On this day in... 1998

24th November 2017
Henry Hope-Frost

The World Rally Championship had never witnessed such last-gasp drama as it did at the end of the final stage on the deciding day of the last event of the year – Margam Park, November 24, 1998, Rally Great Britain.

Two-time World Champions Carlos Sainz (Toyota) and Tommi Mäkinen (Mitsubishi) headed to the WRC season curtain-closer separated by just two points after 13 rounds of motorsport’s toughest discipline. 

When Mäkinen ripped a wheel off in Millbrook as a result of sliding off on some oil spilt by a Hillman Imp in the historic rally, only to feel the force of the law while driving his three-wheeled Lancer Evo V on the road, the title looked to be heading Sainz’s way. All the Spaniard needed, was to finish fourth or better to take a third title for Toyota.

Home hero Colin McRae, out of the championship running but keen to take a fourth victory in Britain in his last outing with Subaru, made the early running and kept the Impreza WRC at the top for the first 15 of the 28 stages. 

Fellow Brit Richard Burns, Mäkinen’s Mitsubishi team-mate, was on a charge in an effort to seal a maiden home win and edged past McRae, for just one stage, before the Scot reasserted his authority on the event he won in 1994, ’95 and ’97.

Sadly for McRae fans, the engine in the Prodrive-run Impreza developed an issue and let go in stage 22. 

Burns was back in command for the last six stages, securing a famous win with Scot Robert Reid alongside, to add to their maiden victory in the Safari earlier in the year.

Behind him, the Ford Escort WRCs of Juha Kankkunen and Bruno Thiry finished a strong second and third in what was the iconic model’s final event. After 30 years, the Escort name would be replaced by the Focus for ’99 – and Colin McRae would be joining the Blue Oval to drive it.

Coming into stage 28, the Margam Park decider, Sainz was holding down the fourth place he needed to take the title. All looked good for him, co-driver Luis Moya and the Toyota squad.

What happened in the final moments of the 16.8-mile stage – the last few hundred yards in fact – was cruel. We won’t give it away here, but watch the accompanying video to see how the 1998 World Rally Championship was decided in such an unusual fashion…

Rally Great Britain, 1998

1. Richard Burns (GB)/Robert Reid (GB) – Mitsubishi Carisma GT, 3h50m30.6s

2. Juha Kankkunen (FIN)/Juha Repo (FIN) – Ford Escort WRC, +3m46.5s

3. Bruno Thiry (B)/Stéphane Prévot (B) – Ford Escort WRC, +5m27.5s

4. Gregoire de Mevius (B)/Jean-Marc Fortin (B) – Subaru Impreza WRC, +7m54.8s

5. Sebastian Lindholm (FIN)/Jukka Aho (FIN)– Ford Escort WRC, +8m15.6s

6. Harri Rovanperä (FIN)/Risto Pietiläinen (FIN) – SEAT Cordoba WRC, +9m33.3s

Photography courtesy of LAT Images

  • rally gb

  • WRC

  • richard burns

  • colin mcrae

  • Carlos Sainz

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