such an incredible route. He is clearly carrying on where his illustrious father left off.
There was a moral victory for former HERO-ERA champion driver and navigator Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan as they finished first on the leaderboard but their modern classic 1985 VW Golf GTi does not qualify for the overall historic awards, but they were the runaway winners of Class Five. As Paul intimated, ‘they know what we did’.
The highlight of the final day and holy location of this historic rally was the last regularity of the event on the hallowed tarmac of the Col de Turini, world rallying’s infamous and tortuous special stage. It can have a mix of snow and ice on one side and descend though black ice on the other and it has been the downfall of many a star rally driver, amongst them, Colin McRae, Bjorn Waldegard and Petter Solberg. For many on the Winter Challenge to Monte Carlo, this was the holy grail they wanted to reach. To drive the 34 hairpins on one side and go under the finish arch opposite the legendary Three Valleys Hotel on the same plateau where thousands of raging rally fans blast their air horns and let off fireworks as the WRC cars flash past, is a privilege.
There were great performances from Richard Prosser and Peter Blackett in the wonderful Reliant Scimitar, they were fourth overall, having been holding third for two days, but the mature crew showed many a younger team the way home.
Angus McQueen and Mike Cochrane have now proved their skill on the tough rallies. They followed up their Gold Medal wins on LeJog with a fine unofficial fourth overall and second in class. They absolutely had a ball and were raving about the rally at the finish, which as Ian Canavan said, “it is such a brilliant event, I can’t understand how only 34 cars entered!”
A skilful performance from another BMW crew, this time the 320/4 of Germans Thomas Koerner and Udo Schauss, they were as entertaining as ever on the tests but absolutely flamboyant in the snow, they loved the conditions and it showed! Thomas and Udo were sixth on the leaderboard and second in class.
There were also stoic performances from newbies on this red event. One crew in a car that defied not just the laws of gravity but was the total antithesis of a what a rally car should be. The 1968 Rolls Royce Shadow of Nigel Keen and Bruce Norris squeezed it’s wide haunches between the narrowest of village streets, lurched and wafted its way into six point turns around the hairiest of fresh air hairpins, as the mature rally virgins were determined to make the finish and then take their rally car to the ‘Viking Funeral’ they promised the Roller.
Deservedly, Nigel and Bruce, college chums together from many years ago, were awarded the ‘Against the Odds Award’ at the glittering Monte Carlo Prize Giving Awards, an evening that was enjoyed by all. The other notable award outside the class and podium sitters prizes was for the ‘Spirit of the Rally Award’ which went to the MGB crew of Luciana and Graham Bryce.