20th Rallye des Princesses Richard Mille

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It is the 20th-anniversary edition of the Rallye des Princesses Richard Mille. Richard Mille partner Aurora Straus participated in the rally. Carole Gratzmuller and her co-driver, Elisa Noémie Laurent, won the rally aboard a Chevrolet Corvette Stingray n° 56.

The 20th Rallye des Princesses Richard Mille departed on 1 June for five days of blacktop adventure that wound through all the splendours of the French countryside. A full 1,700 kilometres of pure pleasure for an exceptional event that has become a not-to-be missed gathering of Ladies’ motor racing.

The sun had barely risen behind the famous column gracing the Place Vendôme as the 91 crews prepared to embark on a first stage of 303 kilometres with no less than highly technical 14 regularity zones on their way to Beauval. The sun shone brightly, as did Aurora Straus, the young American driver and partner of the brand, who slid behind the wheel of the N°1 car, a red Porsche 356, one of eight Porsches sporting Richard Mille’s livery and dedicated to special guests. The 20-year old Straus is a familiar figure on motorsport tracks Stateside, where she has competed against men in the IMSA Continental Tire SportCar Challenge for the past three years. ‘Throughout the rallye, I was impressed by the prowess and dedication of so many women. The rally is extremely competitive — many of these women have been participating in regularity events for decades. I’m hoping that longer-term, many participants will go on to other regularity rallies internationally, and I think many of them would be pleasantly surprised by how competitive they are in male-dominated fields. I had an incredible time exploring France and learning more about regularity events, but what has left the largest impression on me was, by far, the remarkable women I met along the way. The experiences of women are very similar across male-dominated fields, from racing to business and luxury. Part of what Richard Mille and I espouse as a brand is deliberately changing the narrative of women in these fields, and promoting women who love adventure and competition. I had the privilege of spending a week with other strong women, and of making connections that will last a lifetime. When women work together, incredible things happen!’

From the fields around Orléans to the châteaux of the Loire valley, the Zoo de Beauval marked the end of the first day’s itinerary. The second day, along country roads winding out of sight in the distance, the destination was Vichy, the celebrated thermal spa. Weather was mixed, with drizzle depositing a fine mist on windshields, but motivation was still in top gear. Hairpin turns, twists and steep grades came thick and fast in the Gorges de Chouvigny. At the finish line, the rays of a sun that put in an afternoon appearance were filtered through the groves of chestnut trees in Vichy’s Parc des Sources. Just eight points separated the top five crews in the overall rankings.

From Vichy to Aix-les-Bains, the Princesses had no time to stop and pick the daisies on day three of the rally. The contestants were treated to sunshine and the Mistral in equal measure as they travelled the Rhône valley. From the Auvergne region to the Alps in a single day, the pleasures of navigation gave way to thrills at the wheel. The drivers put on their show over 1,000 metres above sea-level, with several high passes in particular, including the Grand Colombier Pass, which, at 1,501 metres, was the literal high point of this 20th edition. The following day was the longest stage of the entire race. Over 400 kilometres had to be covered to reach Saint-Tropez on the eve of the concluding day. The day’s programme included no less than four passes, beginning with the Col de Parquetout, at 1,382 metres, which features a northern flank with an impressive grade averaging over 10%. Heading down from the Hautes Alpes to Provence, the competitors drove the storied Route Napoléon. The fifth and last day of the rally, three regularity zones were scheduled on the way to Taradeau and the Château Saint-Martin, birthplace of the Rallye Paris-Saint-Raphaël, celebrated forbear of the Rallye des Princesses Richard Mille, before circling back to the pearl of the Côte d’Azur. Just two points—or seconds—distinguished the top two crews in the general rankings as they moved into the homestretch, duelling it out in countryside behind Saint-Tropez. Suspense and bated breath guaranteed!

In the end, the stopwatch played traffic cop in Saint-Tropez, breaking the tie. The result? A fifth victory for Carole Gratzmuller and a third for her co-driver, Elisa Noémie Laurent, aboard a Chevrolet Corvette Stingray bearing number 56. A triumphal ovation awaited the 200 Princesses as the last mechanical roars were heard. ‘We could not have imagined a more wonderful week with which to celebrate the 20th year of the Rallye des Princesses Richard Mille. The weather was just perfect, the race was tight up to the finish line, and we have two magnificent winners who perfectly embody what this sporting challenge is all about. It’s a rally for women that has nothing to envy the most famous of men’s events,’ confided Viviane Zaniroli, the rally’s organiser.

Barely had she blown out the candles of this 20th edition, but Viviane and her team had already begun planning the 21st edition, which will take place 6-11 June next year.

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