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In Paris, The Princesses Rally

By Caroline Suganda

Final rally verifications at the Place Vendôme.
 
Richard Mille
Final rally verifications at the Place Vendôme.

On 27 May, the Place Vendôme in Paris welcomed a fleet of head-turning vintage and historic cars, driven by women, for their final verifications for the Rallye des Princesses (The Princesses’ Rally) Richard Mille. Among them are a Jaguar XK140, Ferrari 328 GTS and Porsche 911, an impressive start to the five-day (on the road) rally, which would officially begin the next day.

More than 90 teams from all over the world, including France, the United States and even Japan, took part in this women-only motoring event that stretches from Paris to the finish line at Place des Lices, Saint-Tropez.

Watchmaker Richard Mille is, perhaps, the only man responsible for this motorsport grandeur’s taking place at the core of the world’s watchmaking and jewellery cradle, Place Vendôme. In 2015, the man with the eponymous watch brand had the chance to meet Viviane Zaniroli, creator and organiser of this 17-year old event at a vintage automobile event. “[Richard] was immediately fascinated by the notion of a rally that was strictly for women,” says Zaniroli, who is married to rally driver Patrick Zaniroli. “The women of today are showing a genuine interest in mechanics, and this is true for both automobiles and watches.”

Richard MilleRichard Mille has been the rally's principal sponsor since 2015.
Richard Mille has been the rally's principal sponsor since 2015.

An avid collector of classic race cars, Mille’s chateau in Brittany houses many of his “babies”— as he affectionately calls them — including legendary racer Bruce McLaren’s first Formula One Car, which he had received repeated offers to sell. Furthermore, in the last 10 years, Richard Mille has, in his watchmaking business, put a lot of attention on women. In 2014, the brand extended its women’s collection extensively, and it has been the case since then.

The all-female motorsport event is the perfect fit for Mille, whose passion lies in machines and engines. The same year he met Zarnoli, Richard Mille joined as the principal sponsor of the event, which is now known as Rallye des Princesses Richard Mille.

Richard MilleThe road to Saint-Tropez is a scenic drive consisting of winding roads that takes in the Parc du Mercantour, a nature reserve in the Alpes de Haute Provence. With no GPS allowed, the co-driver relies on a road book and map to navigate.
The road to Saint-Tropez is a scenic drive consisting of winding roads that takes in the Parc du Mercantour, a nature reserve in the Alpes de Haute Provence. With no GPS allowed, the co-driver relies on a road book and map to navigate.

The rally only accepts women drivers with vehicles belonging to two categories: historic (1947 to 1989 makes) and reproduction of historic vehicles. Each team — which consists of a driver and a co-driver (navigator) — competes in a five-day road challenge with regularity tests along the way. The winner isn’t the “fastest,” but the most regular in terms of staying true to the pre-set schedule.

Richard MilleThe rally is open only to women drivers.
The rally is open only to women drivers.

More than a friendly competition, The Princesses’ Rally has been bringing some of the world’s most beautiful century-old cars and the women who collect them. With just a road book and a map, these women test their driving and navigating skills while enjoying the breathtaking French countryside — with the comfort of top-notch accommodations and meals thrown in.

In each of the rallies since 2015, Richard Mille has brought esteemed clients to experience the thrill and appreciation for classic cars, as much as they do for his watches. The next rally will run from 2 to 7 June 2018 (book early as spots are limited).