5 reasons why the Monte Carlo Rally is more exciting than the Monaco Grand Prix
The Grand Prix gets all the headlines, but the Rally is even more thrilling
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Monaco is one of the world’s tiniest territories, yet it is synonymous with two of the biggest and most historic motor racing events in the world.
The Monaco Grand Prix, run around the streets of the principality in the May sunshine, gets more of the headlines than the winter-time Monte Carlo Rally, but here are five reasons why the WRC meeting is more exciting than its single-seater equivalent.
1. It’s the most unpredictable event of the year
The Monaco Grand Prix may be a fantastic spectacle – watching the F1 drivers thread their insanely fast open-wheel cars around the confines of a track squeezed in between the casino, the shops, hotels and the sea is mesmerising to watch, but often the race itself is, how can we put this, a bit of a let down.
Overtaking is famously so tricky around the tight track that once the lights go out on Sunday, it can often turn into something of a procession.
By contrast, the Monte Carlo Rally is the most unpredictable event of the year.
Who's braver: the driver or the helicopter pilot? (Pic: Red Bull Content Pool)
Many of the stages are held on thin ribbons of tarmac bordered on one side by a rock face, and on the other by a sheer drop of hundreds of feet. That would be difficult enough, but holding the rally in the middle of winter means there is also plenty of ice and snow for the drivers to contend with.
That in itself would not be the biggest challenge to these incredible drivers, if each stage was entirely snow or ice, or clean tarmac. But therein lies the rub – in actual fact a stage could be part dry tarmac, part ice, part snow, part mud. And because the crews never know what they can expect, each one of them has to take a gamble on tyres – and then cope with those tyres when on the wrong surface. Plump for slicks and get hit with miles of ice, and you are, in the words of Paul Simon, slip slidin’ away. Bolt on snow tyres and then encounter dry tarmac, and you are losing time hand over fist.
Often you will come across snow, ice and dry tarmac all on the same stage, which means plenty of hasty adapting for the drivers, and plenty of opportunity for things to go wrong. And that means great drama for the fans.
2. It’s the season opener
The class of 2018 (Pic: Red Bull Content Pool)
By the time the Monaco GP rolls around – usually round 6 of the F1 championship season – the pecking order for that particular year has normally been established, and the title battle is already beginning to take shape.
But the Monte Carlo Rally is the opening round of the 2019 World Rally Championship. It comes pre-loaded with all the excitement and unknowns of any new season, and is your first chance to see the new driver, co-driver and car line-ups in action.
Among other exciting changes this year, reigning world champion crew Sebastien Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia have left M-Sport Ford to return to Citroen, while Kris Meeke will be back in full-time competition with Toyota, having been fired in brutal circumstances by Citroen halfway through last season for what the team termed an "excessively high number of crashes”.
Meeke is back in action for Toyota this season (Pic: Red Bull Content Pool)
Can Ogier continue his incredible run of six-consecutive championships after switching teams? Will Teemu Suninen prove a worthy successor to him at M-Sport? Can Meeke keep his Toyota on the road more often than he did his Citroen?
All will start to be revealed when the action kicks off in Monte Carlo this weekend.
3. It starts in the dark
It seems barely believable that these WRC drivers will kick off the 2019 season not only at one of the most difficult and dangerous events of the year – but will also do so driving IN THE DARK.
Yet that is exactly what they will do when they begin the first stage on Thursday night’s opening two special stages.
I mean, just look at that! (Pic: Red Bull Content Pool)
Former Hyundai driver Hayden Padden explains what makes it so special:
“It’s certainly a rally where you are more anxious because of the weather conditions, but also you start Thursday night, the opening leg of the World Rally Championship in the dark, probably in the ice and the snow, you’ve got a compromise tyre choice on the car, you’ve got the atmosphere – it really builds up on that Thursday night. The heart’s pumping pretty fast and you’ve got very sweaty hands and you just want to get started.”
Racing on gravel, snow and ice. On narrow mountain roads. In the dark. (Pic: Red Bull Content Pool)
Is there any cooler sight in motorsport than that?
4. It’s more historic than the Grand Prix
The Monaco Grand Prix was first run in 1929, but even that makes it a young ‘un compared to the rally, which has history dating back to 1911 – which makes it the oldest event on the WRC calendar.
When it first started the competitors would start from various different points all around Europe, and race to the finish at Monte Carlo.
Some 23 cars started that first event, from 11 different locations, with Frenchman Henri Rougier declared the winner on the basis of some rather obscure judging that included – unbelievably – the elegance of the car and the state it arrived in.
These days the winner is declared on a somewhat more scientific basis that involves a stop watch, but every winner is driving in Rougier’s historic tracks.
5. You will be surrounded by actual race fans
Even if you’ve never been to the Monaco Grand Prix, you will have seen it on TV. They are all there: the celebs, the models, the millionaires – all using the race as an excuse to be seen, hang out on a yacht or meet someone famous. You get the feeling that the actual race is a somewhat secondary element for many of the people attending.
You get the really committed fans at 'The Monte' (Pic: Red Bull Content Pool
But swap the summer sunshine and Champagne for darkness, freezing temperatures and a cup of hot tea from a thermos, and you won’t find too many celebs hanging around the Monte Carlo Rally hoping to get a picture of themselves in Paris Match. No, rallying is for proper motorsport fans, so if you go, you’ll be with people who are there for the racing, not the caviar.
To get all the action, all the crashes and all the drama live from Monte Carlo and every round of the 2019 season, sign up for WRC+ now.