Autosport readers choose the greatest WRC drivers in history
In the lead up to the World Rally Championship’s 50th anniversary season celebrations at Rally Portugal, Autosport asked readers on social media to name its greatest ever driver. So who came out on top?
Over the last 50 seasons, the World Rally Championship has helped cultivate an array of talent that have produced feats of brilliance, left onlookers stunned and become household names in the process.
And while recent years have been the domain of drivers named Sebastien, the title has been determined by just a single point on five occasions, with nine different nations represented on the list of champions.
After collating answers from our reader poll, we’ve whittled down the results to reveal the top six greatest drivers as voted by Autosport readers. Among those to miss out were four-time champion Juha Kankkunen (1.5% of the vote), plus two-time champion Marcus Gronholm (3%) and England's only world champion Richard Burns (2.3%).
In all, 30 drivers received votes, including early-2000s Ford ace Markko Martin, flamboyant Italian privateer Gianluigi Galli, Northern Ireland's Kris Meeke and current world championship leader Kalle Rovanpera.
6. Sebastien Ogier
Ogier bowed out as a WRC full-timer after securing his eighth title last year, but remains as a part-time entrant
Photo by: Toyota Racing
WRC titles: 8 (2013-2018, 2020-2021)
WRC wins: 54
Vote share: 3.8%
Sebastien Ogier is regarded by some as the WRC’s greatest of all time courtesy of his eight world titles achieved with three different manufacturers; Volkswagen, Ford and Toyota.
Ogier took up the baton left by rival and compatriot Sebastien Loeb following the nine-time world champion’s full-time WRC retirement in 2012, and has dominated the WRC since.
Racking up 54 WRC wins to date, his first coming after a duel with Loeb at Portugal in 2010, Ogier developed into a complete driver with an ability to win despite opening the road, and an undeterred determination to win.
PLUS: How WRC legend Ogier will be remembered by his peers
The Frenchman enjoyed a run of six consecutive world championships, the first four driving the all-conquering Volkswagen Polo WRC between 2013 and 2016. Ogier's unbroken run of success continued upon moving to M-Sport Ford in 2017, and he defended his title in 2018.
During a period of dominance from 2013-2021, Ogier only missed out on the world title once, to then-Toyota driver Ott Tanak, while driving an under-developed factory Citroen C3 WRC in 2019. He returned to world title winning form after switching to Toyota to replace the Hyundai-bound Tanak in 2020 and 2021.
The 38-year-old ended his full-time WRC career in style by winning Rally Monza to seal an eighth world title last year, but has already come close to adding to his victory tally at Monte Carlo this year while competing in a partial campaign for Toyota.
“He has his own style, a very efficient style,” said Loeb of Ogier when speaking with Autosport last year. “When I started, it started to be like this [smoother, less oversteer], and now with the new cars maybe less. He has the style to do it properly.
“He is also the best in the fact that he believes he is not leaving the rallies without points. Overall, at the end of the season, he is the best.”
5. Tommi Makinen
Makinen and Mitsubishi won four titles on the spin together in the mid-to-late 1990s
Photo by: Ralph Hardwick
WRC titles: 4 (1996-1999)
WRC wins: 24
Vote share: 4.9%
Synonymous with Mitsubishi, Tommi Makinen became a household name in the 1990s as a dominant force in the WRC and a long-time rival of Colin McRae.
Compared to today, the Finn was a late bloomer in rallying after landing his first full-time WRC campaign with a manufacturer at the age of 31, when he joined Mitsubishi in 1995.
Makinen came to prominence by winning the 1994 Rally Finland driving a factory Ford Escort Cosworth. It was to be the first of 24 rally wins as a move to the factory Mitsubishi team run by Andrew Cowan helped Makinen become a WRC legend.
Four consecutive titles followed from 1996 to 1999, driving the formidable red and white Lancer. He beat McRae (Subaru) to the crown in 1996 and 1997, then Carlos Sainz (Toyota) in dramatic circumstances in 1998 before seeing off Richard Burns (Subaru) in 1999.
Archive: How Makinen won his first WRC title
Makinen bowed out of the WRC in 2003 after two seasons piloting a factory Subaru, taking his last victory on his debut with the Prodrive-run team at the 2002 Monte Carlo Rally, his fourth in a row on the winter classic.
Following his retirement as a driver, Makinen formed his own rally team preparing cars for customers, before Toyota came calling when the Japanese marque returned to the WRC in 2017.
As Toyota's team principal, he became the only person to win the WRC title as a driver and team boss in 2018 as Ott Tanak beat Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Ogier.
4. Carlos Sainz
Sainz won his first of two world titles with Toyota in 1990, but came close to adding several more
Photo by: Motorsport Images
WRC titles: 2 (1990,1992)
WRC wins: 26
Vote share: 5.8%
Known as ‘El Matador’, Carlos Sainz became Spain’s first and so far only world rally champion, remaining a perennial title contender throughout the 1990s.
Sainz enjoyed a glittering WRC career that spanned 18 years, highlighted by world titles in 1990 and 1992 for Toyota. But it could have yielded even more had luck been on his side in 1991, 1994, 1995 and 1998, all years when he finished as runner-up.
Sainz clinched the WRC crown in only his second factory campaign with Toyota in 1990, driving the iconic Celica GT Four ST165. The season also included a ground breaking victory in Finland - the first for a driver from outside Scandinavia. Having comfortably seen off Didier Auriol that year by 45 points, his 1992 triumph over 1991 victor Juha Kankkunen was far tighter, as victories on the final two events in Spain and Britain gave him a 10-point advantage.
Consistency was a famed Sainz trait and he finished inside the top three in the championship standings on 11 occasions. Sainz enjoyed spells driving for the factory teams of Toyota (1989-1992, 1998-1999), Subaru (1994-1995), Ford (1996-1997, 2000-2002) and Citroen (2003-2005), scoring wins with each of them.
Despite having not competed in the WRC since he made two cameo appearances in place of Francois Duval in 2005, Sainz remains fourth on the all-time event winners list behind Loeb, Ogier and Marcus Gronholm. He sits second for most starts and most podiums, with 97 rostrum visits (the last coming on his final start in Turkey), and is only beaten for career stage wins by Loeb and Markku Alen.
Outside of his title-winning years, Sainz came the closest to adding a third title in 1998. After championship leader Makinen was an early retirement on Rally GB, Sainz only needed to finish fourth or better and was 500 metres away from the finish of the final stage at Margam Park when his Toyota Corolla suffered an engine failure, allowing Makinen to scoop the title by two points.
He also came close in 1995, when he lost out to Subaru team-mate Colin McRae in a tense and controversial season decided at the RAC Rally finale.
“The world championships, the first win and the victory in the 1000 lakes are the highlights of my career,” Sainz told Autosport. “When I arrived to the World Rally Championship I wanted to change the way it works and the history by starting to win rallies like Finland, Great Britain, Safari and Corsica because I thought a good rally driver must win everywhere.”
Since leaving the WRC, Sainz continues to compete in Extreme E and the Dakar Rally, winning the latter three times in 2010, 2018 and 2020.
3. Walter Rohrl
Rohrl took his second of four Monte Carlo wins aboard an Opel Ascona 400 in 1982
Photo by: Motorsport Images
WRC titles: 2 (1980-1982)
WRC wins: 14
Vote share: 6.5%
Once labelled “a genius on wheels” by the late three-time Formula 1 world champion Niki Lauda, Autosport readers voted Walter Rohrl third in our poll.
Compared to the likes of Loeb and Ogier, Rohrl only scored two world titles, and competed in selected events rather than the full championship. He refused to drive in Finland because of his dislike of jumps. But the German is still today regarded among the rally driver elite.
Rohrl competed in the first FIA World Rally Championship round in Monte Carlo in 1973 before exiting the championship in 1987, with 14 event wins to his name. He was also part of the factory Lancia squad that claimed the last constructors’ crown to be won by a two-wheel drive car, with the stunning 037 in 1983.
During his glittering career, Rohrl won rallies for Fiat, Opel, Lancia and Audi. His first world title arrived in 1980 driving a factory Fiat 131 Abarth, scoring four wins from the seven events entered.
He also came out on top in perhaps one of the championship’s most memorable seasons, when he defeated Audi’s Michele Mouton to win the 1982 title for Opel.
Insight: Why WRC trailblazer Mouton has no regrets over missed title bid
For Rohrl, success is not measured by world titles but by Monte Carlo wins. He has four, at the wheel of four marques; Fiat (1980), Opel (1982), Lancia (1983) and Audi (1984).
“My four Monte Carlo victories are the most important in my life,” Rohrl told Autosport. “I was dreaming to win one time, but I was lucky to win it four times with four different cars - that was the highlight.
“[Monte Carlo] shows the perfect driver. You must be a good tarmac driver, good on snow and you must be very, very precise. There is no space for mistakes, and I like to be very precise.”
Rohrl’s final WRC victory came at the wheel of the fire-breathing Group B Audi Quattro S1 at Sanremo in 1985.
2. Colin McRae
McRae's flat out style made him a fan favourite, but he was effective too and won 25 rallies
Photo by: Sutton Images
WRC titles: 1 (1995)
WRC wins: 25
Vote share: 17.8%
For a generation, rallying was defined by Colin McRae - the king of maximum attack. Still revered 15 years after his death in a helicopter accident in 2007, McRae put the WRC on the map in Great Britain - creating a legend and legacy that continues to live on today.
McRae’s flamboyant edge-of-the-seat driving style made him an instant fan favourite. Whatever he was driving, it was box office entertainment not to be missed.
Of course, such a wild approach to stages inevitably ended up in accidents on occasions, but the Scot's WRC record remains impressive. Headlined by the 1995 world title, the first for a British driver in the championship, he remains fifth on the all-time winners list and is still the youngest-ever champion, having achieved the feat aged 27.
McRae received his first taste of WRC in 1991, the same season he would win the first of two British Rally Championship titles. By 1993 he had notched up a maiden WRC win in New Zealand, before his crowning glory arrived after a bitter battle with Carlos Sainz in 1995. The title was secured in style, by winning the RAC Rally on home soil, which created front page headlines and propelled him to unprecedented levels of fame.
PLUS: Colin McRae's 10 greatest rallies ranked
He would become locked in a rivalry with Mitsubishi’s Tommi Makinen, who beat the Scot to the world title in 1996 and 1997, before McRae joined the factory Ford team run by M-Sport for 1999. A second world title became a realistic prospect in 2001 in the famed ‘Battle of the Brits’ head-to-head decider against Subaru’s Richard Burns. But when early leader McRae crashed out, it handed the title to Burns.
Two more full seasons followed, another with Ford and one with the factory Citroen squad in 2003, although he almost wrestled a Skoda Fabia to a podium in Australia in 2005, and replaced an injured Sebastien Loeb in Turkey the following year.
Such is the regard McRae is held in that rallies all over the world continue to pay tribute. Rally Sweden named one of its jumps Colin’s Crest and in Portugal a painted Saltire remains a permanent fixture on the Fafe stage to honour McRae.
1. Sebastien Loeb
Loeb's 80 WRC wins is comfortably the most of anybody, with Ogier second on 54 and Gronholm third on 30
Photo by: Sutton Images
WRC titles: 9 (2004-2012)
WRC wins to date: 80
Vote share: 40.9%
After receiving almost half of the vote, Autosport readers declared Sebastien Loeb as the greatest driver in World Rally Championship history.
Loeb is not as flamboyant as McRae, but the Frenchman’s record of nine consecutive world titles and longevity stands above the rest. His 80th and latest rally win arrived on this season's Monte Carlo after a straight fight with Sebastien Ogier, and came 20 years after his first full WRC campaign began with a bang on the same event.
The Frenchman, combined with the factory Citroen team, were unbeatable from 2004 to 2012 before Loeb decided to call time on his full-time career and switched to circuit racing - making use of his hugely effective smooth driving style. His is an undisputed feat that seems unlikely to be repeated, especially now that eight-time champion Ogier has called time on his full-time career.
Statistically, Loeb has claimed more titles (9), rally wins (80), podiums (120) and stage wins (928) than any other driver in history, with this all coming from 182 starts. It equates to a victory strike rate of 44% and podium strike rate of 65%.
PLUS: The early setbacks that shaped the WRC's greatest driver
Loeb's victory in the first event of the WRC's Rally1 hybrid era showed that his class hasn't wavered. Driving for M-Sport-Ford, it also marked his first WRC win outside of the Citroen brand.
Loeb managed to see off serious title threats from Petter Solberg, Marcus Gronholm, Mikko Hirvonen and a young Ogier during his reign of dominance. His peers regard him as a complete driver, who rarely buckled under pressure.
“He had everything,” Gronholm told Autosport. “It was a perfect combination, his driving, the co-driver [Daniel Elena], the whole Citroen team and the car never broke.
"He was sometimes unbeatable, because he was so consistent. He took many titles from me, at least the last two [in 2006 and 2007 when he finished runner-up].”
Loeb won the 2007 title with the new C4, denying Gronholm the crown in his final year
Photo by: Sutton Images
Evans: Rovanpera “adapted quicker” to gel with 2022 Toyota WRC car
Gravel Notes Podcast: WRC Rally Portugal review and Rally Italy preview
How a WRC legend is still making people sit up and take notice
How a WRC legend is still making people sit up and take notice How a WRC legend is still making people sit up and take notice
Loeb won't defend Extreme E title with Lewis Hamilton's X44 team
Loeb won't defend Extreme E title with Lewis Hamilton's X44 team Loeb won't defend Extreme E title with Lewis Hamilton's X44 team
Why Loeb v Ogier duel gave the WRC's new hybrid era the ideal start
Why Loeb v Ogier duel gave the WRC's new hybrid era the ideal start Why Loeb v Ogier duel gave the WRC's new hybrid era the ideal start
Le Mans 24 Hours: Calado puts Ferrari top in final practice session
Le Mans 24 Hours: Calado puts Ferrari top in final practice session Le Mans 24 Hours: Calado puts Ferrari top in final practice session
Ferrari didn’t expect lap time for Le Mans 24 Hours pole
Ferrari didn’t expect lap time for Le Mans 24 Hours pole Ferrari didn’t expect lap time for Le Mans 24 Hours pole
United has to "do something clever" to recover from tough Le Mans qualifying
United has to "do something clever" to recover from tough Le Mans qualifying United has to "do something clever" to recover from tough Le Mans qualifying
Le Mans 24 Hours: Ferrari locks out front row, Cadillac suffers fire
Le Mans 24 Hours: Ferrari locks out front row, Cadillac suffers fire Le Mans 24 Hours: Ferrari locks out front row, Cadillac suffers fire
The Neuville splash and grab that ends Hyundai’s WRC win drought
The Neuville splash and grab that ends Hyundai’s WRC win drought The Neuville splash and grab that ends Hyundai’s WRC win drought
How Rovanpera fired the WRC a timely reminder of his class in Portugal
How Rovanpera fired the WRC a timely reminder of his class in Portugal How Rovanpera fired the WRC a timely reminder of his class in Portugal
How Evans ended his WRC drought in sombre Croatia breakthrough
How Evans ended his WRC drought in sombre Croatia breakthrough How Evans ended his WRC drought in sombre Croatia breakthrough
The Mexico maestro keeps cool among the WRC chaos
The Mexico maestro keeps cool among the WRC chaos The Mexico maestro keeps cool among the WRC chaos
How the WRC title fight ignited in Sweden's winter wonderland
How the WRC title fight ignited in Sweden's winter wonderland How the WRC title fight ignited in Sweden's winter wonderland
Why Monte Carlo success could spark another past master’s WRC revival
Why Monte Carlo success could spark another past master’s WRC revival Why Monte Carlo success could spark another past master’s WRC revival
How fired-up Ogier became the WRC's ultimate Monte master
How fired-up Ogier became the WRC's ultimate Monte master How fired-up Ogier became the WRC's ultimate Monte master
How Lancia pulled off its famous Monte Carlo giantkilling
How Lancia pulled off its famous Monte Carlo giantkilling How Lancia pulled off its famous Monte Carlo giantkilling
Subscribe and access Autosport.com with your ad-blocker.
From Formula 1 to MotoGP we report straight from the paddock because we love our sport, just like you. In order to keep delivering our expert journalism, our website uses advertising. Still, we want to give you the opportunity to enjoy an ad-free and tracker-free website and to continue using your adblocker.