Friday | 29 Aug 2014

Björn Waldegård 1943 – 2014

Björn Waldegård, the first man to win the World Championship for Drivers’ in 1979, has died. He was 70.

The Swede, who won 16 world championship rallies during his career, had been receiving treatment for cancer when his condition deteriorated.

Waldegård began rallying at home in Sweden where he took his first national championship title in 1967. He recorded his first international win in 1969 when he drove a Porsche 911 to victory at Rallye Monte-Carlo – a feat he then repeated the following season.

Victories followed on a number of other international events, mostly with Porsche, and when the WRC was established in 1973, Waldegård was signed as one of the star drivers in the Alitalia-backed works Lancia squad.

He claimed his maiden WRC wins in 1975, driving the evocative Stratos to first place in Sweden and Italy. A bitter rivalry with fellow Lancia driver Sandro Munari came to a head on the 1976 Rallye Sanremo when Waldegård was asked by the team to surrender a four-second advantage over his Italian team-mate.

Waldegård did as he was instructed but went on to win the rally anyway, such was his dominance. He switched to Ford soon afterwards. For the next three years, Waldegård joined Roger Clark and Hannu Mikkola as they drove the Ford Escort RS 1800 into the rallying history books.

Waldegård took three wins in 1977, one in 1978, and enjoyed his most successful year in 1979 when he won the first-ever World Championship for Drivers’ title in a dual programme aboard an Escort and a Mercedes 450 SLC.

In 1981, Waldegård linked up with Toyota, beginning an association that lasted until 1992 when he retired from top-level competition after breaking his arm in a crash on the Safari Rally.

Despite retiring from the WRC, Waldegård contested various historic events for fun, most notably the East African Safari Rally. His final rally win came on the Kenyan event at the age of 68.