Stage 1 > Richard Mille Rallye des Princesses 2016 > Place Vendome to Dijon
Classic cars have become part of my life. I fell in love in a classic car. Since my induction during the 2014 Goodwood Revival and subsequently moving to Paris last month to live with the Pilot who drove me in his Jaguar XK120 from Paris to West Sussex. From the exact starting point of this rally I’m about to share, I have joined a world that is not exclusively reserved for men, contrary to popular belief. Classic cars to me represent individuals with true passion, friendships made along the way via mutual appreciation of these incredible machines, seem to be some of the tightest friendships I know.
Throughout the year, I co-pilot the same Jaguar on our own adventures through France and beyond. Always a co-pilot never a pilot, I’ve been dying for some hours behind the wheel in France to gain some confidence on the road, and to maybe even buy myself my first classic car and who knows, complete the Tour Auto one day?
Someone who has been tirelessly championing classic car pursuits for women is Viviane Zaniroli, (wife of rally driver Patrick Saniroli) organiser of the Rallye des Princesses, which is in it’s seventeenth year.
Three years ago the rally was changed to all female crews only, highlighting the passion for women succeeding in automotive pursuits, without the need for their husbands who sometimes overshadowed their driving abilities.
In it’s seventeenth year, the Rallye des Princesses, sponsored by Richard Mille for the second year is a 1600km rally, always beginning from the Place Vendôme Paris. This year arriving in St Tropez on it’s fifth day, the rally combines elegance, glamour and performance.
The contestants are made up of 80 teams, a Pilot and Co-Pilot, and follow a strict road book, signalling every single turn and distance to the minute detail. Focus is everything, and nothing counts but the clock. Your performance is controlled by regularity not speed. There is no point in tying to make up for lost time in between the strict time control stations for each stage between locations is timed to an average. Each second over speed (there are monitors in your car to track your speed and distances) incurs 2 penalty points – twice the cost of being one second too late. It is the team with the fewest penalties who win each stage. Regularity is of the essence.
This avant-garde attitude is shared by Richard Mille. The brand born of it’s creators passion for motor sports and extreme technicality, has been crafting watches for women since 2005. During the rally I was invited to put the extra flat RM67-01 through its paces.
I was invited to take part in Stages 1 & 2 of the Rallye des Princesses, from Paris to Dijon on Day 1, and Dijon to Evian on Day 2. The rally continued to Courchevel on Day 3, Pont Royal for Day 4, arriving in St Tropez on Day 5.
The cars are conducted in compliance with the International Sporting Code of the FIA. The rally invites vehicles to apply in either the ‘Historic’ (collectors cars from the pre-war to 1991 based on first registration) and ‘Classic’ (prestige replicas of vehicles in the Historic category)
The day before we set off, the cars gathered at Place Vendôme for their technical inspections, engine checks, sponsorship sticker applications, and pilot and co-pilot preparations. Once all the technicalities were completed, all teams met for a pre-rally cocktail and safety de-briefing. I teamed up with my great friend Roxy Rafter who came over from the UK for the rally. Wth an American drivers licence Roxy had a bit more confidence with the French roads than me, so we shared the driving together whilst I gained some confidence!
~ Day 1 ~
We arrived to our cars at 7.30am on Day 1. The key to a successful rally is driver preparation. Whilst the pilot must attend the wheel and to nothing else, the co-pilot needs to be responsible for adhering to the road book and monitoring the instrument panel and distances travelled between each road book signal.
It’s important to prepare the road book, highlighting the route allows you to follow the signals quickly. Often for the co-pilot it’s not about what the road looks like, you must follow your distances alerting the pilot to every turn. One wrong turn, you’ve lost your route. This year, Stage 1 was punctuated by 4 regularity tests (we may have had a discreet stop at the boulangerie on our way to the first stop).
We followed the Seine out of Paris, covering vast stretches of vineyards and rolling farmland. We were heading for Château de Montfort not far from the village of Chablis in the Burgundy region. The unpredictable weather saw us drive through thick storms until lunchtime which was all the more testing for the convertibles, a feeling I have gotten to know well.
As the teams arrived and departed at Le Château Montfort for lunch, each concentrating on their own time categories, we got to plotting the afternoon route where we were heading for Dijon via Montallery, Noyers, Montbard, Venarey and Valsuzon.
We made our way to the afternoon regularity point in Prehy, the sun broke through, and a little sun dance in the fields to stretch our legs and take some photographs of the other participants lightened the mood after a morning of serious concentration.
The afternoon brought a taste of history, passing some magical historical sights in Burgundy. Around 336km completed in Day 1. Many twists and turns, many wrong roads taken, but today was about learning the rules and getting to grips with the car and the roads.
No better way to arrive than being greeted with a glass of champagne as we parked up for the night. Day 1 was a thrill, it had been a long day, but we were looking forward to Day 2 heading to Lake Geneva and the spa town of Evian-les-Bains.
Stage 2 coming soon.