The opening round of the Clio Trophy France Terre got underway in snowy conditions and delivered on its promise with several battles throughout the Rallye Terre des Causses.
Last year’s runner-up in the general classification, Jean-Paul Monnin won in front of several Juniors led by Florian Bouchonneau and Sam Taveneau in an event that could be a precursor to a thrilling season in every category!
Winter-like conditions welcomed the crews during technical and administrative checks on Friday and they launched the second Clio Trophy France Terre campaign facing partially snow-covered roads at the start of the Rallye Terre des Causses.
In these tricky conditions, Romain Di-Fante won the first stage on his gravel return for the first time since 2017, edging out Jean-Paul Monnin. Despite a reply from the latter, Romain Di-Fante struck again on SS3 to come back at the service park with a 15.2 second lead over his rival, whilst Florian Bouchonneau, Mika Rasoamaromaka and Sam Taveneau battled hard for third place.
Jean-Paul Monnin continued his offensive in the afternoon on a now snowless terrain, taking the lead thanks to his best times on the first two stages repeated, but Romain Di-Fante fought back at the end of the day despite a gearbox problem to finish the first leg with an 11.6s lead. Meanwhile, the battle for the podium raged on, with Sam Taveneau edging out Florian Bouchonneau and Mika Rasoamaromaka.
Sunday opened with the longest timed sector of the day, which was also the Jean Ragnotti Power Stage rewarding the five fastest drivers. Mika Rasoamaromaka scored the maximum five bonus points, beating Romain Di-Fante, whose hope of victory was dashed after a mistake due to an incomplete rally note in the following test.
Jean-Paul Monnin reclaimed the lead, 18.2 seconds ahead of Sam Taveneau and 20.0 ahead of Florian Bouchonneau, who increased his pace on SS9 to narrow the gap to 8.2 seconds before the final stage. Despite the pressure, Jean-Paul Monnin used all his experience to seal the victory with a 14.6s lead over Florian Bouchonneau, winner in the Junior category ahead of Sam Taveneau. At the same time, Faniry Rasoamaromaka wrested fourth place from Julien Pontal, whilst his brother Mika Rasoamaromaka lost a lot of time following an error in the final kilometres. On his gravel debut, François Fraymouth put in a promising performance to finish sixth ahead of Florian Condamines, Marcel Abad, Gaël Alquier and John Laroche.
Leader in the Gentlemen category, Eric Royère saw Claudie Tanghe take the lead on Saturday afternoon, but the Belgian driver went off the road on Sunday at the same place as Romain Di-Fante. Lilian Vialle then took the lead and went on for the category win ahead of Eric Royère, who regained the advantage over Christophe Rocard late in the rally.
With the victory and one bonus point in the Power Stage, Jean-Paul Monnin leads the Clio Trophy France Terre ahead of Junior category leader Florian Bouchonneau in what promises to be an intense race to win an official programme with Clio Rally4 in 2023. Fun Meca Sport leads in the teams’ category, as do Garage De Sousa and Bandelier Automobiles in the Renault Network Challenge. The crews will head to the stages of Rallye Terre de Castine for round two of the season within the FFSA French Gravel Rally Championship (6-8 May).
Jean-Paul Monnin: “I am thrilled to win this rally run in unusual weather conditions. It was a great battle with Romain Di-Fante, and I was surprised how fast he was given his lack of gravel experience, but it shouldn’t have been knowing how good of a driver he is. It was a shame the duel didn’t last to the end, but some other young drivers pushed hard, and we had to battle just until the final kilometres for this victory. It was a blast from start to finish!”