Famous Five... World Championship rally winners who tamed the Dakar

04th January 2017
Henry Hope-Frost

It’s billed as the world’s toughest rally – a relentless, fortnight-long charge through inhospitable and barren terrain. And it takes a special kind of skill, bravery and, whisper it, madness to tame it.

Between 1979 and 2007, competing crews on the Dakar Rally – in cars and trucks and on bikes – charged through the Sahara Desert en route to the Senegal capital. And the appeal of reaching the west African coast ahead of the rest attracted many of the world’s greatest drivers during that time – from Formula 1, the World Rally Championship and the World Sportscar Championship.

Following security issues in 2008, when the event was cancelled, the Dakar moved away from Africa and into South America for 2009. Purists were briefly aghast, but the legendary name remained, as did the extreme challenge facing drivers and riders. The Sahara became the Atacama and the Atlas Mountains became the Andes.

In the 37 editions to date, one of racing’s greatest all-rounders, Grand Prix and Le Mans hero Jacky Ickx, did the business for Mercedes in 1983, double World Sportscar Champion Jean-Louis Schlesser made it two in a row in 1999 and 2000 in a self-built, Renault-powered buggy and three aces – Hubert Auriol, Stéphane Peterhansel and Nani Roma – have taken victory on two and four wheels.

But what about from rallying’s top drawer, the WRC. There are five drivers whose names appear on the event winners’ roll of honour and who’ve also mastered the Dakar.

Ari Vatanen

The last man to win the WRC Drivers’ title for a truly privateer outfit, aboard David Sutton’s Rothmans-backed Ford Escort RS1800 in 1981, Finn Vatanen took the first of four Dakar wins on his debut in 1987, in a Camel-liveried Peugeot 205T16. He would’ve done it again in ’88 had his all-new Peugeot 405 T16 not been stolen, later returned unharmed! He made amends in ’89 and ’90 in the 405, the successor to the 205. A fourth and final win in 1991, in a Citroën ZX (long before the French marque arrived to clean up in the WRC), gave him that hat-trick. Only Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel has won the car class on more occasions.

Juha Kankkunen

Reigning World Rally Champion Kankkunen emulated fellow Finn Vatanen by taking a debut win, in 1988. Kankkunen, who won the final Group B title for Peugeot in 1986 and took the first Group A crown for Lancia in ’88, was reunited with the French 205 T16 and took the honours, ahead of more than 600 rivals, after team-mate Vatanen’s car, the new 405 T16, was stolen from the Bamko service area. The car was later retuned, but Vatanen was disqualified for surpassing time-control limits. Kankkunen, who went on to win two more WRC titles, returned to the Dakar many years later as part of Volkswagen’s factory effort with the Race Touareg, but without success.

Bruno Saby

The Frenchman won twice in the World Rally Championship during the 1980s, taking victory on the ill-fated 1986 Tour de Corse for Peugeot after early leader Henri Toivonen crashed to his death and again in the Monte Carlo Rally two years later in a factory Martini Lancia Delta HF 4WD. For his Dakar moment of glory in 1993, just over a year after his WRC career had ended, Saby was armed with the Mitsubishi Pajero, a machine that had given the Japanese firm its first win the year before in the hands of former bike winner Hubert Auriol. Saby, co-driven by countryman Dominique Serieys, duly delivered on an event that returned to its original Paris-Dakar route after a year finishing in Cape Town, South Africa. 

Carlos Sainz

The great double World Rally Championship-winning Spaniard, who holds the record for most WRC appearances (196 between 1987 and 2005), joined Volkswagen’s big-budget, hi-tech Dakar programme in 2006. He finished 11th in that first outing in the Race Touareg, improving to ninth a year later. He won six stages during the inaugural South American event in 2009, but was forced to retire. It all came good for the man who’d steered a Toyota Celica to the WRC title in 1990 and ’92 the following year when, co-driven by Lucas Cruz, he became the third World Rally Champion to master the Dakar. Poor luck has blighted his recent Dakar campaigns. Now into his third year with Peugeot in the 208 DKR, ‘King Carlos’ is bidding for win number two in this year’s marathon. 

Kenjiro Shinozuka

The only Japanese driver to stand on the top step of a WRC podium, thanks to back-to-back victories for Mitsubishi in the African Ivory Coast Rally in 1991 and ’92, Shinozuka also became the first from his country to win the Dakar. Following two wins for his paymasters Mitsubishi in 1992 and 1993, courtesy of Auriol and Saby, the Japanese marque had to give best to the Citroën ZX of sometime WRC pedaller Pierre Lartigue, who romped to a hat-trick between 1994 and ’96. It was then down to Shinozuka to restart Mitsubishi’s winning run, which he did in 1997, co-driven by Frenchman Henri Magne. Five years later, Hiroshi Masuoka joined Shinozuka as a Japanese winner, also in a Pajero.

  • Dakar

  • Famous Five

  • Ari Vatanen

  • Carlos Sainz

  • Juha Kankkunen

  • Kenjiro Shinozuka

  • Bruno Saby

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