Living the dream in a #Mercedes
on the Monte / #1955-Mercedes-Benz-220a
As a 32 year old, I have friends who are preoccupied with the latest shiny offerings from Audi, BMW and Mercedes. But here in Northern Ireland we are steeped in a motor sport heritage that’s the envy of many in the motoring world, and when I was growing up, not too far from Dundrod, I was told of the 1955 Tourist Trophy by my grandfather, who was a spectator. Images of it captivated me as a boy, and in 2015 I finally decided to stop just thinking about historic racing and to actually do something about it.
I bought a #1955-Mercedes-Benz-220a
– chosen because it is eligible for many events in Europe – unseen from Tasmania via the internet. To my huge relief, it arrived safely and in working order! Then, having researched many historic events in order to choose one that would be suitable for a beginner, I took the not-very-sensible option of diving straight into the deep end with the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique.
In my naïvety I imagined driving the beautiful roads of Southern France, sipping wine, eating great food and enjoying a good night’s sleep in plush hotels. This thought did not last long, as when I spoke to anyone in motor sport they all had the same response: laughter followed by ‘Good luck!’
The day before the start from Paisley, our car had no front end and the engine was in bits due to problems with the fuel line and electrics. That co-driver Gary Greenberg and I even made it from Belfast to Glasgow was a victory; everything else would be a bonus! The reception in Paisley was truly fantastic and the realisation hit me that I was at last fulfilling my boyhood dream of a Monte Carlo start.
When we crossed the Channel into France, panic began to set in as I realised that this was a serious event. Column-shift selector issues in Calais meant that we had no reverse gear, and the roadbook might as well have been written in hieroglyphics.
The Automobile-Club-de-Monaco officials kindly explained what I had done wrong by passing every Control, but we soon got the hang of it. The good night’s sleep I had hoped for was replaced by two back-to-back days of no sleep and hard driving, including during the night, when temperatures dropped below freezing and tiredness was a constant threat. Our car was pushed to the limits on the demanding roads.
The fuel-line issue we had before the start recurred on day four, meaning we spent most of it in a supermarket car park covered in petrol. This cost us dearly and we remained at the rear of the field – which meant we had no time to stop and fix issues, because the Time Controls were closing. The stress of continually watching the clock to maintain average speeds was taxing, but eventually we reached #Monte-Carlo
, where the sight of the marina made it all worthwhile.
We had just a two-hour break before the final stage, which started at 8pm and ran until 5am: the infamous Col de Turini. We were warned that it started as dry tarmac but quickly turned to ice, snow and then tarmac again, and there had already been crashes. We came to the decision that you only live once, and went for it.
The hours in the hills were the most thrilling, exciting and scary of my life, but we did it and made it back over the finishing ramp. It was also our best result of the event, in terms of points. Standing in the middle of Monte Carlo, on the finishing ramp of the rally with the Automobile Club de Monaco medal in your hand, has to be one of the most special feelings you can have.
Some people might not rate historic rallying because it doesn’t involve the sheer speed of modern rallies, but it is much more than that. It’s an endurance event where crew and car must work together over several days to make the finish. The roads are demanding, stress high, competition fierce – and the reward when you make it to the end is pure and utter joy.