World Rally Cars: 1997 - 2016

The 1997 World Rally Championship brought with it a series of major changes. Group A cars were replaced by World Rally Cars, which took the pressure off the manufacturers as they were no longer required to mass-produce the production versions of the cars with which they competed. The revamp made it much easier for new manufacturers to join the series and the next few years saw increased interest and entries from teams such as Seat, Citroën, Peugeot and Hyundai. 

In addition to new technical regulations, the new era saw an updated events system. Rallies became more compact in comparison to the long marathon-style events that crews were faced with beforehand, but the calendar was extended to include 14 rallies throughout the year across the world. 

Whilst the majority of the manufacturers worked hard to build and develop their new world rally cars, Mitsubishi decided to take a different approach. Their Lancer Evolution was already a successful package and bore a close resemblance to the road-going model, which was good for sales. Because of this, the Japanese firm continued to enter its cars in Group A specification. 

With Tommi Mäkinen at the wheel, Mitsubishi proved that their car was still one of the best, bringing home another Manufacturers’ title in 1998 whilst the Finn won the Drivers’ championship three years in a row between 1997 and 1999 following a series of hotly contested battles. Around that time, their closest challenger was British-based M-Sport Ford World Rally Team, which had employed McRae to pilot its Ford Focus.

In 2000, another Finn drove his way into the history books. Marcus Grönholm took his first world championship title driving a Peugeot 206. The French firm enjoyed a dream return to the sport’s top-flight as it also lifted the Manufacturers’ for the next three seasons. 

British driver Burns took a hugely popular championship victory in 2001 with his Subaru Impreza, but Grönholm responded by taking back the title the year after. 

In 2003, Norwegian legend Petter Solberg reigned victorious, but Citroën was Manufacturers’ champions thanks to some spirited performances from Sainz and a young Sébastien Loeb. Who would have known that the French hotshot would go on to dominate the series for the next decade? 

Loeb was unbeatable on every surface and gave Citroën three Manufacturers’ world titles in a row. Despite Ford claiming the Manufacturers’ victories in 2006 and 2007, Loeb managed to retain control of his own titles.  Along with co-driver Daniel Elena, he wrote his name into the rallying record books with a whopping nine Drivers’ World Championship wins at the wheel of the Xsara, C4 and DS3 models. 

Loeb’s retirement from full-time driving at the end of the 2012 season marked the end of the most successful reign in the history of the World Rally Championship. 

So, who was his successor? Well, he was French, and also called Sébastien!

Sébastien Ogier had also learned his craft at the wheel of a Citroën as a teammate to Loeb in 2011. However, the Frenchman later announced a new contract with German marque Volkswagen and piloted their Polo R WRC from 2013 onwards. 

In a similar way the Loeb and Citroën had dominated, Ogier took Volkswagen to consecutive Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ titles between 2013 and 2016. After wrapping his fourth championship victory at the end of 2016, Volkswagen announced their withdrawal from the World Rally Championship with immediate effect.

With new regulations imminent, Ogier was left to find a new seat for the 2017 season…

Year Driver Car   Team
1997 Tommi Mäkinen (FIN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution   Subaru
1998 Tommi Mäkinen (FIN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution   Mtsubishi
1999 Tommi Mäkinen (FIN) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution   Toyota
2000 Marcus Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 206   Peugeot
2001 Richard Burns (GBR) Subaru Impreza   Peugeot 
2002 Marcus Grönholm (FIN) Peugeot 206   Peugeot
2003 Petter Solberg (NOR) Subaru Impreza   Citroën
2004 Sébastien Loeb (FRA) Citröen Xsara   Citroën
2005 Sébastien Loeb (FRA) Citröen Xsara   Citroën
2006 Sébastien Loeb (FRA) Citröen Xsara   Ford
2007 Sébastien Loeb (FRA) Citröen C4   Ford
2008 Sébastien Loeb (FRA) Citröen C4   Citroën
2009 Sébastien Loeb (FRA) Citröen C4   Citroën
2010 Sébastien Loeb (FRA) Citröen C4   Citroën
2011 Sébastien Loeb (FRA) Citröen DS3   Citroën
2012 Sébastien Loeb (FRA) Citröen DS3   Citroën
2013 Sébastien Ogier (FRA) Volkswagen Polo R   Volkswagen
2014 Sébastien Ogier (FRA) Volkswagen Polo R   Volkswagen
2015 Sébastien Ogier (FRA) Volkswagen Polo R   Volkswagen
2016 Sébastien Ogier (FRA) Volkswagen Polo R   Volkswagen