THE PRINCESSES’S GREAT ESCAPE
The cloud level was low at the start of the second stage of the RALLYE DES PRINCESSES RICHARD MILLE as the competitors set off through the countryside for the spa town of Vichy. But despite a little bit of drizzle early on, moral among the competitors remained high. It’s been a pretty winding road since Paris. The clock has been running and the penalties have been stacking up. Following the road book requires total concentration and the hairpins, climbs and descents don’t make respecting the average speed easy. The lunch stop at the magnificent Château de la Crête proved a welcome break but before long everybody was back on the road heading into the challenging Gorges de Chouvigny. Happily the sun had made a reappearance, to the point where the competitors were glad to reach the shade of the chestnut trees of the Parc des Sources, where their cars will be parked up overnight.
LE STATUS QUO AMONG THE CHAMPIONS
This 20th anniversary edition of the RALLYE DES PRINCESSES RICHARD MILLE is turning out to be one of the most hotly contested ever. A top 3 that score exactly the same number of points (23) on this second stage: we’ve never seen that before! If you add that to the fact that this evening the first five in the overall rankings are separated by just eight points and you get an idea of how fiercely this rally is being fought over. Winner of today’s stage, MARIE PÉRIN and CATHERINE LABBÉ (VW GOLF n°79) mark 17 points ahead of the three overall leaders, who neutralise each other with 23 points apiece. Overall CAROLE GRATZMULLER and ELISA NOEMIE LAURENT (Chevrolet Corvette Stingray n°56) lead with 50 points, three ahead of the AC COBRA n°100 of ADELINE PAQUIERS and HÉLÈNE EUVRARD. Tied in 3rd place are MARINA ORLANDI CONTUCCI and VALÉRIE DOT (Lancia Beta Monte Carlo n°90) and the duo of PÉRIN-LABBÉ with 55 points. Rounding out the Top 5 and also 5th on the day are INÈS and BÉRÉNICE COHEN (Porsche 911 SC n°94), who most certainly haven’t finished trying to climb up the leader board!
FLASHBACK: TWENTY YEARS AGO…
Martine Lievens: “I’ve been completely hooked ever since… “
Twenty years ago, almost to the day, the RALLYE DES PRINCESSES set off for their odyssey over France’s most scenic roads. With 18 cars on the start line this atypical event broke down stereotypes, allowing women to get behind the wheel on a rally specifically designed for them, by them… MARTINE LIEVENS, a keen motorsport fan, was at the start of that very first edition. The Belgian pilot, the record holder with 16 participations, was accompanied back then by her partner JACQUES HEYMANS. Today she is once again taking part on this 20th edition of the RALLYE DES PRINCESSES RICHARD MILLE aboard her Ferrari Dino n°72. She remembers her first adventure as if it was only yesterday: “It was our compatriot Alain Lopes, the course maker for the event, who told us about the Rallye des Princesses while we were on the Liège-Rome-Liège. We entered with our Ferrari 250 GT Pininfarina which had belonged to Prince Bernhard des Pays-Bas. It was surrealist. We arrived at the Place Vendôme, after quite a few technical problems, to be confronted by a sea of cameras. That probably had something to do with the fact that most of the crews at the start were authentic princesses from the noblest families in Europe. It was the first time I’d ever driven a race car… and I’ve been completely hooked ever since! In the end we finished third and that will no doubt remain my best result, despite my 16 participations…
TOMORROW: FROM THE AUVERGNE TO THE ALPES
Stage 3: Vichy - Saint-Lager - Aix-les-Bains (341 km)
Hairpins and climbs: over this 3rd stage on the RALLYE DES PRINCESSES RICHARD MILLE the competitors will attack the mountains. From the Auvergne to the Alps for just one day navigation will give way to pure driving pleasure. But care will need to be taken with average speeds, not always easy to maintain when driving a classic car at over 1000 metres, especially with numerous passes to be climbed, such as the Grand Colombier, at 1,501 metres the highest point of this 20th edition. After that there’s the ‘toboggan run’ descent to Culoz. With a series of tight bends and incredible views over the Rhone Valley, it will be an unforgettable moment. The rally caravan will then run alongside the Lac du Bourget before arriving at the night stop in Aix-les-Bains.
Carole Gratzmuller (Fra/Chevrolet Corvette Stingray n°56): “Everything is going perfectly with my co-driver Elisa. We both know exactly what we have to do and so far our results are pretty good. Between us we have a total of six victories and that experience is paying off. But there’s a very fierce battle going on at the top of the rankings. I’d say there are a good dozen crews fighting for the final podium. We just need to stay focused on the job in hand, because you could throw it all away with the slightest mistake.”
Marina Orlandi Contucci (Ita/Lancia Beta Monte Carlo n°90): “My husband raced this Lancia in 1974 on the Rallye de Monte Carlo. To make it a little bit more ‘Princess like’ we have decorated it in the style of the fashion house of my mother-in-law, Mila Shön, who dressed Jacky Kennedy and also designed the uniforms of Alitalia, which pleases my co-driver no end as she is an air-hostess. Our car gives us a lot of positive energy. She is stylish and sporty. We mess around a bit but it seems to work. We are concentrated and relaxed at the same time.”
Leslie Gullino Destas (Fra/Porsche 356 n°37): “Being a co-driver on the RALLYE DES PRINCESSES RICHARD MILLE means you have to think of everything… all the time. The distance, the stopwatch, the resets to zero. Sometimes you get a little bit worried about getting car-sick. It definitely isn’t a stroll in the park, but a true competition and I’m loving it. It empties your mind, you don’t think about your job, not too much about your children. We aren’t maybe as well equipped as the top teams but we are hoping to get to the end with the best possible result.”
Rosie Cusack (US/Corvette Stingray n°38): “Obviously for an American to come over here there’s a few complications, the road signs, stuff like that. Other stuff however has been unexpectedly easy. For example, we got really lucky renting a car from a guy in Nice called Fabrice Leroy. He’s been incredibly accommodating, has provided a support team, who delivered the vehicle to Paris and provide assistance. Obviously there are costs involved but they are worth every penny because the experience has been fantastic and that kind of thing is priceless. I organise big events myself at home so I am qualified to say that what the organisers have done here is simply amazing.”
Cecile Viennot Cappelle (Fra/MGB n°89) “When my husband was restoring our car he said I should enter the Rallye des Princesses when it was finished. I researched the event a little, met the organisers and decided to take him up on his offer. I was interested in the human aspect, sharing something with my co-driver and with the other competitors. As far as the competition side of things is concerned we didn’t want to come last but I’m surprised how much you get caught up in it. Fortunately the organisers give you a navigation course, so although we lack experience, we have a pretty good idea of what’s going on.