Until Sebastian Loeb came along, France’s most memorable rally driver was Didier Auriol, who in 1994 became the first Frenchman to win the World Rally Championship. Born in 1958 in Montpellier, he was an ambulance driver (probably quite a quick one) before taking up rallying in 1984. During his WRC career he drove for a variety of teams including Austin Rover, Ford, Lancia, Toyota, Subaru, Mitsubishi, SEAT, Peugeot and Skoda. He won the World Championship in 1994 driving a Toyota Celica Turbo 4WD.
As a Frenchman it was probably appropriate that his first WRC win was on the Tour de Corse - Rallye de France in 1988, driving a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth. He must have liked Corsica a lot because he won the same event six times! In 1989 and in 1990 he used a Lancia Delta to conquer Corsica. In 1990 he also won on the Monte Carlo and San Remo rounds. In 1992, driving a Lancia Delta Integrale HF, he won six events in a single season, which stood as a record until Sebastian Loeb did better in 2005. However, his hopes of the 1992 championship were dashed by poor results in the other events and retirement on the last round, the RAC Rally, allowed Carlos Sainz to take the Drivers’ Championship. In 1993 he signed up with the Toyota team and in 1994, following three wins in the Celica, he was crowned World Champion. But after his World Championship win, things began to go wrong at Toyota. In 1995 after Auriol had yet again won the Tour de Corse, the manufacturer was excluded from the 1995 results and banned for the following year for using an illegal device in the turbocharger.
Auriol has taken part in 152 world rallies, won 20 of them and finished on the podium 53 times. And he hasn’t finished yet. The proximity of his 50th birthday (in August this year) hasn’t blunted his enthusiasm for motor sport and he still competes in selected international events.
If Didier is your choice for our Greatest Driver poll, cast your vote on the home page.