Pierre Roché won for the fourth consecutive time, edging out rival Ludovic Godard by 0.7s on Rallye Cœur de France.
Victorious on his and Team FJ's home soil, the 48-year-old driver secured the title ahead of the season finale in the Var region to join Julien Saunier and Grégory Fontalba as Alpine Elf Rally Trophy title-winners.
BWT Alpine F1 Team driver Esteban Ocon got behind the wheel of the Alpine A110 Rally to open the stages in front of a large crowd in the Loir-et-Cher.
Despite suffering a puncture in the final kilometres of the rally, Raphaël Astier gave the A-arrow brand another success in the French Two-Wheel Drive Rally Championship.
Eight crews were in Vendôme for the Rallye Cœur de France, the penultimate round of the 2023 Alpine Elf Rally Trophy season. Among the contenders, Pierre Roché was the favourite for the event in his region and that of his team, Team FJ. Headed by Jérôme Galpin, the team also gave the zero car for Esteban Ocon, who was welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd in the service park and along the roads on Saturday.
The competition, however, was determined to delay Pierre Roche's title, and Ludovic Godard proved this by immediately taking a 12.5s lead. The Team Minerva driver jumped into the lead, as he had done in the previous three rounds, but he conceded 1.5s on the next timed sector before attacking again in the final morning stage to finish the first loop with a 40.0s lead.
Cut to thick after his mistake in the opening stage, Pierre Roché returned to form in the afternoon with four consecutive stage wins to close the gap to 23.0s. Ludovic Godard took advantage of a stall by the local driver in the short super-special through the streets of Vendôme to extend his lead to 26.1s, but following the allocation of the definitive notional times for SS3, his advantage dropped to 14.3s.
On Sunday morning, Pierre Roché took his first step towards the title with the retirement of his closest rival in the general classification, Jean-François Mourgues. Now sure that victory would be his crowning glory, the Team FJ leader continued his offensive in the two longest stages of the rally. Back to within 7.9s at midday, Pierre Roché continued to close to within 2.9s before the final special stage on the Savigny-sur-Braye roads.
In this 25km section, Pierre Roché edged out his rival by 3.6s to claim victory by just 0.7s after 192.67 km of frantic action. The podium was completed by Vincent Leduc, who had long battled with Frédéric Perriat until the latter went off in the SS11. Vincent Leduc also comfortably won the Gentleman category ahead of Éric Giannini, while Armand Fumal took fifth place from Jean-Luc Roché by 3.3s in the final
Scoring his fourth consecutive triumph in the Alpine Elf Rally Trophy, Pierre Roché claimed the title ahead of the Rallye du Var (24-26 November). There will be plenty to race for in the season finale though, as the new champion could also win the Challenger title whilst the Gentlemen category promises to be wide open, with Jean-François Mourgues and Vincent Leduc now tied for the points lead. The results, however, have been suspended pending further post-rally technical verifications.
Meanwhile, the Alpine A110 Rally cars monopolised the top five places in the French Two-Wheel Drive Rally Championship. Raphaël Astier, who had long been fifth overall overcame a puncture on the final stage to preserve his victory ahead of the other Alpines driven by Pierre Roché, Ludovic Godard, Cédric Robert and Vincent Leduc.
Pierre Roché: "This fourth win was the hardest to achieve this season because Ludovic gave me a lot of trouble, and that's what I love about this sport. I made a mistake on SS1, but it was one incident after another with a time penalty that needed rectifying, then a deer costing me a few seconds on Saturday afternoon, a stall in the super-stage and another stage neutralised on Sunday morning. It didn't look good for us, and I must admit that it would have bothered me not to win on home soil. We really'pulled out all the stops to get this win by seven-tenths of a second and it comes with a nice bonus, the title. And that won't stop me from targeting victory again in the Var!"
Vincent Leduc: "It was a tough rally, as this was my first Coeur de France and the times showed that as we were much closer to the leaders in the second loops. Sunday was a bit tricky to manage with stoppages on both special stages, but in the end, we're very satisfied with the result as we made up some of the points lost at Mont Blanc. We'll look closely at the general classification in our category so that we can take on the Rallye du Var in the best possible conditions."
Esteban Ocon: "It was an honour to open the Rallye Cœur de France with the Alpine A110 Rally. I'd like to thank Team FJ for hosting me so nicely and Maxime Galpin for being my co-driver for a day. I am, first and foremost, a motorsport enthusiast and I had my first rally experience with the Alpine A110 S at the 2021 Rallye Monte-Carlo. I wanted to do it again with a racing car, and my respect for rally drivers is all the greater for it. I've learnt a lot while enjoying myself. The Alpine A110 Rally is incredible. It has a lot of grip, but more importantly, it gives you confidence as soon as you get the hang of it, even on technical roads. A big thank you for this wonderful day and to all the spectators for their support on the stages!"
Philippe Sinault: "We'd like to congratulate Pierre on winning the title in style on home soil, where the Alpine A110 Rally debuted as a zero car in 2020. The standard of the Alpine Elf Rally Trophy has undeniably risen this year, establishing it ever more firmly in the French rallying landscape. To see such sporting battles with victories decided by less than a second is a huge pride for our teams, and we're already looking forward to the Var, where two more crowns will be on the line."
1. Pierre Roché – Martine Roché 1h47:00.8s
2. Ludovic Godard – Damien Augustin +0.7s
3. Vincent Leduc – Caroline Puel +4:17.5s
4. Éric Giannini – Alexandre Denuzière +9:46.9s
5. Armand Fumal – Jules Escartefigue +10:41.2s
6. Jean-Luc Roché – Olivier Bacle +10:44.5s
Ret. Frédéric Perriat – Samuel Passetemps
Ret. Jean-François Mourgues – Michel Roissard
* subject to post-rally technical scrutineering
1. Pierre Roché 80 points
2. Ludovic Godard 57 points
3. Vincent Leduc 47 points
4. Jean-François Mourgues 47 points
5. Jérémy Crétien 30 points
6. Fabrice Bect 29 points
7. Grégory Fontalba 20 points
8. Éric Royère 19 points
9. Éric Giannini 18 points
10. Armand Fumal 8 points
11. Bertrand Fassio 8 points
12. Loïc Panagiotis 8 points
13. David Ferraro 6 points
14. Jean-Luc Roché 6 points
15. Romain Haut-Labourdette 4 points
16. Cyrille Traglia 4 points
17. Philippe Baffoun 3 points
18. Élodie Gines 1 point
19. Romuald Lamboley, Alain Marechau & Frédéric Perriat 0 point