Wed 12 Apr 2023

Memorable Moments: Carlos Sainz

He's considered one of his country's greatest athletes and a WRC legend. Carlos Sainz, who was voted by fans and journalists as The Greatest WRC Driver of all time, celebrates his 61st birthday today (Wednesday).

Sainz, fondly known as 'El Matador', won the drivers' world title twice with Toyota and achieved 26 WRC victories from 196 career starts. He was one of the most consistent drivers in the WRC and managed to finish in second or third place in the championship on nine occasions.

With a reputation for meticulous attention to detail and pre-event preparation, Sainz stood on the podium in almost half of the rallies he started. Let's take a look at some of the most memorable moments from his illustrious career.

First victory
Sainz and Toyota's start to the 1990 season had been frustrating, especially in Corsica, where he encountered a local reversing on one stage and a wandering bull on the next. However, all those difficulties were forgotten in Greece when he secured his maiden WRC win.

With a 25-point gap between him and Didier Auriol ahead of the Acropolis, the Madrid star narrowed the deficit to just five with a victory on an event where many anticipated the technical frailties of the Celica ST185 would be exposed by the increasing speed of European WRC rounds.

Sainz did experience power steering and gearbox issues, but both problems were resolved quickly. His fortunes appeared to have changed as he celebrated his first WRC rally win, finishing 46 seconds ahead of his former team-mate Juha Kankkunen.

Beating the locals
For most rally drivers, their first win is the most significant moment of their career. However, Carlos' finest drive arguably came later in 1990 when he became the first non-Nordic driver to win Finland's WRC round, the 1000 Lakes Rally. It wasn't just the historical significance of his victory, but how he achieved it.

Sainz had injured his left ankle in a recce accident the day before the event, and the swelling was so severe that he had to wear a sneaker on his left foot. Despite all this, Sainz broke Finnish hearts while simultaneously showing sufficient sisu to win over those broken hearts.

Title dreams accomplished
Winning his first championship title just four years into his WRC career was a monumental accomplishment for Sainz, as was breaking the monopoly that Lancia drivers had previously had over the drivers' crown. The Italians retained the manufacturers' award through 1990, but only just.

Heartbreak in 1998
When main rival Tommi Mäkinen retired from the season finale in Great Britain, Sainz knew that finishing fourth or higher would be enough to secure the title for himself and co-driver Luis Moya.

Everything was going according to plan for the Spanish duo as they reached the final stage - the silverware within sight. But just three-hundred metres before the flying finish the car's engine ground to a halt, ending their dreams of a third crown.

Sainz was devastated, but Moya's anger was palpable; he first attacked the engine with a fire extinguisher before hurling his helmet through the rear window.

Impressive Returns with Citroën
Despite retiring at the end of the 2004 season, Sainz found himself back in the WRC with Citroën, who requested his assistance in replacing the struggling Belgian youngster François Duval. Although Duval soon reclaimed his seat, Sainz's performances in the Citroën were impressive, with the then 43-year-old Spaniard finishing fourth and third overall respectively in Turkey and Greece.

Latvia
Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Italy
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 8:30:00 AM
Hungary
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 9:30:00 AM