This year, as the Rallye des Princesses turned 18, its principal sponsor, Richard Mille celebrated its third year as main sponsor of an event that brings together, for a week of adrenaline and adventure, modern women, classic cars, and a few choice watches.
One of the interesting things about Richard Mille’s affiliation with leading athletes is that, as is famously true for Rafael Nadal, part of this bargain is that the watches are worn during the actual athletic events, which issues them to rare tests of the durability. The overall styling is bright and brash, but that’s the point for so many of the brand’s watches, also you can’t deny that the specifications are striking – 32g to get a self-winding watch is remarkable. The Richard Mille RM 67-02 Sprint and High Jump are priced in the united kingdom at #116,000 with taxes.One of those interesting things about Richard Mille’s association with top athletes is that, as is famously true for Rafael Nadal, part of this bargain is that the watches are worn during the genuine athletic events, which subjects them into uncommon tests of their durability. This is even more striking thinking about the typical cost of a Richard Mille watch, and that tradition continues with these two new watches. The overall styling is brilliant and brash, but that’s the purpose for so many of their brand’s watches, also you can’t deny that the specifications are striking – 32g to get a self-winding watch is remarkable. You can expect to see these watches around the wrists of Mutaz Essa Barshim and Wayde van Niekerk at the 2017 World Championships in Athletics, which will take place in London from August 5 to August 13. The Richard Mille RM 67-02 Sprint and High Jump are priced in the UK at #116,000 with taxes.
As my co-pilot and I took off on the open road last week to participate in what is now officially called the “Rallye des Princesses Richard Mille,” we were happy to get away from our respective city-dwellers’ schedules to spend a few days behind the wheel of a roaring convertible zipping through the charming French countryside under a blazing sun.
The rally – which starts on a Sunday morning and ends the following Thursday night – is a five-day escapade for classic cars that begins at the Place Vendôme in Paris and meanders through country roads from chateau to golf course, from cathedral to alpine peak, before coming to an end on the Place des Lices in Saint Tropez. Here, the thrill is as much about the journey as it is the destination. Covering some 1,600 kilometers, the Rallye is the brainchild of a woman, Viviane Zaniroli (also the force behind the Rallye Neige et Glace and the TransMaroc) who in 2000 launched the first edition of the race, taking inspiration from the all-female Paris–Saint-Raphaël rally, which had run from 1929 to 1974.
Les Princesses is open only to women but there were a handful of husbands and other male hangers-on in tow, some designated as “followers” or photographers, alongside the teams providing roadside assistance or tending to organizational details. Pressed for time and pulled by other obligations, my co-pilot and I could only spare two days on the road at the wheel of a convertible fiat spider 500, a modern roadster provided by the Richard Mille organization, a tad loud but powerful, stable and agile on twisting and narrow country roads.
Each of us sporting an elaborate Richard Mille Celebrity Watches Replica timepiece – mine a RM 0701, a tonneau-shaped, curvaceous number with a diamond-set dial on a rose gold gourmette bracelet, and my co-pilot’s a fully diamond-pavé version – we embarked on the adventure, unsure what an all-female rally would bring to bear.
© Nazanin Lankarani
Over 200 women had made the commitment, with 98 participating cars registered in what is essentially a “regularity” race, meaning that it measures not speed but precision in following a road book handed out daily to great anticipation, within a speed average that leaves little room for U-turns.
That way, whether you are driving a Ferrari 328 GTB 1988 (no. 88) or a Mini Innocenti Cooper 1973 (no. 70) – the latter, a returning participant and last year’s overall winner – you stand the same chances of winning either a segment or the entire race. In 2015, the rally implemented the Tripy GPS system used in the Dakar and Monte Carlo Historic rallies, thanks to which it is now able, via satellite, to make more frequent regulatory checks, provide accurate rankings and tracking of driving teams.
Mr. Mille has cleverly tapped into an event supercharged with female power. His sponsorship is perfectly coherent with his brand’s image and DNA. Given that his clientele is now 25 percent female, it is only natural for Mr. Mille, who has just signed a 10-year partnership with McLaren, to tap into a niche market of women who appreciate mechanical performance and share the same values of precision, elegance, and glamour.
Mr. Mille himself was present, while we were there, only in spirit and in print on the banners that welcomed the cars at each stop of the race, having travelled to the US to lend his support to Simon Pagenaud, the French professional driver racing for Team Penske while sporting a RM 11-02 Automatic Dual Time Zone in the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 auto race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 28. For those of us running on this side of the pond, at each pit stop, Mr. Mille’s logo was a welcoming sign of relief: you knew you had arrived at destination when the black and white banners bearing Mr. Mille’s name came into view.
Visually entertaining were the “flower power” stickers on some cars, and the driver duos wearing matching and often amusing outfits, some in girlie pinks complete with fashion accessories, every detail meticulously thought-through before the race. But do not be fooled by the display of lighthearted, girlish silliness. Here, the women know their cars and come for the thrill of the race. As true aficionados, they endure the daily 400-km-plus drive through sometimes challenging roads, suffering the thinly padded car seats hardened by age and the lack of discernible suspension, under a pounding sun with no air conditioning, inhaling fumes rich in oil and gasoline, all for the pleasure of taking in the charm of a vintage car, the patina of old metal, the sound of a roaring engine and the scent of a bygone era.
© Jules Langeard
The pause at the Chateau de Pont-Chevron, deep in the Loire valley in a town oddly called Ouzouer-sur-Trézée, was something out of a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. Facing the lawn of the 19th century chateau overlooking the stillness of an immense lake where we halted for a light lunch served in a “dependence” of the property, one could almost imagine Jay Gatsby standing on the mansion’s terrace, staring across the vastness of the pond toward Daisy Buchanan’s house, his yellow 1932 Duesenberg parked out front.
© Jules Langeard
For Trui Vanhaelemeesch and Sophie Ghesquière from Belgium driving a Fiat Dino 2400 spider (1971), the Rallye des Princesses means getting together every spring with like-minded friends for a week of competition and good fun. “We have been doing this race for years,” said Ms. Ghesquière, an anesthesiologist by trade, during dinner our first night in Saint-Aignan. “We finally bought our own car. I have a mathematical mind, so I measure the distances and speed averages and my partner drives. We never switch.”
The crossing the Alps on the way to Mandelieu before Saint Tropez promised even more spectacular sceneries and technical segments that, sadly, we missed. When we quit the race in Vichy to take a train back to Paris, at the halfway point of the itinerary, our heads were filled with the sprawling views of wheat fields and the lingering smell of pines trees, and our minds with the assurance that the women we met were in the race were there to win, to be girls for a week, and to crush any lingering stereotypes about their commitment to precision, endurance and things mechanical.
Photo gallery © Jules Langeard