20 January 2019 - 9h38
Scheduled to take place from 22nd to 27th January, the 87th Edition of the Monte Carlo Rally looks as though it will be as spicy as it will be surprising. “We won’t know who the winner is until the end“, swears Christian Tornatore, the General Commissioner of the ACM and Director of the event.
The training day for commissioners organized by the Automobile Club de Monaco began in the cool morning air of 2nd December. The final rehearsal before one of the two big annual automobile rituals, the famous CRIC (the commissioners’ training circuit) brought together over 200 volunteers. Gathered in the Fontvieille marquee among some of the racing cars that have created the legend of Monte-Carlo, the protagonists listened to the final recommendations before taking to the road in a full-scale exercise that took them from Roquebrune to Eze, with a schedule to respect and a number of checks by the commissioners to help them brush up their skills. Among the competitors was Christian Tornatore, the General Commissioner of the ACM and Director of the event, who had the opportunity to appreciate the smooth running of the exercise. A little before departure time, he also told La Gazette what he was expecting, and at the same time offered us an analysis of the route for the 87th Monte-Carlo rally.
What is the importance of this training day when you are organizing a rally as prestigious as the Monte-Carlo Rally?
It is enormously important, because you can see what is not working. This is the last day for us to be able to straighten everything out. It’s a little like the course for the Grand Prix commissioners, which is spread over a longer time (Editor’s note: two days). It allows us to carry out a review and get everybody up to speed. Even we (he mimes quotation marks), the “ones with the knowledge”, need to reposition ourselves, and this also allows us to participate in a different way. The organizers also have to put themselves in the competitors’ shoes. The CRIC (Editor’s note: the commissioners’ training circuit) is our last chance to do this.
Do you organize the CRIC at the request of the FIA, or is it a personal initiative?
We do it on our own account. We have always been pioneers at the Automobile Club. We try to outperform our obligations. We’ve been organizing it for years; it’s become a custom, but it’s also a necessity. We mustn’t forget that we always needs to restart the engine, to explain everything again.
How do you do it?
The teams of working cars leave with the competitors. The competitors don’t drive fast: it’s a question of training the commissioners. They have a time card, and they need to comply with the timing and follow the itinerary. The tracking system allows us to discover where they are at any given moment. We also have a race director who follows all the cars. In the course of one day, we run three tests during which we train everybody. It’s done calmly, with no speeding. Even though these are normally speed tests, they are driven at normal speed. (He gestures at the collection of cars with his hand) we have taken advantage of this day to bring out some beautiful cars. It brings pleasure to everyone, and gives an impression of a competition.
Last year, you had to learn the new tracking and timing system. Do you have to deal with any innovations imposed by the FIA this year?
A priori no. As regards the GPS and timing systems, we had a dry run once more last year, but everything went well. The programme needed to evolve, but I haven’t yet had time to go and see it. We will undoubtedly be able to follow many more cars than we have up until now, I think. We have enough resources to put markers in a large number of vehicles, and so it should be possible for the service cars to be monitored. This is important, because sometimes we need to get to somebody without ever knowing too much about where they are. The telephone and radio work, but with the conditions we find in winter and in the mountains, difficulties can emerge.
40% of the route has been redesigned. How do you prepare the route? Are any constraints imposed from above?
This year, we have to do fewer than 350 km. One stage has been cancelled, so we’ve gone from 17 to 16. The route is 325 km long, and this reduction also allows us to reduce our overall costs. The operating costs for a rally are always very high. We have tried to reduce our expenses because we no longer have the revenues we used to, and we even have fewer competitors. We need to pay attention to our costs, and we’ve tried to limit them by reducing the number of kilometres, tests and staff… The reduction required by the International Federation, which we have complied with, applies to all the trials for the World Championship. It’s not just us. Last year, the Monte-Carlo Rally was almost 400 km. This means a reduction of 15% in length. We hope the costs will also decrease by 15% (He smiles).
The Automobile Club defines the route as “very selective”. Did you have any hesitation about some of the trials?
There were discussions with the mayors of the municipalities we cross for various reasons. To know whether the roads would be restored after the competitors had gone through, for example. We are doing it. The roads deteriorate less because the number of competitors has fallen, but we understand their concerns. Globally speaking, I think we have the unanimous agreement of local elected officials. They understand that hosting an important trial that is broadcast across the world can galvanize them. It enables them to work a little more and to earn money, for example by opening a refreshment stall in the village square selling hot drinks to spectators.
What constraints do you have?
In truth, there aren’t any. We simply try to find “complicated” tests at as high in altitude as possible. We’ve seen that there is less and less snow. We have to go higher up to find cold winter conditions. We target well-located special stages – that is, not too far away from the park – that enable us to go from one point to another quickly. We need to keep things moving…
Why are only a few tests taking place in the Alpes-Maritimes?
There is a tendency towards changing all the roads. You see it in the Alpes-Maritimes, where we don’t go at all, practically speaking, although we once had a good number of stages there. The roads have been so much improved and widened in recent years that there is no interest in organizing special stages there any more. This is why we have to move further away, and therefore to the Hautes-Alpes, where there’s everything we need to organize great tests.
You were mentioning the loss of two or three drivers a year. How do you explain these withdrawals?
(He answers quickly) Cost, I think. Previously, with a less well-equipped car, an amateur could have some fun. Today, if you don’t have a minimum level and power, you can’t even enjoy yourself. The Federation has decided that it was no longer necessary to run groups N and 1, production line cars that have been improved and equipped to take part in rallies. We are only allowed to do the R1, R2, R3, R4 et R5 and WRC. And then, if you want to take part in the Monte-Carlo Rally with a small car, you need to calculate between 50,000 and 60,000 euros. This is a big budget for one single event! So yes, you can take part in the Monte Carlo Rally, but you need to invest a lot of money. Not everyone can do this. The tyres are also expensive. Our rally has always been known for its diversity. This means you need a good selection of tyres in order to be on the road at all times. You need to be careful, and in order to have the right selection, you need to buy them. It’s a bit of a vicious circle.
What are the most exciting new developments?
The two night-time special stages, the first of which is going to be broadcast live on television. This will be a new discovery for everyone, including the organizers, because we haven’t seen them under winter conditions. There will be some surprises. (He smiles) To surprise – that’s a part of the Monte Carlo Rally’s aim. There was one last year. The route was very long and at relatively high altitude. There were some memorable spin-outs, which penalized the start of the rally a little. With stages that are less than 20 km each, the 2019 edition will be more equal for the drivers, I think. In any event, the departure will be less stressful.
Can you predict the winner?
In 2018, I told you it would be Sisteron-Thoard. With the new developments this year, all the stages will be complicated. Even the competitors who live locally never use these routes. Maybe Sébastien Ogier (Editor’s note: who is from Gap) will have known about them before, but he’ll be the only one! The suspense will be total. We saw this at the last World Championship: the distances between the cars were very small. For the Monte Carlo Rally, it will be Sunday morning when the final selection is made. It’s all the more interesting because we won’t know who the winner is until the end. This is essential for a competition.
Interview by Jérémie Bernigole
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