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The Bandama and Côte à Côte rallies at the origin of the Dakar Rally thanks to Jean-Claude Bertrand

Jean-Claude Bertrand the designer of Rallye

The idea of these major African Raid rallies (there already existed African rallies but their scale remained local) comes from Jean-Claude Bertrand, a colorful character steeped in passion.

This name may not mean anything to you, but he is behind the creation of the biggest African rallies.

Already at the age of 16 he found himself behind the wheel of an old Dodge truck, transporting bananas from the family plantation while developing a passion for herpetology. He enhances his activities as a planter and his trade in coffee, cocoa and yams in Lobi country with crocodile hunting and snake breeding.

It was the good times. There were few foreigners in Côte d'Ivoire, everyone knew each other and certain planters and other foresters challenged each other to speed aboard the pick-ups of the time - GMC or Chevrolet - on the rutted tracks of the Bush.

The speed virus finds fertile ground in Jean-Claude who decides to see what is happening elsewhere in the field of competition. He then participated as an amateur in almost all of the major European rallies of the time.

He created the first major African Rally, the Bandama, named after the river which crosses the Ivory Coast from north to south.

The Ivory Coast Bandama Marathon Rally

1st edition 1969

In 1969, pushed by many other enthusiasts, he decided to create the first “International Bandama Rally”. Using his European connections in the sporting world, he convinced his friends, the great drivers of the time, that he had a very large press team... and the journalists that he had an enormous team of drivers! Everyone believes in it and he announces that he is organizing the most beautiful and toughest rally in the world!

The 1st International Bandama Rally which took place on December 6 & 7, 1969 saw the victory of the crew Mr. and Mrs. Gérenthon on R8 Gordini.

It was with great pleasure that all the athletes welcomed the deserved victory of this experienced crew who had perfectly grasped the regularity side of this Rally. Fifty-eight competitors were entered.

There were: 35 cars in Group I, 9 cars in Group II, 8 cars in Group III, 4 cars in groups IV and V. This is how 58 competitors, all experienced drivers, initially met there. eight days at the Hôtel Ivoire to draw lots for their starting number, the atmosphere was very sporty.

A series of tests awaited them:

Connection sectors (Abidjan - Yamoussoukro; Yamoussoukro - Bouaké - Abidjan) i.e. a distance of 1115 km; and additional ranking events: timed average, 1 km acceleration in Abidjan, 1800 m speed race on the Port of Abidjan circuit, 400 m acceleration test from Yamoussoukro, a 500 m speed test on the Bouaké karting circuit, finally a handling test in Abidjan.

Certainly this first Bandama Rally was not a marathon; nevertheless the African spirit of the events highlighted efficient and resistant crews, worthy of being included in the international rankings.

It also served as a test bed, making it possible to identify a more interesting formula for the future.

The second edition in 1970

28 starters, 5 classified.

1st Schuller on a Datsun 1600 SSS, 2nd Spinelli on a Toyota 1900 SL, 3rd Reignien on a Renault 16 TS, 4th Cerf at the wheel of a Renault 16 TS and 5th Saucet on a Toyota 1900 SL.

3rd edition of 1971

The presence of European rallymen like Bob Neyret gives the rally its international notoriety. Bob Neyret, Jacques Terramorsi, Claudine Trautmann and Marie-Odile Desvignes left Abidjan covered with laurels, and after having assured the organizers of the 3rd Bandama of their participation for the fourth edition of this great event.

Everyone was, in fact, enthusiastic about the variety and difficulty of the course over 2,650 km of tracks, as well as the opposition offered to them, with local pilots showing themselves to be particularly comfortable on their terrain.

These standards, comparable to those of the most difficult international rallies, put men and mechanics to a severe test. Out of 35 cars at the start, only 9 were able to cross the finish line.

This real massacre saw the removal from competition of all foreign cars, with the exception of a Datsun 240 Z which had been so modified that PREMOTO, importer of the brand, had demanded the withdrawal of the acronym -DATSUN-

A victory for Peugeot:

We can therefore consider this rally as an indisputable victory for the French brands (Peugeot - Renault - Simca) and more particularly for Peugeot which places 75% of its vehicles in an event having had 75% waste.

4th edition of 1972

This rally is very beautiful, but also very, very hard; so hard that there was no one at the finish in 1972!...

While the event is now established and viable, attracting generous sponsors, the entry list is of a very high standard. Larrousse, Jabouille, Beltoise, Mehta, or even Bob Nevret, winner the previous year, to name only the best known. The 4000 km journey must be completed in one go at the imposed average of 100 km/h. Engaged in a Chrysler, Pescarolo testifies to the difficulty of maintaining this infernal pace: “If you drive with relative caution, you very quickly run out of time. You have to open wide and demand abominable effort from the car on the rutted tracks of the bush.” It’s a race against time and the elements. The main difficulty, if we put aside the burning air and the hostile nature of the terrain, to say the least, is the dust. A hill race serving as a prologue is organized to define the starting order. Neyret, a regular, sets the best time on his DS 23 prototype developing 170 horsepower. The race starts at night, on a road near Abidjan. At the end of the first stage, at the Abengourou score, only 9 crews are on time. After 1000 km of hell, there are 4 professional crews still on schedule. After trying to bring together as many competitors as possible in Abidjan to count survivors and penalties, the infernal caravan must now resume its mad race towards the north. Those who thought they had done the hardest will be served. This time it involves crossing a section cut with a machete in 40 km of virgin forest. At Renault, inexperience has led to loading the cars with parts and reinforcements of all kinds. Laudable idea but dramatic for the performance. The pilots compensate by taking risks, entering into a vicious circle that quickly becomes fatal. The finish is still very far away when Neyret, who has been driving for 48 hours without sleep, makes a mistake. His DS is patiently repaired by his teammate but they arrive too late. It is a duel which will decide the winner. There are only two crews left in the race. Mehta will face a Fall/Flocon team which has a miraculously well-preserved Peugeot.

The storm dumps tons of water, Mehta quickly finds himself stuck in mud from which he will not escape. Fall, overtaking his unfortunate opponent, understands that he still has a chance of winning this rally of which he is the sole survivor. When the crew arrives in front of the gas station serving as a passage control, there is disillusionment. The commissioners have left and the place is deserted. It is decided after 2500 km of nightmare that no classification will be established. The promised prizes were postponed to the following year, increasing the prize pool for 1973 to 25 million francs and a symbolic prize giving ceremony was organized by the hotel swimming pool. The Peugeot team, upset, will not participate, regardless of whether the Bandama has become a legend. The test was stronger than the men.

The course was deliberately designed to take a heavy toll on both man and machine, and riders were exposed to other dangers as well. Notably, those who know the region well reportedly told some of the competitors that breaking down near the Ghana border could be a deadly experience.

“When a tribal leader dies, the tribe members must gather seven human heads to ward off evil spirits. They go hunting as soon as night falls,” warned local residents, according to a February 1973 issue of the French magazine Sport Auto.

5th edition of 1973

At the time no one believed it, but the following year, they were all there and there were… seven at the finish, the first of whom collected the biggest check ever given in a rally.

Alongside the “Bandama” he participates, among others, in a very good event of the moment: the Morocco rally (9 participations in all). To do this, he leaves Abidjan via the track with R16 Renaults and other Datsun 240 Zs, goes to Morocco, participates in the rally... and comes back home.

1974, the ''Bandama'' gives birth to the 'Côte-Côte'

In 1974 some “Bandama” pilots, more adventurous than the others, asked Jean-Claude BERTRAND to return to France with them via the track. He readily allowed himself to be convinced and, after contacting the Automobile Club of Monaco, he set up a more or less organized adventure. Indeed, the first to arrive at the stage take the times of the following and the last to leave sets the start. True folklore!...

Called “Bandama – Monte-Carlo Superconcentration”, it involved traveling, in competition, from Abidjan to Monaco to take the start of the Monte-Carlo Rally with the same cars. A crazy idea and unforgettable memories, but disaster! The Monte-Carlo is canceled (first oil shock). The disappointment was quickly forgotten after a fanfare arrival in the Principality, to the cheers of the Monegasques, frustrated at the cancellation of their event... and it was the birth of the Côte-Côte!

1975: prelude to the Dakar Rally

It was in view of this success and the enthusiasm generated by this discreet but exciting premiere that Bertrand decided, in 1975, after the end of “Bandama”, to create the first “Côte d’Ivoire – Côte d’Azur” whose principle was simple:

“Open to anyone…on anything!” »

This great first was truly an adventure with a capital A, both for the competitors and for the organizer. A very trying rally, especially for two-wheel drive vehicles, because Bertrand, faithful to his ideas, had chosen a very tough course, endless stages and the first “line start” in the history of rallies. At the time, there was no tarmac, no helicopter, no GPS. It was an achievement to be at the finish, but only sublime memories for all participants.

Thus, the first edition of this rally officially named "Côte-Côte" left Abidjan, the Ivorian capital at the time, on December 25, 1975 and took the hundred adventurers on a journey of eight stages. Some 8,500 km of adventures across the Ivory Coast, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Niger, Algeria, Morocco. After crossing the Mediterranean by boat, the competitors will make a final journey in Spain before reaching the Côte d'Azur.

The finish was judged in Nice, on the Prom', on January 7, 1976.

A second edition will take place the following winter of this raid which was then called the “Côte-Côte”, or even “Abidjan-Nice”.

And Thierry Sabine got lost...

In 1977, during the second edition, a competitor got lost on a motorbike for three days and two nights in the Libyan desert.

Barely saved, he returned to France conquered by the beauty of the Sahara. He then imagined a route starting from Europe to cross these immensities of sand to the capital of Senegal.

This biker is the adventurer Thierry Sabine. And a few months later, on December 26, 1978, the first Paris-Dakar left the Place du Trocadéro.

The audacity and passion transmitted by Jean-Claude Bertrand gives birth to the legendary Dakar Rally

For its part, the original Côte-Côte Rally will have three successive editions, each as epic as the last.

At the same time, Jean-Claude Bertrand is on all fronts: The “Bandama” is included in the World Championship calendar, he is launching the “5/5 Rallies” (a Rally every year, on each of the 5 continents, for 5 years) , the “Rallye Tour du Maroc”, a rally in Iceland and, every year for eight years, organizes the “Rally of Algeria”.

Other editions of ''Bandama'' and ''Côte-Côte'' from 1978 to now

  • The Bandama Marathon de Côte d'Ivoire Rally (RCIB) continues to be contested annually and was incorporated into the World Rally Championship from 1978 to 1992. The historic edition in 2007, Jean-Claude Bertrand planned a historic rally for the 30th anniversary of the first edition of the "Côte-Côte", in 2006. But in the fall of 2005, during a reconnaissance trip of the route, the lover of the great outdoors dies suddenly of a heart attack, without being able to make his dream come true. The Historic “Côte-Côte” rally will still take place in February 2007. Not quite on the same route since it left Lomé, the capital of Togo, to arrive in Saint-Tropez. From this 2012 edition, a special trophy will be awarded during each edition of the Bandama rewarding the Ivorian crew judged to be the most combative, courageous and humble, like their elders, the latter will have to prove themselves worthy of these values and will personally present the trophy the following year to the new winners. In 2024, we are at the 50th edition of Rallye Côte d’Ivoire - Bandama


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