How to go quickly on Rallye Monte-Carlo… by stopping

How to go quickly on Rallye Monte-Carlo… by stopping

Snow joke in Monte-Carlo
The perennial problem posed by Rallye Monte-Carlo – how to cover ground quickly when some of the stages are half-snow, half-dry – has thrown up a number of solutions over the years. One of them was a specially-created Pirelli tyre without studs, used by Carlos Sainz to win the 1995 Monte, which you can read about here.
Some ideas were more creative than others, and in the early 1980s it was Lancia at the forefront of them, as the Italian squad was fielding the rear-wheel drive 037 Rally, which was at a considerable disadvantage in terms of overall grip compared to the revolutionary four-wheel drive Audi Quattro.
Nonetheless, Lancia finished first and second in 1983 (courtesy of Walter Rohrl and Markku Alen) ahead of both factory Audis. This was partly because conditions were largely free of ice at the end of January – which may or may not have had something to do with the trucks allegedly hired by Lancia to spread salt on the stages…
But that didn’t solve the problem of snow at the very top of the Cols, and while not explicitly forbidden, salt-spreading was certainly against the spirit of the sport. So, to crack the four-wheel drive opposition, Lancia had to do something else different as well – and for inspiration, they looked to Formula 1.

One or two stop strategies?
The solution was to make a ‘live’ pit stop on long stages where there was snow on top of the mountain, but dry roads leading to the summit. At a designated point on the stage, the cars would pull over where their Pirelli dry asphalt slicks would be swapped for studded winter tyres to tackle the snow: benefitting from the best of both worlds. If needed, the tactic could even be repeated on the way down the mountain, when the snow turned to asphalt once more.
This maverick plan was the brainchild of team principal Cesare Fiorio, and while it wasn’t always particularly effective – the ‘pit stops’ could take up to a minute to carry out – it certainly created headlines and proved to be a brilliant example of thinking outside of the box (although no other teams ever tried it).
The fastest stop from the factory team in 1983 was 49 seconds for Markku Alen: he was the quickest Lancia on the 26-kilometre Pinet to Uriage les Bains stage, where the pit stops were first tried, setting fifth-fastest time overall. By 1985, the pit stop times had tumbled to half a minute or so.
Rohrl remembers: “We had a big discussion about it first but we had to do it: without the studs, we wouldn’t have got up the hill. I was first and it was horrible just sitting there in the middle of the stage for a minute, doing nothing. There was a fantastic atmosphere though with all the spectators and journalists, just like a pit lane!”
And here’s an idea of what it looked like:

Back in the box
Lancia continued to use this highly-unconventional tactic all the way until 1986, when WRC servicing regulations were eventually tightened and the mobile ‘pit crews’ were sent back into their boxes (or rather, service areas) definitively. But there were some notable successes along the way: Henri Toivonen’s famous win on the 1986 Rallye Monte-Carlo, with the Delta S4 and Pirelli, featured pit stops – and you can watch a helicopter view of one here:

On the whole, as one reporter observed: “In terms of overall results this bravado did little good but it proved the ingenuity of Cesare Fiorio’s planning and did more in demoralising the opposition than in actual stage times.”
Interestingly, only a couple of years ago, live pit stops during stages were on the WRC agenda once more as a potential way to provide an extra dimension. Former driver Michele Mouton, now WRC manager for the FIA, said that the governing body would look at it – but the project was eventually shelved. 
This tactic would only be of any real use in Monte-Carlo anyway, where there are always big gains and losses to be had, depending on tyre choice. Ironically, the fastest tyre is often the one that doesn’t feel ideal anywhere, as that tends to indicate a good compromise between snow and dry asphalt. And with reports of heavy snow on this year’s Monte, as Pirelli returns to the WRC after a year off, there will be a number of drivers wishing to turn back the clock and return to the glory days of Lancia’s pit stops…

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