Famous Five... WRC title winners who jumped ship

11th January 2017
Henry Hope-Frost

Quadruple World Rally Champion Sébastien Ogier heads into next week’s 2017 season-opening Monte Carlo Rally bidding to become only the second reigning title holder to win first time out with a new team.

The Frenchman has joined Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport operation to campaign an all-new Ford Fiesta WRC following previous employer Volkswagen’s withdrawal from competition in the wake of the global emissions scandal.

And the man who won all four of his titles in a VW Polo WRC over the past four seasons has a very good chance of joining an elite band of just two drivers since the drivers’ championship began in 1979 who’ve snared the crown for two different marques.

In fact, just five men have jumped ship after winning the title and not all of them have continued that rally-winning form, let alone scoop another title.

Björn Waldegård – 1979/1980

Super-Swede Waldegård campaigned a Group 4 Ford Escort RS1800 for the bulk of 1979, winning in Greece and Canada, with four other podium finishes in the Blue Oval’s barnstormer. He also campaigned a sturdy Mercedes 450 SLC in the grueling African events – the Safari and Ivory Coast Rallies, winning the latter. For 1980, however, Waldegård found himself tackling the first two events in a Fiat 131 Abarth, six in the Merc and a one-off in a Toyota Celica on the Lombard RAC Rally. Another win in the Ivory Coast at the end of the year helped him secure third in the final points. 

Walter Röhrl – 1980/1981 and 1982/1983

The German legend appears in this company twice, having won a title and left, for various reasons, for a competitor on two occasions. His first championship success came in 1980 in a Fiat 131 Abarth, thanks to wins in Monte Carlo, Portugal, Argentina and Sanremo. Having agreed to join Mercedes for 1981, he was left high and dry when it pulled the plug on the WRC. Röhrl competed just once in ’81 – in a Porsche 911 in Sanremo. He joined Opel’s works team for 1982, armed with a Rothmans Ascona 400. Victories at each end of the year, in Monte Carlo and the Ivory Coast, supplemented by six other podium finishes, brought title number two. And then he fell out with Opel team boss Tony Fall. Cue a move to Lancia and a debut win in Monte Carlo with the Martini 037. So now you know who Ogier’s out to emulate.

Juha Kankkunen – 1986/1987 and 1987/1988

Another two-time defector, Kankkunen didn’t have much choice in the matter first time round, at the end of 1986. The sudden demise of Group B prompted his employer Peugeot to focus on the Dakar Rally for 1987. As reigning champion, the Finn made a hurried move to Lancia, which had committed to the new-look Group A WRC with a fleet of Delta HF 4WDs. In his seven rallies in the Italian machine – drivers didn’t automatically do every round int hose days – KKK won twice and took three other podium finishes to make it back-to-back-titles. And then he moved again, this time to Toyota. But it was not a successful move. Six rallies produced a fifth place in a Supra Turbo on the Safari and five retirements in the all-new Celica GT4. A few years later he’d take a third title (back in a Lancia) and he made it four (back in a Toyota) in 1993. 

Carlos Sainz – 1992/1993

The Spaniard, who remains the most-capped WRC star in the sport’s history, spent four seasons with Toyota, taking 13 wins and titles in 1990 and 1992. At the end of ’92 Spanish oil giant Repsol-backed Sainz chose not to stay because of incoming Castrol sponsorship for Toyota. His only option for 1993 was a Lancia Delta Integrale run by the Jolly Club, with ‘support’ from Lancia. It turned out to be anything but jolly, with the ageing Italian machine losing ground to rivals and not benefitting from the promised development. Sainz’s best finish was second in the Acropolis Rally, a result he matched in Sanremo until disqualification for fuel irregularities. The return to winning ways would come in 1994 when he joined Subaru just as the Impreza 555 came on song…

Richard Burns – 2001/2002

The only Englishman to win the title, the late, great Richard Burns had made the Subaru team his own after Colin McRae had left for Ford at the end of 1998. Burns, co-driven by long-time right-hand man Robert Reid, ran at the sharp end aboard the Impreza WRC in 1999, taking three wins and runner-up slot in the title race. Three more wins in 2000 and another second-place finish in the points convinced many that he could finally join McRae as a British champion in 2001. And he didn’t disappoint. He won twice, took five other podium finishes and came good on Rally GB on November 25th, 2001. For 2002, Burns felt he needed to prove himself outside of Subaru, so he joined Peugeot alongside Finn Marcus Grönholm. Burns would come close to victories in the French 206 WRC over the next two seasons, but an 11th win proved elusive during the next two years. His biggest battle, against brain cancer, began ahead of Rally GB and he fought bravely until November 25th, 2005 – exactly four years after that glorious moment in Wales.

  • famous five

  • wrc

  • Carlos Sainz

  • Björn Waldegård

  • Richard Burns

  • Juha Kankkunen

  • walter rohrl

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