Patrick Tambay: 1973 Monte Carlo Rally
The 1973 Monte Carlo Rally is remembered for many things – protests, police intervention, blizzards, and a week of long, tortuous stages. However, how many of you knew it was future Formula 1 winner Patrick Tambay’s first rally?
“My first racing season was in 1972 in Formula Renault,” says Tambay. “In the winter of ’72/73 some friends of mine said ‘let’s put some kind of deal together for a car for the Monte Carlo Rally’. I had never done any rally!
“So we approached Renault and they said, ‘Ok, it’s a Renault 12 Gordini, we are going to have a car with Jean Ragnotti, can you find some sponsors?’ That’s what we did,” he adds. “We had two cars. Jean was experienced, and I was a rookie. He was number 20-something, and I was #79 – far back!”
To say it was an adventure for the Frenchman from start to finish is an understatement.
“We came down from Paris to Monte Carlo,” he recalls. “We arrived in Lyon – these were the days when everyone started in various locations to get to Monte Carlo on the Concentration Run to the start. For us though, the engine blew up in Lyon on the way. Boom! We had no idea for what reason. The only chance for us to carry on was to put a standard Renault 12 Gordini engine in from the local Lyon Renault concessionaire. So we did! And we carried on to the start at Monte Carlo. It was a hell of a start to my rallying career.
“You have to be ready for anything, but I was happy to be there,” he says. “It was a long, long drive, and you start to get into the spirit of it with all the people in the villages, stopping for coffee and so on.”
In those days the Monte Carlo Rally was a week-long marathon, with a very special atmosphere and build up of emotion that shared with the public in the snow, through night and day. It was a true test of stamina.
“When you do a rally you share so many things with your co-driver, your team, and the public,” Tambay says. “It’s a different family, and a different feeling from track racing. Today we have data acquisition, TV, the on-board cameras – the teams know a lot more about what is happening in the car. It’s harder to share your emotions and adventure.”
Adventure wasn’t far away for Tambay in 1973. Midnight stages, snow… Patrick takes up the story. “I must have been one of the last cars on the road to pass the Burzet stage, and a lot of cars got stuck after they neutralised the stage because of a blizzard. It was nighttime with a snowstorm. Cars were stuck here, there, everywhere.”
He is not wrong. ‘Chaos’ maybe the best way to describe it. As part of a 31-hour day, the blizzard was the final straw. Leader Bernard Darniche was the first car on the stage, and the first to plough off. Next was Bjorn Waldegaard, he too went off down a bank. Of the 64 cars that were allowed to start the stage, 21 went off. When the stage was stopped, 144 crews were still due to run. They did not – and to compound what was already a fiery situation, the organisers disqualified the non-starting cars from the rest of the rally, which started the driver and team protests and unrest…
Tambay was among the ones to leave the road. “I had Michelin studded tyres, and still went into a field. I didn’t even take the corner. I just went into the field.
“A lot of the other cars were stuck,” he continues, “and there was controversy and big fights with the organisers, the police and protesters, but we stayed out of trouble. When we arrived at the end of the stage I looked at my co-driver Gérard Marion, he looked back, and we just burst out laughing. It was like a nervous breakdown. ‘What happened here?! We did it!!’ It was a nightmare situation but we were so happy to be out of the blizzard.
We ended up 15th on the stage! Ragnotti was 14th. I kept those result sheets from that stage for a long time until they disappeared in a trash can when my wife threw them away – with a lot of other things unfortunately – when she was pissed off at me!”
Tambay’s Monte Carlo adventure was not over though.
“On the last night on the Col de Turini leg, we started just behind Ragnotti but our gearbox got stuck in third gear, and I couldn’t get it out,” he remembers. “I decided not to do anything silly, and I stayed in third the whole night, spinning the clutch at the start of the stages.
“One time we went straight on into a corner, and we were about 20 metres too deep into an intersection. We had hardly any clutch left, engine running, and the spectators came running and pulled us back onto the road. I opened the door, said “thank you”, and shut the door on a spectator’s fingers. He was running by the side of the car… I opened the door again and said “sorry!”
We finished 20th. We were very, very lucky to finish 20th with so many incidents along the way. There was one corner where I went sideways into the barrier, and behind the barrier was a gendarmerie car. Both our cars had side impact damage. That just sums up Rally Monte Carlo.
“The Monte is special. You cannot fail to be impressed with the crowd, the stages and the atmosphere. C’est Magnifique.”
Special thanks to Patrick Tambay, Willy Arnault and Christian Courtel for the images.