At the wheel is Monaco-born Christophe Berard, who works at the Casino de Monte-Carlo and is a skilled rally driver in his free time. His friend and co-driver, Christophe Bernabo, sits alongside him. From the 22 to 27 January, the two friends will take their place on the start line in their Renault Twingo R1 for each of the special stages in the 87th Monte-Carlo Rally. With only a few days to go before it begins, Christophe Berard talks passionately to us about a race very close to his heart...
What does the Monte-Carlo Rally represent to you?
Most of all it’s a great story, which for me began in 2005. I was with a friend one evening and we went up to the Col de Turini to watch the cars go by as they did that stage of the rally. Later in the evening I challenged him to come and drive with me... And he took me up on it. So I decided to stop with the French Championships to give the Monte-Carlo Rally my full attention with my friend and new co-driver. That friend was Christophe Bernabo, and this year will be our seventh rally together.
How do you prepare for the Monte-Carlo Rally?
With your team! Mine is entirely made up of people I work with at Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer: technicians, mechanics, PR... We prepare each rally year by year. Getting a car ready to drive in a world championship series requires a certain budget, and by all working together we’ve got to the point where we’re pretty good competition. From a sports perspective, the special stages are long. So there’s a minimum amount of training you need to do to be able to stay the course! This is essential if you want to keep performing well. We’ve won our category [RC5 – ed.] three times: in 2010, 2017 and 2018. Who knows – maybe we’ll do it again in 2019!
Are there any similarities between the adrenaline of motor sport and the feeling when you're in a casino?
In some ways, yes: when you’re sitting behind the wheel or at a casino table you forget everything else and ignore anything happening around you. You become intoxicated, and sucked in by the road in the same way as you can get sucked in by a game.
Can you tell us a bit about the route for this rally?
You could drive this rally fifty times and it would never be the same race twice. Back when I was racing in the French Championships, you could do the Rallye du Var ten times over and the race conditions would be pretty much the same every time. With the Monte-Carlo Rally they are always different – you’ll never get bored of it. It really is my favourite race!
How do you feel behind the wheel once the race starts?
I’m in my bubble, and I’m 200% focused. What with the snow, the ice, the dirt and the tarmac, there are a lot of tricky parts to the Monte-Carlo Rally. This means that Christophe and I have to be completely focused on the route. But this bubble is something that sportsmen and women are very familiar with. I’ve also done a bit of high-level skiing and when you’re on the start line for a slalom course you need to get yourself in the same headspace. I also found that, going from skiing to rallying, I had to work on the route in the same way. There was the same sensation of speed, the same time pressures.
Do you ever get scared?
We gave ourselves a real fright last year, but it happened and we soon forgot about it. If you start to think about things too much your times suffer, so you need to just get back in the saddle and keep going. It’s true that it puts the brakes on you for a moment. But you have to learn how to move on fast.
Pro/amateur: what are the differences?
Pros have endless budgets, top mechanics, managers, PR teams... There are no limits. Although we can do some pretty great stuff, amateurs are inevitably much more limited. Alongside the technical staff, we take care of around 90% of all the car prep. That takes us a lot of time. But whereas a pro might race to get results, I do this rally to enjoy myself and bring pleasure to others. For me it’s all about sharing the experience. Amateurs are obviously more accessible.
As a race environment, Monaco is...?
It’s childhood memories. It’s a fantastic start point in the Place du Casino. It’s legendary special stages. It’s arriving at Turini in the dark, with flashes sparking and spectators screaming... It’s unforgettable. Nowadays you do it during the day, but it’s still an incredible moment. Put simply, the Monte-Carlo Rally is thrilling from start to finish! I get emotional just talking about it. It’s a very special time for us.
Do you have any unforgettable memories of this race?
I remember when I was a kid, my mum took me to the Col de Turini to watch the rally. As I watched the cars drive past I remember saying to myself: “That’s going to be me driving that car one day”. My first Monte-Carlo Rally was in 1993, and I was a co-driver at that point. And on that same descent down from Turini, I remember reading out the left hairpin bend where I stood with my mum to watch the cars go by. That was the first special stage, during my first Monte-Carlo Rally, when all my childhood memories came flooding back. I had lived my childhood dream! And I keep living it with every new rally. That’s why when families come to watch us today I try and share as much as I can, I take the kids into the car. You see their eyes light up and it’s amazing. I was the same!
Where’s the best place to watch the race?
The Col de Turini, or the Col de Braus. I know those two special stages very well, and I can really have some fun there.