The Rallye Monte-Carlo
that was won without studs

The Rallye Monte-Carlo that was won without studs 01

On roads that are a skating rink, thanks to frequent ice and snow. Most hazardous of all is verglas, as the French call it: the insidious phenomenon that we know as black ice. This can suddenly appear even on roads that were completely dry up to that point, and it’s easy to imagine the terror on encountering it at the speeds that drivers easily reach on the ‘Monte’. As a result, the tyres play an even more important role than usual.

That was as true at the end of January 1995 as it is now. But the difference is that these days, it’s almost hard to remember just how cold and snowy some of the previous editions of the traditional season-opener used to be. 

These were conditions that Carlos Sainz loved. We’re not talking about the current Formula 1 driver, but his father of course: one of the top stars of world rallying, who won the championship in 1990 and 1992. By the 1995 Monte-Carlo he was driving the legendary Subaru Impreza 555, complete with its Pirelli tyres. The previous year, the Spaniard had just missed out on the title, after going off the road just a few corners from the end of the season-closing Rally Great Britain.

Sainz arrived in Monte-Carlo at the beginning of the next year with just one clear objective: victory. He needed to win, just to lay down his statement of intent for the season. Carlos was the perfect poster boy for Pirelli: he had made a decisive contribution to the development of the P Zero range for rallying, which in a number of situations had made the difference compared to rivals; especially when it came to versatility and grip in highly slippery conditions.

And for that Rallye Monte-Carlo, Pirelli had a special tyre up its sleeve, called the RT95 and distinguished by a particular feature designed for the tricky mountain roads above the Principality. It had no studs.

The Rallye Monte-Carlo that was won without studs 02

Providing maximum grip against the snowy and icy surface was just the tread pattern, but with a special construction and specific winter compound that was designed to cut through every hazard, however marginal the conditions.

In the world of rallying, it was a true revolution. On Rallye Monte-Carlo, the famous stages on the final night of action consist almost exclusively of steep climbs towards the top of a Col, followed by a rapid descent afterwards. These ups and downs contain a very wide variety of conditions: from dry asphalt, to wet asphalt, to snow and ice. But once you get to the very top, snow and ice is virtually guaranteed. If you use studded tyres, it’s a tricky compromise: they’re great for the snow and ice at the top, but in the places that are drier you have to go slower. Otherwise, you risk losing the studs – which will then turn the snowy bit at the top into a drama.

The final night of the rally: Sainz headed into it leading. When the route reached the epic Col de Turini, the conditions turned into a real brain-teaser. The ascent was mostly wet asphalt, there were four kilometres of full snow at the top of the Col, then on the way down it was 80% wet asphalt, with just the final three kilometres in dry conditions.

Go! And Sainz proved his mastery. Where there wasn’t snow he was flying, and when he got to it he limited the damage thanks to the winter compound that nonetheless provided good grip. By the end of the rally, he had a 17-second cushion over his key rival, France’s Francois Delecour, in a Ford Escort Cosworth (the previous year’s winner). It was the first time that a driver had ever dared to tackle a partially snowy Turini using a tyre without studs: therefore, closely related to a road car tyre. Sainz pulled it off, winning a legendary Rallye Monte-Carlo with a champion’s drive.

Read more