Monday | 12 Dec 2022

WRC 50 Experts' View: Keiko Ito

As we near the end of voting for the WRC's 50 greatest moments, we have asked our experts to weigh in on what are the top five moments on their lists, as well as enlightening us on some moments which may not have made the list. First up, Keiko Ito, journalist for the popular Japanese rally magazine, Rally Plus, who has employed the help of her fellow editors at the magazine.

1974: Lancia unveils the Stratos

The Lancia Stratos was THE car designed for rallies and revolutionised the direction which the WRC took after its launch by taking three consecutive titles. We have a magazine called Rally Cars which covers in detail one historic rally car per magazine, and of course, the first issue had to be the Lancia Stratos.

1981: Audi wins the Swedish Rally with the Quattro

For over forty years, we have seen many rally cars but the winning combination of a 4WD + turbocharged engine has never changed since then.

1981: Michèle Mouton claims the first win by a female driver at Sanremo

Gender issues aside… the fact that no other woman has ever won a world championship race or rally and came even close to winning the title makes me respect her even more.

1990: Carlos Sainz becomes the first non-Nordic driver to win the 1000 Lakes

…in a Toyota Celica ST165. It was the advent of Japanese manufacturers’ Group A cars becoming stronger in the WRC with Mitsubishi winning a few events in 1989 and Subaru also getting quicker. But by taking the Drivers’ title in 1990, Carlos Sainz showed to the world that a Japanese car could win a championship, and from 1993 to 1999, Japanese manufacturers consecutively won the Manufacturers’ title as well.

2021: Kalle Rovanperä wins Rally Estonia, aged 20

Many young drivers proved their speed and their worth by winning events, such as Jari-Matti Latvala becoming the youngest WRC winner in Sweden at age 22, but no driver had the speed and the consistency and the calmness that Kalle has to claim the title, and we are looking forward to seeing many of his wins in the future.

My other noteworthy moments

Most importantly, for us Japanese, what was missing and what was the real turning point for us was the first ever Rally Japan in 2004. The Japanese manufacturers were winning titles in the 90s, but many people, especially those involved in rallying, were a bit sceptical that Rally Japan would ever happen, given the complexities of the situation in the country. But it worked! The magic of that Ceremonial Start in front of Obihiro Station where tens of thousands of fans gathered to see their favourite cars and drivers is still something we remember fondly. Lack of Japanese manufacturers resulted in the event being discontinued in 2010.

My other noteworthy moments
Ito and her colleagues noted the WRC coming to Japan as an important moment in WRC's history for them

Fast forward to 2022, Rally Japan was born again from its ashes in a new area of the country, in Toyota City. Once again, we were a bit sceptical about how many people would crowd the service park. And we were wrong! We were pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of many fans visiting the rally. And Taka [Katsuta] taking podium was such a boost! We hope Rally Japan will continue successfully for many years to come.


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