There’s plenty of anticipation ahead of this year’s Monte Carlo Rally – and rightly so given it’s the curtain-raiser for a brand new era of the World Rally Championship.
But the 2022 iteration of this famous rally has high standards to live up to, and few other Montes have produced the show and drama that occurred 20 years ago.
There were storylines aplenty: Richard Burns’ low-key Peugoet debut, Roman Kresta’s miraculous escape from tumbling down the side of a mountain and, of course, Sébastien Loeb’s sensational victory that swiftly became second due to a technical tire infringement.
If you want a more comprehensive assessment of that particular debacle and the drive before it, come back to DirtFish on Sunday.
But, as one driver prepares to make his return to WRC action this year, we thought we’d reminisce in one of the undercover stories from the dramatic 2002 event. That, of course, means talking about Freddy Loix.
After a three-year stint at Mitsubishi alongside Tommi Mäkinen – who won the 2002 Monte on his debut for new team Subaru – Loix moved to Hyundai in what was essentially a swap with Alister McRae who headed in the opposite direction.
Hyundai wasn’t as competitive 20 years ago as it is today however. Run by Motor Sports Development (MSD) in the UK as opposed to in-house, the Accent WRC wasn’t the most complete package of the field as the program didn’t benefit from the same budget as other factory teams.
Success was therefore hard to come by, but Loix was determined to make a good start to his life as a Hyundai driver. Eighth fastest on the opening Selonnet – Turriers stage was a good start and with Sisteron – Thoard canceled due to an excess of spectators, a repeat pass of Selonnet – Turriers was up next.
The #18 Accent WRC2 wouldn’t make the end of the stage though as it had careered into a bridge following a high-speed section. Co-driver Sven Smeets escaped uninjured, but Loix wasn’t quite so lucky.
“It was quite a bumpy stage,” Loix recalls. “I don’t remember the name anymore but it was quite a bumpy section just before a small bridge and it came down quite quick, I think around 140-150km/h [86-93mph] and I hit the bump-stops and the car started to jump a little bit at the back, and just when we came to the bridge I hit the bridge.
“It was a little bit of some bad luck but at that time it was part of the game. It was like it was.
“We were pushing – and at that time we really wanted to show that Hyundai still was a quick car on certain rallies, especially like Monte Carlo or Sweden the car could be quick – a little bit too much on the bumpy road and that’s what happened.
“It was nearly a straight-line, some fast corners before the bridge and when it starts to jump a little bit on the rear we knew already it’s going to be a very hard one to go over the bridge without hitting the wall.
“I knew it was going to be painful but then OK the wall came into the car and I broke my left foot.”
I asked the doctor ‘do you think there is the possibility that I will do Sweden in two weeks?’ and he said ‘yes, why not’Freddy Loix
Obviously, with the front-left corner of Loix’s Hyundai completely destroyed, that was his Monte Carlo over. But attention soon turned to the second round in Sweden in just two weeks – a rally he had no right to compete in given his injury.
“I went to the hospital over there in France, they couldn’t see anything on my foot but I knew I had some problems.
“So I left the hospital the same day, the same evening, and drove down to Belgium myself to the hospital, I drove all night, came to Belgium, went to the hospital and they told me ‘yes you have a broken ankle’.
“I asked the doctor ‘do you think there is the possibility that I will do Sweden in two weeks?’ and he said ‘yes, why not’ because he was used to doing some operations for motocross drivers and it was Stefan Everts who at that time was the world champion in motocross who gave me the name of that doctor.
“When I left the hospital in the south of France I phoned Stefan and said ‘Stefan I think I have a broken ankle and I want to do a rally in a few weeks’ and he said ‘just go to my doctor and he will fix it, you’ll be back in the car in two weeks’. And that’s what happened.”
With a few screws inserted in his left ankle, Loix was hobbling around the service park on crutches but indeed did make the start of the rally – albeit competing with his leg strapped up. And astonishingly he was fiercely competitive, battling for fourth overall with Richard Burns and Kenneth Eriksson.
At the time, Loix joked that his rivals “had no respect for handicapped people” with a wry smile, signifying the gravity of his performance.
Burns managed to get ahead on the first stage of the final morning but worse was to come as less than three stages from home, Loix’s Accent WRC found a rut that broke the front suspension and forced him to retire.
It was a retirement that he immediately said made him feel “sad”, but today Loix refutes the idea that the discomfort he was experiencing should earn his drive any extra kudos.
“In Sweden it was OK,” he insists when asked by DirtFish if he was in pain. “It was acceptable, let’s say it like that.
“But the first four or five days after the operation in Belgium I had some doubts that I could go to Sweden, but we managed to be ready for Sweden.”
Regardless of Loix’s view, to be fit and resilient enough to compete so soon after the Monte Carlo accident, and to then be so competitive in the Swedish snow afterwards, was truly inspirational.
But understandably, Loix isn’t plotting any more heroics upon his Monte Carlo return this year though. A far more mundane event would suit him just nicely.
“I hope we can bring it to a better end than in 2002, let’s say it like that,” he laughs.