As an extraordinary 2020 WRC season draws to a close, we thought it was time to look back over the last 43 years of competition to see which cars are the greatest to have ever taken to the stages. While some of these cars are statistically the greatest, others have just had such a great impact on the world of rallying that we just couldn’t not include them.
The 10 best WRC cars of all time
Subaru Impreza WRX
Six WRC titles in eight years – three constructors ’95-’97 and three drivers’, ‘95 (McRae), 2001 (Burns), 2003 (Solberg) – perhaps the most iconic WRC livery of the 1990s and drivers like Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Petter Solberg mean that the saloon-shaped version of the Impreza is one of the most famous WRC cars of all time. The Impreza has won a total of 162 championships around the world, from the Finnish title to the Lebanese and beyond. Today the homologation specials it launched (like the 22B) change hands for unimaginable amounts of money. It is probably, beyond Group B, the single most famous rally car of all time.
Volkswagen Polo R WRC
Fifty two rallies, 43 wins, 87 podiums, 12 titles. The Polo R WRC is probably the single most dominant rally car of all time. That equates to an 82.7 per cent win ratio from a team that arrived in rallying from pretty much a standing start. The Polo R WRC came off the back of an absence from the WRC field of 25 years – the last assault being a pretty low-level effort using the Golf from 1983 to 1988 which really doesn’t count. Poaching a dissatisfied young Sébastien Ogier from Citroën and getting Carlos Sainz Sr. in to help with development served the Polo R well as it won seven of its first ten rallies and clinched both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles... and then the next three. Everyone expected the dominance to continue as the WRCs 1,600cc rules gave way to the modern cars, but then: Dieselgate.
Fiat 131 Abarth
Tiny little Italian family cars and the WRC are good friends. But it was the 131 Abarth that began that connection. The first four WRC constructors’ crowns went to sportscars, with Alpine taking the first victory in 1973 before the Stratos came to rule the roost for the next three years. But from 1977 to 1980 it was Fiat and the little 131 family saloon that was the dominant force. It won the 1977, 1978 and 1980 constructors’ crowns, as well as helping Markku Alén (’78) and Walter Röhrl (’80) to drivers’ title success. The tiny little rear-wheel-drive Fiat 131 was tuned by the maestros at Abarth to make a 140PS (103kW) rallying demon, winning 16 rallies in seven WRC seasons.
The car that brought the four-wheel-drive revolution to the WRC and completely changed the face of rallying forever. The Quattro was born of an idea based on a military vehicle and was allegedly signed off by Audi bosses after they watched it climb an icy Alpine pass. The Quattro (capital Q) would go on to win 23 rallies in six years, clinching two drivers’ crowns and two constructors’. The only thing that is surprising about the Audi Quattro’s WRC record is that, despite its fame and era defining status, it was not the most successful Group B car of all.
Citroën C4 WRC
The Citroën C4 is just another pretty forgettable small family car. The C4 WRC on the other hand is one of the most successful rally cars of all time. Introduced in 2007 as the replacement for the Xsara – Citroën’s first WRC challenger of the new decade – it won three constructors’ crowns and four straight drivers’ titles in its four years of competition. The C4 WRC won 36 rallies, almost all in the hands of Sébastien Loeb, up against some pretty stiff competition from the then well-funded M-Sport Ford team. So good was the C4 WRC that in its final season Petter Solberg entered a privately-run car and finished third in the championship. The only reason that the C4 stopped winning was that a rule change led to the introduction of the equally impressive DS3.
Ignoring how the Toyota Celica’s top-level WRC career ended, this is another mightily successful programme. The Celica won four drivers’ titles (and three in a row), two for Carlos Sainz in 1990 and 1992, one each for Juha Kankkunen in 1993 and Didier Auriol in 1994. Between 1989 and 1995 the Celica won 30 rallies across all the continents upon which the WRC competes and was the dominant force in rallying. It was also the last proper sportscar to be successful in rallying, with saloons and hatchbacks dominating the following two-and-a-half decades.
Peugeot 205 T16
While not the most successful Group B car in terms of wins, the 205 T16 in percentage terms is undoubtedly the most successful rally car of the era. After a toe-in-the-water entry to a few rounds in 1984 (which yielded three wins) the T16 won just under 50 per cent of the rallies it entered over the following two years, taking two consecutive title doubles, first with Timo Salonen and then with Juha Kankkunen. The little T16 didn’t look much compared to some of its more extreme challengers, but with a mid-mounted 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine turbocharged up to north of 400PS (300kW) it was a force to be reckoned with.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo
The lancer is perhaps as famous as the Impreza when it comes to rallying in the late-1990s. The two competed hard every year, both decked out in iconic liveries and both with rallying legends at the wheel. But while Tommi Mäkinen won four successive titles from 1996-1999 Mitsubishi would only clinch a single title in that time, in 1998. But the Lancer Evolution’s position as the car that took Mäkinen to those crowns, and to 22 of his 24 WRC wins, makes it worth of this list. Together Mäkinen and the Evo were a force to be reckoned with that few car pairings – before Sébastien Loeb came along – had matched. Through four (five if you count the second version of the Evo 6) different iterations from 1994 onward the pairing would consistently win rallies every year, until Mäkinen departed for Subaru for the 2002 season.
Lancia Delta HF
The Lancia Delta HF and HF Integrale are the most successful rally cars of all time in terms of pure wins. The Delta won 46 rallies over six seasons, taking six consecutive constructors’ titles and four drivers’ titles (two each for Juha Kankkunen and Miki Biasion) and was the car to have in the post Group B years. As Group A flourished, freed from the shackles of its meatier big brother, Lancia’s hold on the title of WRC’s greatest manufacturer was re-iterated. While it would later be usurped in many ways by Citroën, Lancia’s Group A period was an unstoppable age, producing some of the most sought after hot hatchbacks the world has seen and keeping a Lancia name that was beginning to lose its lustre firmly in the spotlight.
Peugeot 206 WRC
The 206 WRC was a short-lived but ultra-successful programme. The return to the top of the WRC for Peugeot for the first time since the Group B era. It brought two drivers’ crowns for Marcus Grönholm and three-straight constructors’ titles for Peugeot. A total of 24 victories were recorded for the 206 in three-and-a-bit seasons of competition, shared between Grönholm, tarmac ace Gilles Panizzi, former champ Didier Auriol and former Seat driver (and father of Kalle) Harri Rovanperä. The 206 WRC also holds the distinction of being the final WRC car that Richard Burns would ever drive, before his diagnosis with a brain tumour of the eve of the 2003 Rally GB.
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.
Now tell us: which is the best WRC car of all time?
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