LIVEBLOG: PH AT THE MONTE HISTORIQUE
Renault boss Tavares blitzes the Turini; we learn more about Alpine Caterham along the way
The 40th anniversary of the A110's 1-2-3 victory in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1973 provides a handy excuse and with the winning team from that year of Jean-Claude Andruet and co-driver 'Biche' reunited for this event with an A110 there's lots to celebrate.
But this is a much about looking to the future as it is celebrating success from the past, the presence of Renault boss Carlos Tavares and lots of Renaultsport top brass underlining this is as much about Alpine's rebirth and getting the brand back in the spotlight.
As you'll see from the entry list the 300-plus cars taking part are a pretty diverse mix too so there's lots to look forward to - keep checking by for updates!
So, on my way to the airport and very much looking forward to joining the Historique out in France. In the meantime I've been swotting up on all things Alpine, past, present and future.
PH Heroespiece on the car we ran a while back - see here for more. I've always had a soft spot for these but have never been in one so it's going to be a real privilege to see them in action and have a ride.
But the trip is a much about Alpine's future as it is the past. Renaultsport fans will, of course, be aware that recent hot Renaults have been built and developed out of Alpine's Dieppe factory and we'll be joined by some of the engineers and management on this event.
I'm particularly looking forward to meeting Jean-Pascal Dauce, who's co-driving for Renault boss Carlos Tavares. Currently in charge of Renaultsport's track and rally activities, Dauce worked at Airbus before joining Renault as a chassis man. At Renaultsport since 2003 he was Megane Renaultsport project manager, meaning he'll have had a big part to play in cars like the R26 and R26.R. He also owns an A110 of his own apparently.
And he's now chief engineer on the Alpine-Caterham project. Someone worth getting to know by the sounds of it.
Journalists without a smiling chaperone at an airport arrivals hall are like lost sheep but after a brief wait, a café au lait and a tartes aux pommes our limo arrived, suitably hued and appropriate to the evening ahead. No stretched saloon for us though - our chariot was a Megane 265 on winter tyres, the better for chasing old rally cars. Very PH. And unlike our Recaro seated Cup long termer the unfortunate in the back can get his feet under the front seats.
No sign of the rally or any of the old cars yet but the hotel is full of people in team fleeces and carrying helmets so there's just a sense of what's to come as we quickly cram some food down us and get ready for our trip up into the mountains.
With our hotel steadily filling up with Renault-clothed folk we knew we were in the right place and hadn't missed the party entirely! First of the team to arrive was 'Biche', 1973 winner Jean-Claude Andruet's co-driver then and now. With a bit of poring over Michelin maps and a lot of Gallic shrugging she gave us a quick overview of the night's stages, Renault boss Carlos Tavares not behind, race suit tucked into chunky socks poking out of well-worn racing boots. He may be a CEO of a global carmaker but it's clear where his heart is. Which is promising for this whole Alpine-Caterham thing.
As was our chat with his co-driver Jean-Pascal Dauce, aforementioned chief engineer on the Alpine-Caterham sports car as of a month. A rushed chat over some dinner revealed ranged far and wide, from the R26.R (the last road car he worked on before swapping to the competition department) and harrying Porsche drivers on the 'ring to some guarded chat about the forthcoming project and then to his A110, a car he's owned for 24 years and now being driven by his boss, Tavares with him in the passenger seat. An interesting dynamic there, not least a physical one with Dauce a big guy and the A110 a small car. "We have to get in one at a time," Tavares told me. "Otherwise we bang our heads together!"
Dinner bolted down we jumped into another black Megane with our driver Arnoud, this one a Cup. A quick run down to the harbour through a certain Monaco tunnel and we were suddenly in the heart of it, Fintail Mercs following 911s and Fulvias up and over the start ramp and up to Casino Square.
Hot on the heels of Andruet and Biche, Arnoud was carving through downtown Monaco apace, battle-scarred classic rally cars contrasting with the glitz and glamour.
And now I'm going to stop typing because we're in the middle of a regularity stage and I'm starting to feel a little sick...
So, having got back to the hotel at half two last night I was rather hoping I'd not have woken up at 'normal' time. But I think I'm still buzzing after last night's excitement.
As I left you we were burning through Monaco in a Renaultsport Megane hard on the tail of 1973 Monte winner Jean-Claude Andruet's Alpine A110. And then I had to stop writing because I was going to throw up... Oh, and I was meant to be navigating too, roadbook and all. I've usually got a pretty strong stomach but, regularity stages or not, Andruet wasn't hanging about and our driver Arnoud was having to give the Megane death to keep up.
A couple of cars passed us and from that point on we were on our own, Arnoud doing a fine job in very difficult conditions that would swap from dry tarmac to wet tarmac to gravel and ice and then short stretches of compacted snow, sometimes all in the space of a couple hundred metres. Generally the little gaggles of spectators, gathered around camp fires and barbecues, didn't care we were in a 'modern' and cheered anyway but I did see one photographer lower his camera and shake his head in disgust.
A pause at the top of the Turini gave chance to sample the atmosphere outside - cold, mainly! - and see some of the cars come through and here we saw Tavares and Dauce blaze past among an eclectic and diverse range of competitors. Hat tip to the sideways Beetle for the most spectacular arrival! On our way down we let some lights past and then realised it was an Alpine, blue spurts of flame flickering from its exhaust in the depths of the darkness. It wasn't one of 'ours' but we didn't care, Arnoud giving chase for a wonderful conclusion to a crazy night of driving.
We've been up and down the Turini like yo-yos today and what a mega stretch of road it is too. First up our friend Arnoud from last night, alarming drops that weren't visible last night in the dark now very much so. Gulp.
Up top we were reunited with the A110s, the #18 car of '73 winner Andruet arriving at the top of the Col with an ominous pop and big clouds of steam. After a bit of fussing about it by the Renault Classic guys it was deemed healthy and I was strapped in for the run down alongside Andruet. And if you think an A110 looks small from the outside wait until you're in it. Intimacy is a given and though he was having to back off a little due to the brakes cooking Andruet was still having fun, the little Alpine seemingly pivoting around its centre and the combination of snow tyres, those swing axles and the engine behind them meaning he could swing it round the hairpins using the pendulum effect of the weight distribution. Dainty, pointy and very alert it's easy to see why these little cars work so well in this environment.
Long chats with Bernard Ollivier (CEO of the grand sounding Societe des Automobiles Alpine-Caterham) and Renaultsport MD Patrice Ratti revealed much about what the car that will result from this partnership will be like, more on which in due course. I also had a long chat with Ratti about the new dual-clutch auto only Clio 200, which probably won't do much to allay the fears we have about that car. He's of the opinion we'll eat our words having driven it, which we'll be doing in the middle of March.
Happier was the chat with Jean-Pascal Dauce, project manager on the Alpine-Caterham car and owner of the A110 driven by Tavares in the rally. A more PH-worthy engineer (and bona fide car geek) you couldn't hope to meet - with him in charge of the car's development we can't wait to see what comes of it all.