Passing on somebody else’s good wishes to a driver fighting for a win on the Monte Carlo Rally can be a little bit tricky. But this time it was worth it. Having listened to Sébastien Ogier dissect his Saturday at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta WRC, the Frenchman was done. Ready to roll.
Engineers and the rest of the world wanted a word. But this one was too important.
“Vic Elford sends his best,” I said.
While Ogier has dominated the WRC for close on a decade, it’s sometimes hard to gauge his appreciation of the sport’s history.
His eyes lit up.
“Vic Elford!” he replied. “Really?”
He wanted to know how and why I’d been chatting with Quick Vic. He knew him. He knew all about him.
The reason I’d been talking to Elford in early 2018 was to mark the 50th anniversary of his Monte win aboard a Porsche 911. The then defending European Rally Champion’s success in the French Alps remained Britain’s last victory on one of the world’s most famous motorsport events.
That was something which staggered the Florida resident.
“It’s unbelievable,” Elford told me. “I don’t really understand it. It’s not like Britain’s been short of some great drivers. Obviously we had Richard Burns and Colin McRae and both of them were in great cars, capable of winning the rally. And now we have Kris [Meeke] as well.”
Elford’s 1968 win was unexpected to many who simply couldn’t see the 911 as a viable option.
For him it was about two things: gravity and bravery.
He continued: “One thing which won me the Monte was an extraordinary ability to go quicker than anybody else downhill. Anybody can go quickly uphill, but it takes real balls to go down the other side.
“I developed this on the 1967 Tulip Rally, when we did two runs down the Ballon d’Alsace. At that time, this section was an absolute gift for the Minis – I beat Timo Mäkinen by a second and everybody else by a long way.
“I’d really got to like the Porsche, it suited me and I could drive it quickly. In all honesty, I could have won the event three years in succession. If a blizzard hadn’t come in and caught me on the wrong tyres in 1967 I would have won that year and then I crashed when, unbeknown to me, I’d moved into the lead near the finish in 1969.
“I’ll be honest and I never really had any great problem with the Monte. It was tricky, but [my co-driver] David Stone and I developed implicit trust in each other. We developed pacenotes which were head and shoulders above everybody else’s. David knew if I crashed, I was taking him with me!”
Never afraid to speak his mind, Elford made his feelings about the Automobile Club de Monaco’s handicap system – a system he felt invariably favored cars from a certain country.
“The year I won,” he said, “it was the first year they got rid of those stupid regulations designed to make sure Citroën always won.”
Beyond rallying, Elford was, of course, a Formula 1 driver with 13 starts to his name. His biggest success on track, however, came at Le Mans. He won his class twice at the 24-hour race twice and talked openly of how his rallying ability helped shape his success at la Sarthe.
Having sent a 911 over the Turini in the pitch black with snow and ice around every corner, the Mulsanne Straight in the rain at a couple of hundred miles an hour aboard a Ferrari 365 was almost mundane for Elford.
Ironically, Ogier is now setting about emulating the sort of sportscar success Elford enjoyed this season.
Undoubtedly, Quick Vic would have approved of a circuit-stage crossover he’d made his own.
The bloke was a legend. And a great, great conversation. One that will be sadly missed.