There is an inescapable bond between chronographs and the world of motorsport. Many of the most celebrated examples take their names from races like the Carrera Panamericana or the Daytona 500. So what better way to test the new Baltic Tricompax × Tour Auto 2024 edition than on the race that gives it its name? Well, it just so happens that Baltic didn’t just name the watch after the race; the brand is the event’s official timekeeper as well. Not only that, but both of its co-founders also entered to compete in the Tour Auto this year. I joined them on the road for a couple of days in the stage-opening cars to follow the action and even enjoy the experience of co-piloting in a couple of special stages. All the while, I tested the watch to see if it has what it takes to be a true racing chronograph.

My colleague and Fratello editor Daan de Groot already introduced this year’s Baltic Tricompax × Tour Auto a couple of weeks ago. However, I want to take a closer look at it today and tell you how it held up throughout several days of service at one of the world’s longest-running road rallies. But before I do so, and before I let you know what it was like to co-pilot a special stage driven by Ari Vatanen, winner of the 1981 World Rally Championship and four-time victor of the Paris Dakar Rally, allow me to give you a bit of background on the event itself.

Tour de France Automobile

Originally known as the Tour de France Automobile, this road rally predates the Mille Miglia and the eponymous cycling Tour de France. Its first race occurred in 1899 and was won by French motorsport pioneer René de Knyff. Another race was held in 1908 before taking a hiatus throughout the two World Wars. Back then, it was a grueling two-week event. The route covered over 4,000 kilometers throughout most of France in cars that could hardly top 50 km/h. Fewer than half of the competitors finished at all.

It wasn’t until 1951 that the Tour de France Automobile made a comeback. Ferrari reigned supreme with back-to-back victories. In the ’60s, the race grew in popularity and variety of vehicles. Legendary prototype-class cars, like the Ferrari 512 S, Ford GT40, and the Matra MS650, received carte blanche to compete on the open French roads.

The event was held almost yearly until 1986 when it entered its second hiatus. This was until 1992 when Peter Auto, a company specializing in organizing races and events linked to the world of classic cars, brought the rally back as the Tour Auto.

It exists now as a five-day event held in April, in which only classic cars can compete for the win in several different categories. The event covers about 2,500 kilometers, starting in Paris and finishing in southern France. Drivers taking part cruise on open roads and compete in a handful of timed special stages and circuit races. This year’s race finished in Biarritz and made stops in Tours, Limoges, Carcassonne, and Pau. Racing action occurred in legendary circuits like Le Mans, Val de Vienne, and Nogaro.

Baltic Tricompax × Tour Auto 2024

The Baltic Tricompax × Tour Auto 2024

For a second year running, Baltic has created a watch for the Tour’s occasion. Unlike last year’s edition, which used warm tones to create a nostalgic ’70s vibe, the Baltic Tricompax × Tour Auto 2024 is back in shades of blue and red. Not to be confused for a patriotic spin using the French flag’s colors, the watch is designed to match the livery of the Baltic team’s cars (more on that later). I received a sample to put to the test on Monday, the 22nd of April, the evening before the start of this year’s rally. The Baltic Tricompax’s well-proportioned 39.5 × 13.5 × 47mm case, domed crystal, classic pump pushers, and slim, tapering bracelet were not an unfamiliar sight. I had already seen the watch when it was here for its introduction earlier in the month and had the pleasure of writing about the 2023 version last year.

In a way, it felt like seeing an old friend. This time around, though, we’d have some quality time on the road to look forward to. That’s the thing about being on a week-long press trip, especially where every minute of the day was a race against the clock; a watch becomes a helpful companion. Having the time at a glance and the ability to quickly time something is not to be taken for granted. And, as you might expect, the Baltic Tricompax gets the job done. Though you will have to keep it wound, it’s not a daily obligation as its Sellita SW510-M movement keeps time for 63 hours.

After a day in Paris, I hopped on the train to Tours, where my first day on the Tour Auto began. At 6:00 AM sharp the following day, we left the hotel and hit the road.

On the road with Baltic

So, did the Baltic Tricompax × Tour Auto 2024 have what it takes to be a proper racing chronograph? After four days with the watch on my wrist, on and off the road (and track), I can confirm that it was cut from the right cloth. There were three key factors that, for me, really made a difference. The first, and something that many brands get wrong these days, is the clear color designation for the time-keeping hands and the chronograph elements. This made it very easy to draw data from it at a glance. Walking down the street or sitting at a desk, it’s no challenge. However, legibility goes a long way when you find yourself drifting around corners in a 510-horsepower BMW M3 Competition Touring driven by a trained racing driver.

The second factor was that the Tricompax allows for 12 hours of elapsed timekeeping, an extremely handy feature on a road rally. You see, timing the special stages was fun on the first day, but on the second, I found myself timing how long we spent on the road (11 hours, 42 minutes, and 17 seconds). Finally, and no less important, was the watch’s vibe. Being surrounded by classic cars, a digital chronograph wouldn’t cut it. The mid-century, Rolex 6263-adjacent cool of the Baltic Tricompax was ideal for the occasion. The colorway, matched to the Baltic team car’s livery, truly made me feel like a part of the team.

As I mentioned in the intro, Baltic was not just the official timekeeper of the Tour Auto 2024 but also competed in the rally with two cars (a 1963 Lotus Elan 26R and a 1965 MG B) driven by brand founders Etienne Malec and Clément Daniel, respectively, alongside their co-pilots Paul Bienstman and Antoine Pai.

In a 530bhp BMW M4 Competition with rally royalty Ari Vatanen

After the first day on the road with the Tour Auto, I received my briefing for the following day. I’d be tagging along with Ari Vatanen. His car for the week was a new BMW M4 Competition. On his wrist, of course, was the Baltic Tricompax × Tour Auto 2024, which he wore on the navy-blue Alcantara leather alternative. Allow me to provide some background for those unfamiliar with Mr. Vatanen’s exploits.

Ari Vatanen wearing Baltic Tricompax × Tour Auto 2024

Vatanen enjoying a well-earned coffee break at the Val de Vienne circuit.

Born in Tuupovaara, Finland, Ari Vatanen became obsessed with the concept of “taming the car” after an accident in the mid-’60s that claimed his father’s life. He made his rally debut in 1970 and won the World Rally Championship drivers’ title 11 years later. After a life-threatening accident in Argentina in 1985, he made a comeback and went on to win the Paris-Dakar Rally four times. He drove in the legendary Group B era of rally racing and later conquered the Pike’s Peak International Hillclimb in 1988. This was immortalized in the short film “Climb Dance.”

He raced throughout the ’90s before his retirement as a professional driver. He then found a path into politics and served as a member of the European Parliament for a decade. Currently, Ari enjoys spending time behind the wheel as an ambassador of BMW France. This is what brings him to the Tour Auto. One thing you quickly notice when spending time around him is that he’s as friendly and open in telling his story and recounting tales of his time as a rally driver as he is keen to hear about the people around him.

Baltic Tricompax × Tour Auto 2024 on wrist

Every second counts

Despite our relatively tight schedule, Ari made time for everyone. A former Peugeot driver, he is famous in France and was immediately recognized at every stop we made. Even in the smallest villages, a handful of people would be drawn in by the bright green and fully stickered BMW M4 and were delighted to see Vatanen (always wearing his race suit and driving shoes) at the wheel. He didn’t hesitate to take the time to sign autographs and chat with the locals. Taking the co-pilot’s seat during a special stage of the Tour Auto, in which Ari proved that his driving skills were as sharp as ever, was an unforgettable experience.

During my time with Ari, something else became clear: he views watches as tools. He certainly enjoys them, but his primary interest in them is not emotional. This attitude also applies to cars. You’d imagine that someone with a career as a rally driver would have an ample collection of cars. But this is not the case. The concept of time, however, is one that Vatanen is intimately familiar with; his biography is titled Every Second Counts.

Baltic Tricompax × Tour Auto 2024 on wrist

I asked him whether he ever wore a watch or kept an eye on the time while racing, but he answered that this was the co-pilot’s role. “When you reach a corner, time slows down, and you feel like you are living your whole life in those fractions of a second as you make those split-second decisions that determine the difference between going to the next corner or crashing out. The concentration is too intense to be aware of anything else. You don’t think of your next meal, friends and family, or where you’ll be in 10 years. That corner is everything. And then you’re already at the next one.

Tour Auto 2024 — Photo Report

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and as you might expect, when you spend a week on the road, you come home with enough images to fill a book. In this section, I’ll mostly allow the images to speak for themselves. Hopefully, they’ll channel the atmosphere and give you a taste of the Tour Auto 2024 experience. We start just before the Tour set off, on the evening of April 22nd at the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles and finish on the morning of Friday the 26th at the parc fermé in Carcassone.

At the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles, the evening before the Tour Auto 2024 kicked off.

I joined the Tour at la Grange de Meslay near Tours in the evening. There, the cars and drivers regrouped for some necessary maintenance. Baudouin Jager of Baltic (first pic, on the right) was our press liaison for the event.

A cold and overcast start for day two of the Tour Auto 2024. We made some last-minute upgrades to the BMW M3 Touring’s livery and hit the road.

Taking a break before the first special stage. We stopped at several checkpoints, where locals offered the drivers a drink and a snack. Finally, we arrived at lunch, where Ari Vatanen was relatably excited about a generously proportioned cheese board.

Taking a break at the Val de Vienne circuit’s pit lane between hot laps on the track. Ari, always a good sport, gave an interview to Robin from Breloque, a French YouTube channel and pre-owned watch dealer. This was our last planned stop before Limoges, our destination for the day.

Racing action at the EC-6 special stage in Châteauponsac

Before arriving at Limoges, we had the third special stage of the day. This one took place near Châteauponsac. Having made good time and with a clear schedule ahead, we walked through farms and fields to make it back to an earlier part of the stage to catch some of the action and take pictures of the cars as they raced by.

Braking hard and burning rubber before a particularly tricky turn.

Flexing American muscle. The driver of the number 172 car was a Speedmaster fan and wore several throughout the Tour.

The most British of E-types roaring through the French countryside.

The number 205 Jaguar E-Type crosses the EC-6 finish line.

After a short drive, we crossed the line right behind one of three BMW M1s entered in the 2024 Tour Auto; this one featured a full Baltic livery.

Tour Auto 2024 — Day 2

The next day, we set off from Limoges with the longest stage ahead of us. Just over 500 kilometers on the road, three special stages (one of which was later canceled) stood between us and the finish line in Carcassone. This was the day when I spent some quality time with Ari Vatanen in the M4.

This day involved a lot more driving and a lot less photography. I was even called in to lend a hand on some of the kilometers that stood between us and our goal. Highlights along the way involved a slow cruise through the village of Carennac in the valley of the Dordogne and a stop for lunch at the impressive Beaulieu-en-Rouergue Abbey. After one final special stage near Labruguière, I was tasked with driving the rest of the way from a small village South of Les Martys (where Ari and I stopped for a quick afternoon coffee) to the final parc fermé I’d experience, in Carcassone.

A Team Baltic debrief after the longest stage of the Tour Auto 2024.

Here, we wrapped up the day with one last bit of car and watch spotting, a quick drink at parc fermé, and a plate (or two) of cassoulet in the old city of Carcassone. The Baltic team gathered for a debrief of the day and signed autographs for some fans following the Tour. This was when I parted ways with the Baltic team (who had two more days to go) and the Tricompax Tour Auto 2024 that I had been loaned for the week. The next day, I packed my bags and returned to Holland, catching a train via Bordeaux, Paris, and Brussels.

Baltic Tricompax × Tour Auto 2024 wrist shot

Final thoughts

Returning to the watch in question, the Baltic Tricompax × Tour Auto 2024 and its accompanying rally timer set, the main takeaway is that the French brand did not simply sit idle and repeat the good thing it created last year. That would have been the easy way to go. The people behind the brand are deeply passionate about the Tour Auto, the world of motorsport, and creating a watch that fits the bill. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have spent time and resources participating in the race and having Baltic be the official timekeeper.

Baltic Tricompax × Tour Auto 2024

Regarding the watch, not much has changed except the dashing new colorway. But this was a clear case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The biggest change is the number of units available, which almost doubled (500 units instead of last year’s 300). However, this latest set’s stopwatch and dash clock are leaps and bounds beyond the pair of stopwatches of the previous set. Functionally, aesthetically, and qualitatively, they are superior. And though most of us won’t have a car worthy of drilling them onto the dash of, they’re still brilliant mementos and accessories to complete the set.

Priced at €2,541 (including taxes), the set is now officially sold out.

Baltic Tricompax × Tour Auto 2024

I hope this partnership will continue to thrive and become a long-running one. Seeing a new chronograph made for the Tour Auto come up each year will be something I’ll look forward to, and I’m sure others will too. What are your thoughts on the Baltic Tricompax × Tour Auto 2024? Let me know in the comments section below.