The Monte Carlo Rally might be over for another year (and you can read about it here) but don’t imagine that’s the last we’ll see of angry little cars tearing around the snowy cols at preposterous speeds this month. The Rallye Monte Carlo Historique sets off on Friday (29 January).
And this year there’s a treat in store in the form of Jean Ragnotti, 70 this year, back behind the wheel of the car he drove to victory in the Monte when he was a mere 35-year-old.
That would be the Renault 5 Turbo then, the actual yellow-and-black No 9 which won on its first outing. Ragnotti and co-driver Jean-Marc Andrié brought the car home almost three minutes ahead of the Talbot Sunbeam Lotus of Guy Fréquelin (and Jean Todt!) in the 1981 event.
And here they are doing it, in this short video, complete with some nice in-car and on-car camerawork to give a real flavour of top-class rallying before the Group B monsters took over from the following year…
Talk about a rallying timewarp. But the sport didn’t stay like this for much longer of course, thanks in part to something else that distinguished the 1981 Monte: the debut of the Audi Quattro, in the hands of Hannu Mikkola. The new fangled four-wheel drive machine crashed out in ‘81, but the writing was on the wall. The thought of a Renault 5 – even a turbocharged and mid-engined one – ever being able to repeat its success amid the coming Group B cars seems fanciful now, though Ragnotti did win with the Renault 5 in the 1982 and (with the R5 Maxi Turbo) 1986 Tour de Corse.
Ragnotti’s Renault re-run in the Monte classic this year is but one of four crews fielded by Renault Classic to mark the 35th anniversary of the 5’s debut win. The other cars taking part are all (front-engined) Group 2 Renault 5 Alpines, one of them driven by 1969 Gordini race scholarship winner and F1 driver Michel Leclére.
Of Ragnotti, Renault says: ‘He turns 70 this year but has lost none of his celebrated acrobatic driving skills.’