There can be several barriers in the way of a prospective rally driver trying to make the start of their first World Rally Championship rally.
Money. That’s the big one. How often have you heard amateur or semi-professional drivers (quite rightly) talk about their budget constraints and how that can affect their rallying program?
Time. That’s another, particularly for the gentleman driver who fancies a crack against the world’s best but doesn’t necessarily have the availability in the diary to escape business life. After all, a week is a long time away from work.
But what can certainly never be said to be a hurdle is age.
Career longevity is one thing – Sébastien Loeb is still sporadically driving in the WRC over 20 years after his first top class start – but what’s just as, if not more, fascinating is drivers beginning their WRC journey at an age many would be expecting them to hang up their helmets at.
As it turns out, Loeb is basically a toddler compared to some of his elders that have taken on the WRC.
As we all should when we’ve got a quiet moment, DirtFish has been through the wonderful and diverse resource at eWRC-results and uncovered a quite staggering list of the oldest drivers to have made their first start in the WRC.
This weekend’s Ypres Rally Belgium welcomes a new entrant to the list: Paul Lietaer, who’ll compete as car #72 in an Alpine A110 RGT.
Lietaer is the perfect example of what makes rallying and its competitors so special. First driving all the way back in 1977, Belgian driver Lietaer has driven it all – Kaddetts, Sunbeams, Mantas, 205s, Sierra Cosworths, Escort Cosworths, Mk2 Escorts, M3s, Group A Imprezas, WRC Imprezas and now the Alpine.
He’s won plenty too, lifting both the 1998 Belgian national title and the 2018 Belgian historic title, winning 118 rallies throughout a career that’s racked up nigh on 500 starts.
But one thing has been missing for all these years: the WRC. Not anymore. At 65 years old, Lietaer takes on his first ever WRC rally this week – which we can all agree is simply fantastic.
However, Lietaer is far from the only driver to take their first step into the world championship at such an age. In fact, he’s only the sixth oldest driver to make their WRC debut.
|1||Franklin Bataille||Ypres 2021||75 years, 3 months, 21 days|
|2||Alain Cusimano||Monte Carlo 2020||70 years, 7 months, 16 days|
|3||Walter Mayer||Sweden 2016||68 years, 0 months, 4 days|
|4||John Coyne||Corsica 2018||67 years, 10 months, 1 day|
|5||Luciano Cobbe||Italy 2019||65 years, 5 months, 24 days|
|6||Paul Lietaer||Ypres 2022||65 years, 1 month, 25 days|
|7||Richard Ceen||GB 2016||64 years, 4 months, 18 days|
|8||Adam Wędrychowski||Monte Carlo 1977||63 years, 9 months, 15 days|
|9||Jens Nielsen||Germany 2018||63 years, 7 months, 11 days|
|10||Kurt Dujarydn||Ypres 2021||63 years, 4 months, 24 days|
Full respect to these guys, as they’re what makes rallying truly great. None of them are world champions, none of them had a works contract even. They all just had a passion to drive and compete, and didn’t let anybody tell them they couldn’t do it.
We’ll watch Lietaer’s progress with interest this weekend.