An unassuming mountain pass in the deep pine forests above Menton is a sacred place for all rally fans. Its stone walls tell thousands of stories of the fine line between the victory and oblivion. Right here, set against the backdrop of fireworks lit by the spectators, winners become legends. Welcome to the most famous special stage of the whole WRC series, Col de Turini.
The atmosphere of the famous mountain pass is well-known to many ŠKODA Motorsport crews. We went to explore it behind the wheel of a ŠKODA SUPERB iV SPORTLINE. The maximum system output of 218 horsepower and lowered, sporty suspension are perfectly suited for Col de Turini – and not only here, because this part of Côte d’Azur is well worth a longer trip. We will begin our journey by heading towards the famous mountain pass at Nice. We will drive over roads familiar from Bond movies, a road built by Napoleon to invade Italy, and follow the legendary F1 city circuit in Monaco. You can drive around the world over and over, but you’ll never find such a combination of experiences concentrated into just 140 kilometres.
Between the curbs of Monaco
In the first part of our trip, we will switch the toll highway A8, which follows the whole French Riviera, for the costal road M2654, called the Grande Corniche. Routes through Nice are very well marked, so you won’t lose your way. The first part will lead you high above the picturesque peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, with its opulent classical villas, then through the Eze pass and along beautiful, sparsely populated hills with azure blue sea breaking at their feet.
The road winds pleasantly and the sure-footed suspension lets us know that this will be a fun drive. After about 20 kilometres, you will drive through the town of La Turbie, where you will turn right towards Monaco and, after ten or so hairpins, you drive into the city. Midway through your descent, a well-known panorama of the bay, complete with skyscrapers, will appear in front of you. This is one of the famous roads where Princess Grace drove her beloved convertibles.
As a motoring enthusiast, one of the things you just have to do when you come to this town of luxury is to drive the Formula 1 circuit. We start at the Place du Casino. Behind the fountain, we take the first right, downhill through the Mirabeu turn into the sharpest chicane of the championship by the Grand Hotel. The red and white curbs leave you in no doubt about where you are -and by the way, it’s really tight in here. Next, there are the two right-handers of the Portier passage and the tunnel, after which we arrive at the marina with the Nouvelle Chicane and the bust of local hero Louis Chiron. Behind the marina, there is the Rascasse turn with a small café, which leads us to the finish straight, where we leave the city circuit and follow the D6007 road along the sea towards Menton.
We drive this stretch along the densely populated coast in purely electric mode, in which the SUPERB iV is certainly able to surprise. An electric motor with an 85 kW power output gives the car great dynamics even without using the petrol engine. You can be quick off the line at the traffic lights, and passing slower cars is a breeze. Menton is the last French town on the Côte d’Azur and its situation in a wide bay with a beach reminds us of a smaller, more intimate Nice.
Sharp ascent from Menton
In the middle of the town, you take a sharp left on the D2566 road towards Sospel, which lies mid-way towards the Col. Even the first stretch of the ascent before Castillon is fantastic. There’s a great surface with loads of grip and a fantastic combination of fast, sweeping corners and tight hairpins. Out of the turns, all of the 218 horsepower come into play and makes it clear that the hybrid power can make for a lot of fun behind the wheel. The electric motor and petrol engine are perfectly in sync. In the sport mode, the electric motor helps the 1.4 TSI four-cylinder with a good dose of power, which comes very naturally, without any lag. From the driver’s point of view, it feels like the engine has a larger turbocharger with more boost.
From Castillon, we take a tunnel towards Sospel, followed by a seven-kilometre descent into the town. A perfect opportunity to recharge the battery a bit through recuperation and look forward to a proper drive. We still have 1,000 metres to ascend in less than 24 kilometres!
Behind Sospel, the surface of the roads gets worse because of the higher altitude and rougher winters, but the ŠKODA SUPERB iV remains comfortable enough even in the sport mode. Along the cliffs lining the left side of the road, we approach the spectacular stretch before Moulinet, with beautiful terraced hairpins that offer a stunning view of the valley below. It’s the perfect atelier for car photoshoots.
After Moulinet, the road changes again. The tight hairpins are now just cut into the hillside and the surrounding forest changes from leafy to coniferous. Faster stretches are interspersed with sharp, 180-degree turns, which is demanding when it comes to proper braking during the rally. The tyre marks are still there, in every turn since we left Sospel. Before the summit, there is a fantastic combination of eight sharp hairpins and a kilometre of faster road with several fairly fast sweepers, right before the parking lot which is 1,607 metres above the sea.
On the summit, there are three small hotels with a restaurant and a large parking lot between them. The rally cars always drive through here, no matter which direction the stage is driven in. We get out of the car and enjoy the atmosphere of the evening at Turini. This is the place where the crews of Mr. Zapadla and Mr. Blahna turned the ŠKODA 130 RS into a legend by winning the class 2, and where drivers like Freddy Lois in his ŠKODA FABIA S2000 or Jan Kopecký, Andreas Mikkelsen or Kalle Rovanperä in the ŠKODA FABIA Rally2 achieved many great successes.
It gets better
Diagonally across the parking lot from the Sospel entrance, another road enters from La Bollene-Vésubie. The Col de Turini stage is usually driven between Sospel and La Bollene. On the other side, there is a better surface, a beautiful view of the mountains on the French-Italian border and a more varied combination of turns, with different radii.
Our last tip is a gorgeous winding road towards Lucéram. You get to it when you turn right from the parking lot at the top, towards Peira Cava. It’s a little less than six kilometres of gentle descent on a pleasant, swift road along the ridge of the Col de Turini massif. Just behind the village, you will find a right turn towards the D21, comprising of 16 tightly-packed hairpins all of which can be seen from above. It’s a beautiful, hidden-away road cut into the cliffsides, and you rarely meet anyone here.
In both descents, the SUPERB iV shows how frugal its hybrid system can be. You can drive the whole downhill stretch with the petrol engine off, getting the fuel consumption down to less than 7 l/100 km after the demanding way up, which is a great result, considering the dynamics on offer. The SUPERB iV provided us a great drive through places that impress everyone, not only rally fans, with their atmosphere. If you ever find yourself in southern France, the Col de Turini is well worth a visit.