A bucolic escapade…
In the run-up to the start of the 19th Richard Mille RALLYE DES PRINCESSES, the crews concentrate on final adjustments to their gleaming classic cars, while an admiring public look on. At 8.30 a.m. as Paris awakes, the signal is given for N° 1, a 1965 Mercedes-Benz Pagoda, to leave the podium in the Place Vendôme and set out on the (5 leg) 1 800 km drive from Paris to Biarritz.
Today’s agenda means motoring to Beauval (Loir et Cher) – the first leg comprising some 350 km with 3 TSD Zones. Those leading already hint at an exciting finale. This evening, next to the panda enclosure, a reptile glides into provisional first place….
The AC Cobra (N°38) driven by Adeline Paquiers and Héléna Euvrard (27 points) is ahead of Ouzel and Allez in their Alfa Romeo Spider (N°61) and the VW 914 Porsche (N°60) piloted by Belgians Allemeersch and Grymonprez - both have 31 points.
Long live cycling! Instead of the 4 TSD zones announced, our ‘Princesses’ had to contend with a mere three. This was due to the cycle race taking place in Guillerval near Etampes which coincided with part of the rally course. It was a small hitch, but nothing our ‘Princesses’ couldn’t handle, driving on to TSD Zone 2 in Ingrannes (Loiret), just after a coffee break. Tension mounted along with the temperature, and our novice rallyists experienced an epic drive along leafy minor roads through the Centre-Val de Loire.
A sunny drive… No clouds or storms spoiled this 19th automotive event. Brilliant sunshine accompanied the pilots and co-pilots, to the joy of the 40 convertibles such as the 1955 Jaguar XK140, the Austin Healeys, the Mercedes 190 SL, the Alfa Romeo Spiders, the Ferrari California 250, the MGA’s,the Fiat 124 Spiders and the 1968 VW Beetle. The 180 rallyists beamed in the spring sun, as they slid their magnificent cars down the podium ramp with panacheto, heading for the Centre-Val de Loire.
No chance for a warm-up! After leaving Paris, the crews actually drove straight to TSD Zone 2 (a cycle race had taken over part of the Princesses rally course). After stopping for coffee at the Château de Chamerolles, they embarked on their first 14.6 km long test through the Forêt d’Orléans. With this, the first hitches - the VW 914 Porsche driven by Hélène and Valérie suffered a faulty pump, team N°2 (two first-timers from Burma) meandered through the French countryside and turned up late for lunch at the Château de Champvallin in Sandillon.
The first breakdowns. After a quick lunch, our modern Princesses had to tackle the next sections - TSD Zone 3 (15.8 km) and TSD Zone 4 (14 km) in Loire-et-Cher require honed navigational skills to reach the sumptuous Jardins de Beauval hotel close to the zoo. Some contestants, for example Mylène and Samantha (N° 94, this year’s youngest crew), encountered setbacks and had to wait for assistance in their Porsche 911.
Valérie’s bad luck. Earmarked as favourites, Marina and Valérie encountered difficulties with their Ferrari 308 GTS, which ground to a halt on the verge at the start of the day’s last TSD Zone. They dominated the placings these last two years before making fatal errors, and this time suffered penalty points for not respecting the timings.
Two sisters at the wheel. Sixty-something Odile and Sylvie, motorsport fans for years, have embarked on the rally for the first time. Their impressions on arriving in their 911 Targa - ’’We were really nervous this morning before we set off. We had no idea it would require so much concentration. If you lose it for a second, things start getting complicated! So we’ve decided to debrief at each stage!’’ (laughter).
David vs Goliath or Pontiac vs. MG Midget MKII. Valérie and Christine, oyster farmer and olive seller at Royan market, have entered the rally for the first time with a 1957 Pontiac Starchief straight from California. They appear alongside first-timers Aurélie and Emilie from Normandy with a 1965 MG Midget MKII. Their cars may differ in size, but they are both a delightful shade of blue!