Carlos Sainz was a sportsman searching for his sport. Despite being a national-level squash player and having trials for Real Madrid, he opted for motorsport.
Sainz’s career spanned 196 rallies and 18 seasons but few will forget his first WRC stage in 1987. Aged 24, he nosed his Ford into Estoril, the opening stage of Rally Portugal - and won it!
He retired from the event and departed Ford at the end of the following season, bound for Toyota and his first professional contract. Sainz ended his first year there with three podiums - a hint of what was to follow in 1990.
His maiden WRC win came in Greece and he backed that up with three more and his first world title. Beyond being the best in the world, one of Sainz’s personal highlights came that year when he became the first non-Scandinavian to win the 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland. That he did so with a broken ankle was testament to his bravery, skill and commitment.
Five more wins in the Celica followed in 1991, but the title eluded him. However, it would be his once more the following season when he collected four victories in the new shape Celica Turbo 4WD.
He departed Toyota and drove for the Jolly Club Lancia team and Subaru before returning to pilot TTE’s all-new Corolla WRC. He enjoyed wins and came close to a title with the Impreza, but he was always happiest in a Toyota.
He came heartbreakingly close to the 1998 title in Britain, only for his Corolla’s engine to fail at the end of the last stage.
When Toyota quit at the end of 1999, Sainz returned to Ford and won twice in a Focus. After that, it was Citroen for another brace of victories and his success in Argentina in 2004 was his 26th win, making him the most successful driver of all at the time.
If knowledge is power, then ‘El Matador’s’ reign should dwarf the two titles he left the sport with. The Spaniard’s thirst for the right set-up or the perfect tyre compound was unquenchable and set him apart from his contemporaries.