The first time I filed a story with the subject line ‘Brits to Monte’ it involved a couple of McRaes, a Burns and a level of rallying fever ever so slightly disproportionate to the subject. A couple of decades down the road and it’s a very different story.
Should we be going to France next week?
When the World Rally Championship packed up and headed into something nearing the eye of the coronavirus storm in Lombardy last month, I questioned that decision.
I was wrong. The Monza Rally organizer did a superb job in rolling out the right COVID-19 precautions to ensure the final round of the world championship could happen.
This time it’s different. In European terms, it’s Britain that is located firmly in the center of the storm. We’re the ones with 60,000-odd new cases each day and around 1000 fatalities. We’re the ones largely lumbered with this new faster-spreading strain of coronavirus.
There’s a good couple of hundred of Brits zeroing in on the Monte Carlo Rally service park in Gap a week from Tuesday and, according to the UK government’s latest figures, that means four of us will be carrying coronavirus. One in 50 in Britain have it. One in 30 for those coming out of London.
Fancy that, Gap?
Depends who you ask. Having stayed in and around Gap every January for the last decade I’ve got to know a few of the hoteliers. Predictably, they’re all up for having us along and trying to find accommodation in the Hautes-Alpes region next week demonstrates the demand is there for beds. The Monte is offering a rare ray of sunshine in an otherwise miserable winter. Autumn. Summer. And spring.
But the appeal’s not universal. To save their blushes, I won’t name the hotel, but at least one establishment told me they were full when I told them I would be flying in from London. Slightly suspicious, I sent the same place an email, telling them I would be flying in from the DirtFish mothership in Seattle and they were happy to offer me a room.
Morally, it’s entirely questionable for us all to visit Gap and Monaco, but here’s the juxtaposition: it’s the Monte Carlo Rally we’re talking about
I have friends living in Provence, not even they want to see me next week. Particularly not if I decide to drive.
“You know how it is,” my friend said, delicately, “… we wouldn’t really want a British-registered car coming up the drive.”
And driving is my favored option right now, what with flights to France being canceled on an almost daily basis.
What crystalized this one for me was European Rugby’s Monday-night announcement regarding the Heineken Champions and Challenge Cup games between British and French clubs. For January, they’re off.
In a statement European Professional Club Rugby said: “Against the backdrop of the recent detection of a new strain of coronavirus, the French government has directed that French clubs postpone their participation in EPCR’s tournaments for the month of January, both for matches scheduled in France and for those due to be played in the United Kingdom and Ireland.”
Morally, I think it’s entirely questionable for us all to land in Gap and Monaco a couple of days later.
But here’s the juxtaposition, it’s the Monte Carlo Rally we’re talking about.
How can I seriously sit here and consider writing a sentence including the words: “I’m, not, sure, about, going, to, the, Monte?”
It’s a rally I know and love. It’s the start of the season. The beginning of a new campaign. Hopes and dreams are won and lost in the French Alps, high above Casino Square.
If the Monte Carlo Rally was a soccer manager, it would be José Mourinho. The special one.
Which makes the next question even more difficult to ask. And answer.
Should the Monte Carlo Rally happen?
Granted, numbers are not rampantly high in the Gap area and Monaco’s managed to contain the virus well; the principality’s death toll is four. Equally, only 39,000 people live there.
With the service park shut and the stages a no-go area for fans, it’s a question very much worth asking.
And it’s one I’m not quite ready to answer.
Either way, that decision sits with the Automobile Club de Monaco and not the FIA or WRC Promoter. They can only cancel the opening round of the World Rally Championship. The two are not mutually inclusive; the Monte Carlo Rally can and has run outside of the WRC calendar.
But if you’re talking Monte cancellation, try telling preparation firms up and down Europe they’ve lost their chance to earn from one of the season’s biggest weekends. Try telling the parts suppliers the bottom has dropped out of their market. Again. Try telling WRC Promoter it’s lost another opportunity to beam its product into people’s living rooms.
The multiplier effect of not running the Monte Carlo Rally is huge.
Maybe the answer is to follow Thierry Neuville’s lead and push for a December date for Monte. But it’s surely a bit much to ask them to run the last round of 2021 one month and the 2022 season opener a handful of weeks later?
One thing is sure; it feels a very long 12 months since I was banging on about whether or not it would snow on Thursday. Or pontificating about world champion Ott Tänak’s chances in his new car. Such is the modern world.