The unexpected benefit of the farmers strike on WRC Monte

With the motorway blocked, the DirtFish team ventured through the mountains enroute to Monte Carlo. The detour was well worth it

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To the French farmers, thank you.

Didn’t see that one coming, did you? When Monte Carlo Rally clerk of the course Alain Pallanca’s communication number 10 landed at ten past seven on Wednesday evening, there was much frustration and gnashing of teeth in the DirtFish car.

The statement read: “Due to a protest movement, the A51 highway will be blocked between Manosque and Sisteron on the Thursday, 25th January from 06:30 am.

“Recommended itinerary via Route de Grenoble / N202. Heavy traffic expected.”

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The DirtFish hotel in Peyruis had been selected for its easy access to the A51, a more straightforward route south to Monaco and an extra hour in bed on Thursday morning.

Then the farmers decided to park their tractors across the motorway and stop the world heading for the Riviera. N202 it is then. Anybody who knows this part of the world – or indeed anything about French history – will know the Route Napoleon is one of planet earth’s twistier stretches of Tarmac.

Knowing the road would be full of folk avoiding the farmers, an early start was made. And it was so much more fun than going down the motorway – not just because we do love a corner or two here at DirtFish, but because it brought back so many memories. Memories of Robert Kubica stopping here; Sébastien Ogier pulling over there; Petter Solberg changing a puncture in that layby and Thierry Neuville cleaning the side windows on his Hyundai in a car park in Entrevaux.

If roads could talk, the N202 wouldn’t shut up about Paddy Hopkirk, Vic Elford, Sandro Munari and Tommi Mäkinen. This road has seen it all down the years.

And then, memories done, you pop out where the mountains meet the sea and remember why the Monte Carlo Rally was born 113 years ago: to bring people out of the frozen French Alps to the seaside and the principality of Monaco.

Not that anybody competing on the original event would recognise the place these days, billions and billions of dollars are being spent on making Monaco bigger and the Mediterranean smaller. More than 12 acres have been added through land reclamation in recent years, much of it used to build more fancy flats for the growing population.

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And that’s the reason Monte’s moved back to gap. With so much construction going on about the place, it wasn’t possible to bring the rally to town for its duration.

One place which hadn’t changed is Casino Square. Hadn’t changed that is apart from the arrival of a rather hideous-looking shopping center right where the Automobile Club’s Sporting Club used to sit – and the Sporting Club was a place packed as full of fever and awesome Monte memories as you’d imagine.

Standing looking at the start ramp in Casino Square is an absolute highlight of every season. For a few hours, the Ferraris, the Lamborghinis and the ubiquitous, sunglassed masses of the Café de Paris are overlooked. Today the rally, with its cars and crews are all that matters.

And this one was particularly special with Toyota’s spectacular launch of the Kalle Rovanperä and Sébastien Ogier-badged GR Yaris acting as a precursor to the main event.

It’s a special time, a special moment. The pre-event chatter has stopped, the flag’s about to drop on a new year and it’s time to go.

It’s time to head for the hills. And head north in the direction from where we came this morning. Turning up the Var valley towards the mountains, the sun’s starting to set, painting the snow-capped Alps with the most beautiful pink hues. The temperatures dropping and the first of the season’s 2,500 competitive miles is about to be steered.

The stage is set.

Get it.