Rallye Monte Carlo runs under the flag of Monaco but all the stages are driven in France. Similarly the center of the rally is in the French city of Gap although the start and Finish are in Monaco. The rally offers again a unique blend of tarmac, ice and snow on mostly narrow roads in the forests, countryside and mountains. Other specialities of the event include a remote night break, night stages, normal stages on Thursday and absence of super specials. About a third of the route is new compared to last year.
Last year the start of the rally was exceptionally at Gap, but for this year it’s moved back to Monaco. Thus the shakedown is driven again already on Wednesday evening.
The shakedown of Gap – Gap itself is unchanged from previous years. It’s an angular road starting in the forest and ending in the countryside. There’s a couple of tricky junctions on the way but no hairpins. Often the stage has been less snowy than the actual stages.
Thursday offers again two night stages on the way from Monaco to Gap with a tyre change area at Digne-les-Bains just before the start of the first stage.
SS1 Malijai-Puimichel might be a new stage to the current drivers, but it has been used before, last in 1994. The roads are quite narrow and bumpy throughout the stage. It’s actually the lowest elevated stage of the whole rally with the beginning at 450 m and the highest point at 800 m above sea level, whereas most stages are hundreds of meters higher. The stage is also situated further South than the other Gap-based stages. This
amateur professional spectator recce video shows the nature of the stage.
The beginning is medium wide and quite angular – fast passages combined together by tighter corners. At 5.4 km there is an uphill hairpin where the stage becomes narrower and starts to ascend with an almost Corsican constant flow of corners.
There’s narrow bridges at 7.5 km and 8.2 km. This is also where the stage becomes slightly more technical. The top of the col is reached at 12 km and then there’s a a few long tight corners but not proper hairpins. It gets a bit faster towards the end.
SS2 Bayons – Breziers has been used often in the past, but not last year. This year it’s the longest stage of the rally at 25 km, so even Even Monte Carlo has adapted to the trend of shorter stages.
The road is mostly fast and angular, but at times bumpy. There are some very high speed sections all over the stage, like the very beginning. At 1.8 km the road becomes considerably narrower at the infamous sequence of ascending hairpins, Les Tourniquets.
The stage returns to the fast pace but there’s a technical section at 6.5 km. Another technical passage features at 13.3 km with big cuts and the corner where Thierry Neuville broke his rear suspension in 2017. Another tricky part is at 17.3 km and the narrow passing of the La Freyssinie village at 18.5 km. After 18.8 km the stage becomes considerably more difficult. There’s a narrow bridge at 20.8 km followed by a junction and a downhill, and yet another village passing at 22.5 km, this time at Chaumenq.
Now the Friday stages are driven South and East of Gap. About half of the route is new to the drivers.
Friday starts with SS3+6 Curbans – Venterol, modified from last year’s Curbans – Piegut stage. The stage begins on a very narrow mountainous forest road. The surface is broken and tree leaves could make the road slippery. At 1.8 km an ascend through hairpins begins. There will be 450 metres of elevation during the next six kilometres. Some places in the shadows could be treacherously snow.
At 9.9 km the route turns left instead of last year’s right. On map the road looks angular and slightly technical. At 14.3 km there’s a hairpin junction to a smaller road with a couple of junction turns. The route returns to a wider road at 16.3 km. The ending of the stage is fast with two long tight junctions, first uphill and then downhill.
SS4+7 St-Clément-sur-Durance – Freissinières is a completely new stage. This recce video shows the first 14.4 km of the stage.
The road is again rather narrow and worn. The beginning is fast-flowing with a couple of tighter bends and narrow village passings. Then the route descends through hairpins. A very fast section in the valley begins at 7.5 km. At 13.2 km there is two junction turns as the road starts ascending to mountains, becoming again more technical and narrow. Passing of the village of Le Chambon is very narrow and tricky at 18 km. Just before the end of the stage there’s a 90° turn onto a bridge. Then finally there’s the narrow passing of the village of Pallon.
SS5+8 Avancon – Notre-Dame-du-Laus was last year the second Thursday night stage. It’s mostly angularly fast with a few slower corners here and there jarring the flow. The beginning of the stage is medium wide, ascending slightly. At 4.6 km there’s a turn onto a narrower and bumpier road but the rhythm remains similar. At 12.2 km there’s a tricky twisty downhill section and at 16.2 km a very technical section in the forest. At 18.4 km the stage passes the town of Notre-Dame-du-Laus and the road becomes wider. At the end there’s a couple of faster downhill passages.
The Saturday stages are also situated South-East and East of Gap. Both stages are familiar from last year.
Saturday opens with SS9+11 St-Léger-les-Mélèzes – La Bâtie-Neuve, which is familiar from the previous years. It starts in the town of St-Léger-les-Mélèzes with a donut. After that a fast and medium wide countryside road leads to the skiing center of Ancelle. Right at the beginning of this section, Elfyn Evans went off last year heavily into a ravine.
The ascent begins at 6 km and the stage becomes more technical. On the descent in the forest the road becomes narrower and bumpier. It has also been typically more snowy and icy on this side of the col. In 2017 Juho Hänninen ended his rally here after a rendez-vous with a tree.
Once the stage emerges from the forest the road is suddenly wider and often drier, with some spectacular descending hairpins and fast bends.
SS10+12 La Bréole – Selonnet was last year the opening stage of the rally driven in the dark, now in daylight. The stage alternates between forests and countryside. In the beginning the road is quite narrow, bumpy and technical with an angular rhythm alternating between fast passages and slow corners. Back then this section ruined the rallies of the Finns Teemu Suninen and Kalle Rovanperä before they properly started.
After a tricky downhill section at 8 km the stage turns onto a wider road for a hyper fast section cut with a triangular junction chicane. A tricky passing through the town of Selonnet then leads to a narrower forest road which is fast and flowing. There are even some sharp crests which could make the cars jump! After a technical passage at 15 km there’s a junction turn. This section is tricky thanks to constant descending. Finally a wider road is joined again at 17.3 km. However, it feels a bit narrower thanks to the high rock wall on the right side of the road.
After the Saturday stages the cars are serviced and then driven to Monaco for a remote overnight break. It’s also good to remember that there’s no restarting available for retired crews between Saturday and Sunday.
A morning tyre change is done early on Sunday morning in Monaco before the final leg on the North side of the principality. The stages are the same as the two previous years. They feature wider roads than on the other days and have typically been less snowy.
SS13+15 La Bollène-Vésubie – Peïra Cava starts on a relatively wide and smooth but only medium fast road in the town of La Bollène-Vésubie. It proceeds to the classic section where the road is banked on a steep cliff. A series of hairpins appears at 3.4 km and it remains more technical afterwards.
The stage ascends a total of 900 metres during its first half and it gets usually more snowy and icy the higher the stage gets. The ascend ends at the infamous hotel yard of Col de Turini, although the configuration and driving direction of the route is now different. Comparing to this video from last year, in the old days the cars would have come from the right and gone to where they now come from.
At this point the rally reaches its highest elevation, over 1600 metres above the sea level. Soon the stage becomes less twisty but more tricky, thanks to the descending. You can only imagine how tricky the first half would have been in the downhill direction. Finally the stage is very fast at the end.
SS14+16 La Cabanette – Col de Braus begins with a tricky descending section, containing all of 15 hairpins. The road is wide at first but becomes quite narrow at times. Down in the valley the road becomes less twisty but a bit rougher. After a couple of ascending hairpins there’s a faster forest section where shadowy places with patches of ice could be surprising. The road narrows at 8.7 km and becomes more bumpy and technical. Gravel could also be pulled onto the road on this section. In 2018 the ending of the stage caused a slight off for Esapekka Lappi
The two previous years the stage has ended just before a hairpin. For this year the end of the stage is already a bit earlier.
Road conditions and starting order
In Monte Carlo the weather plays a bigger role than in any other rally. It could be a snow rally, a tarmac rally or anything in between. If it’s very snowy, it’s difficult to be first on the road, whereas on dry tarmac it’s the other way around.
Tyre choices are very crucial and usually conditions vary from stage or section to another, so it’s always a compromise. The choice must also be done hours beforehand so the weather could already change after the tyres are put on. The role of weather and safety crews is also important.
The complete entry list isn’t out yet, but we can assume that the 2019 champion Ott Tänak will start first on the road. He will also keep that position for the Friday stages.
– Added recce videos of SS1 and SS4+7 and updated the stage analyses.
– Added stage numbers