A Journey Across The Rhône Valley With IWC For The Rallye de l’Automobile Club de Genève
When our friends at IWC Schaffhausen proposed that Watchonista participate in the 2021 edition of the Rallye AC Genève organized by l’Automobile Club de Genève, the question wasn’t if we would go, but which car would we bring?
We immediately thought about the Lancia Abarth A112, a.k.a. the “WatchoniCar.” But let’s face it, even if that ultra-light Abarth is a mountainous queen, the odds of arriving at our destination in that car were small while the chances of us coming back in one piece were close to zero. The Italian fragility...
With our photographer Pierre Vogel, we settled on a smoother, more comfortable option for the 800 km rallye with an early 1990’s Mercedes 300 SL-24. After all, IWC and Mercedes have a close relationship when it comes to Formula One and road cars. So, once we affixed an IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 and a Big Pilot’s Watch 43 to our wrists, we were ready to hit the road from Geneva’s old town for a memorable rallye across the scenic landscape of France’s Rhône Valley.
At the Start with the Mercedes 300 SL-24
Overall, 22 cars were registered to the 2021 Rallye de l’Automobile Club de Genève. Upon arrival, we were greeted by AMG Racing and regrouped early on a sunny autumnal Friday morning at Cathédrale Saint-Pierre in the heart of Geneva.
An eclectic mix of highly qualitative collectible cars was already there. From an elegant Alvis to the legendary Martini Lancia Delta Integral parked alongside what seemed like a family tree of vintage Porsches, it was clear that each philosophy of driving and car collecting was present.
Our friends on the team for Roadbook Magazine/Klausen Garage – entered a remarkable 1966 Mercedes-Benz 230 SL Pagode. And I can tell you, the atemporal perfection of Paul Bracq’s design is just as impressive in 2021 and is, perhaps, even more attention-worthy and desirable than in decades past. A pure lesson in style.
Another impressive car was the Ferrari Daytona Spider 365 GTS/4 from 1973, a.k.a. “A Colorwork Orange.” Only 122 of these paradigmatic examples were ever produced, so this superlative Ferrari isn’t a common sight.
To be honest, as I saw the Daytona, I kept wondering if it was an original because immediately upon seeing it, I thought it more closely resembled a late-1970s Ferrari 308 GTB Berlinetta modified to look like the Daytona. In truth, I couldn’t help but think of the oft-modified Ford GT40 or AC Cobra Shelby.
One thing was clear, our drivers and collectors would end up running millions of dollars’ worth of cars across mountainous roads and even a racetrack (the Ferrari Daytona, alone, cost 16 million CHF). It was positively insane to see such marvels in action, including the inimitable sound of the Daytona’s Columbo V12, 4.4 liters engine delivering 352 HP for a high speed of 281 km/h.
We were appointed Car N°1. We also had the privilege to be the first car to hit the road, so we at least held that position for a brief moment before the competitive spirit of the race took over the other 21 teams.
Over Roads and Track
Over the course of the race, we traversed more than 800 km, which included timed portions to test drivers’ pacing, precision, and circuit skills. And through this weekend, our best friend became the rallye’s roadbook, which included all the race instructions. How did we time our adventure? Our trusty IWC Pilot’s Watch 41 Chronograph, of course. It was particularly helpful for measuring our progress during the event’s various stages.
The first part of the rallye was a pacing stage, and it had us leaving Geneva, heading south, towards the Circuit du Laquais. The objective of a rallye is not to be the fastest but to keep the same pace throughout the entire race – in this case, three days. The smooth-yet-sporty driving style was maintained throughout by our team, despite pit stops and a few wrong turns. But as is said in the world of classical music: “Allegro ma non troppo,” or, “Fast, but not overly so.”
Thus, when we arrived at the Circuit du Laquais, we took a few warmup laps. But we realized after only the first two laps that keeping a constant pace would be more difficult than we anticipated. Plus, much to our chagrin, we realized that we had already seriously worn our brand-new tires. However, we soon got the hang of it and had a ton of fun at the track.
After a lunch break, we continued towards our next pacing test at Tain-l’Hermitage. And as we made our way there, driving along the small, scenic roads, we had the privilege of seeing beautiful vegetation and landscapes that changed, seemingly, every kilometer.
After a long first day, all participants met at the enchanting Tain-l’Hermitage for a well-deserved dinner, and the camaraderie shared among and between rallye teams was evident. It was clear we all shared the same passion for vintage cars; and, as we soon learned, timepieces.
Timing Is Everything
The second day was a succession of scenic roads and picturesque views over Haute-Loire, Ardèche, and Drôme. At one point, we had to pass some precision tests. The challenge was to adapt your speed to arrive at the exact time of each position indicated in our roadbook.
While gazing at our IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41, I kept a constant eye on the tachymeter. And I must confess, we were good at this test, and our success supercharged the competitive spirit within the Watchonista crew!
After another incredible day of driving, we finally headed to the magnificent Château les Oliviers de Salettes for the highly anticipated IWC Party. And with a giant representation of an IWC Big Pilot’s Watch 43 at the bottom of the deep end of the panoramic pool, we knew we were at the right place. The night started with a sunset cocktail followed by a gourmet dinner and a nightcap involving Davidoff cigars. Again, an extremely enjoyable moment as the good vibes and fun atmosphere were palpable.
All Good Things Must Come to an End
On the third and final day of the rallye, we drove back to Geneva, passing through Vercors Massif. Between sky and earth, that journey was sensational.
The last leg was on the highway as we headed to the finish line, where the winning team would be named, and each winning driver award an IWC watch. Over the 22 cars in participation Watchonista’s crew finished mid-pack, placing a pleasantly surprising (for us) 11th. We will, for sure, be back next year but with even more fire to win.
Finally, thank you to IWC Schaffhausen for such an amazing opportunity, including our takeover of their Instagram during those memorable three days.