Estonians had their first contact with the Monte Carlo star race in 1929 when Julius Johanson started from Riga towards the Pearl of the Mediterranean. He had been sent on his way with great expectations, but his journey was spoilt by a snowstorm and the tricks of his competitors. German Rudolf Caracciola, whose fame at that time could be compared to Michael Schumacher’s status today, also started from Riga with two service cars. In the snow storm, Caracciola’s assistants did everything the hinder the Estonians progress. Once one of the service cars turned in front of the Estonians, another time Johanson’s car was simply pushed into a ditch. Journal Auto described the incident: “Then the men who were clearing the road for Caracciola’s car – there were about twenty of them – rushed to our car and pushed the Buick with us into the ditch.” The race was discontinued because of the great loss of time.
From the very beginning...
Tallinn instead of Riga
A year later the start was moved from Riga to Tallinn. In the system that was used for accounting of results at that time, the distance of starting place from Monte Carlo also counted and that made Tallinn very attractive. But the roads were a problem. Berliner Tageblatt’s reporter Fr. Arnau compared the situation with the Far East and wrote: “And then (on the border of Estonia and Latvia) you arrive in a primitive land, with almost impassable clay roads where sometimes 10-inch deep tracks hinder driving, and the sides of roads were so slippery due to frost that a car could go down into a ditch any moment.”
Especially angry were the Germans because the ladies who accompanied them became seasick on those roads. Caracciola threatened to load his Mercedes on a ship and have it sent back to Berlin. Actually, nobody left the race but the warning worked – on the next star races the roads were in a lot better condition.
From the Estonians, Alfred Zimmermann – Julius Johanson took part on Auburn in 1930; in spite of successful start (they were the second to arrive in Berlin) they discontinued in Belgium because of motor failure.
On this rally, too, the Estonians did not escape the tricks of competitors. In Königsberg they had to wait for more than an hour for the stamped road book to be returned to them, in Berlin the Estonians were misled by a “pilot car” that drove around and took them to one and the same street three times instead of guiding them through the city.
In 1931 Tallinn was once more one of the places the star race started from, but this time it was again the snow that caused trouble. In Estonia, the roads were cleared, but in Latvia, from Cēsis to the border of Estonia, the roads were impassable. And so only one car made it to the start, and even that car got stuck in the snow in Latvia on its way back.
After the break of one year, the start was again given in Tallinn. In 1933 Frenchman Maurice Vasselle, driving a Hotchkiss was the general winner. But it was a Miss E. M. Ridell, who also participated in the race, caused the biggest stir in the newspapers. Namely, she lost a bag with diamond jewelry in Pärnumaa county. It was found and “Päevaleht” described its contents: “The lost and found handbag contained a golden cigarette case, a necklace, two rings, one golden and the other of platinum, two pins decorated with little diamonds, and other articles of lesser value – toiletries, pills, etc.” The finder, a farm girl Ida Kiisajon was given 45 kronas as a reward.
A very peculiar vehicle also started from Tallinn: Lord Clifford’s Gardner-Diesel-Bentley with the 5.5-liter diesel engine. It was the first race car with a diesel engine in Europe.
Star racers were accused of smuggling drugs.
Monte Carlo Rally caused the greatest confusion in 1934 when the team consisting of Alfred and August Zimmermann, Nikolai Mets and dancing master Arseni Poolgas drove an Auburn. They arrived in Monte Carlo and finished as the 53rd. On their way home, a scandal arose. The racers were stopped at Laatre border control point and accused first of trafficking cocaine and then of smuggling it. Later they were acquitted by the court.
But it seemed this power demonstration by the authorities had its impact because in the next two years no Estonian racers started from Tallinn.
The last start from Tallinn to Monte Carlo (again without Estonians) was given in 1939. But the format of the star race survived for much longer, it was still in use in 1996. But the Estonians had to wait for real success until 2004 when Markko Märtin won second place in the overall competition. But this was already at another rally and is a different story.