10 WRC drivers who switched manufacturers mid-season

With Teemu Suninen jumping from Ford to Hyundai in the same season, we've dug out 10 drivers who made similar moves


The news that Teemu Suninen will drive a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC on this year’s World Rally Championship finale at Monza has somewhat been overshadowed by the fact Ott Tänak won’t be there.

But it’s a massive opportunity for Suninen who left M-Sport earlier in the season after a split campaign in the top class and WRC2.

However, it’s also intriguing, as it means the Finn will compete for two different works manufacturer teams throughout the 2021 season.

This, of course, isn’t the first time this has happened in history. In fact, it used to be commonplace when the WRC was emerging back in the 1970s and early ’80s.

But nowadays it is less heard of. DirtFish has picked out 10 previous times in history a driver has started a WRC season with one manufacturer but ended it with another.

Stig Blomqvist 

1986: Ford & Peugeot
1986 Acropolis Rallycopyright:Mcklein

The original Stig had been a staple of Audi’s WRC attack throughout the Group B era, linking up with the marque in 1983 and winning the ’84 world championship in a Quattro Sport.

But in 1986, Blomqvist moved to Ford as it launched its new RS200 model. Ford’s ’86 season was just a part-time affair and the RS200 program would fail to properly take off as Group B was mothballed at the end of the season.

Blomqvist entered Sweden, Portugal and the RAC with Ford but failed to finish any of the events; an engine let go in Sweden, a crash in Portugal and a turbo failing in the UK.

But he did chalk up a third and a fourth-place finish throughout the 1986 season, driving a Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 E2 in Argentina and Finland that fell after Portugal and before the RAC.

Blomqvist scored third in South America and followed that up with fourth over the famous crests of Finland. Ford didn’t take part in either event, leaving Blomqvist free to contest them for rival Peugeot.

Markku Alén

1993: Subaru & Toyota

Alén was a stalwart of Lancia’s WRC attack, driving for the manufacturer from 1982 to 1989 – and famously without winning a title.

But by 1993, he was without a full-time contract in the world championship having driven for Subaru in 1990 and ’91 and Toyota in ’92. He therefore elected to take up one-off opportunities with both of his two most recent employers for three rounds of that year’s 13-round calendar.

Alén’s season started in Portugal behind the wheel of a Subaru Legacy as team-mate to Colin McRae – quite the partnership upon reflection. Alén managed to scoop fourth with McRae down in seventh.

Then he was off to Africa for the notorious Safari Rally as part of Toyota’s quadruple attack. Toyota duly snared a 1-2-3-4 with Alén in second, securing what would prove to be the final WRC podium of his career.

He was then donning the famous blue and yellow of Subaru once more on Rally Finland, giving the Impreza 555 its debut along with Ari Vatanen as McRae was controversially kept out of the line-up.

It wouldn’t end well however as Alén crashed on the very first stage, bringing his active WRC career to an abrupt and unfitting conclusion.

Tommi Mäkinen

1994: Ford & Mitsubishi
940826SF Makinen 04 ctp

By 1994 Tommi Mäkinen was a known quantity in the WRC; largely courtesy of some stand-out performances in a private Lancia Delta HF Integrale the year before. But a contract to drive for a works team had proved elusive.

Mäkinen’s WRC season began in Portugal with Nissan in ’94, competing in the 2-Litre class only for his Sunny GTI’s engine to blow. However, alongside events in the UK with Nissan, Mäkinen secured a deal to join François Delecour and Bruno Thiry at Ford for his home event in Finland. It would prove to be the making of his career.

He had performed well the previous year, finishing fourth, but blew that performance out the weeds in ’94 with victory ahead of Didier Auriol’s Toyota. This naturally attracted the attention of others, and Mitsubishi won Mäkinen’s signature for the 1995 season.

The future four-time WRC champion would drive an Evo II in ’94 too though, entering the Sanremo Rally as Armin Schwarz’s team-mate. He was an early third fastest on SS1 but was soon out with suspension issues.

Mäkinen would continue his commitment to Nissan outside the WRC in ’94 but in 1995 he was a full-time Mitsubishi driver and by ’96 he was a world champion with the team. He would then of course go on to claim the ’97, ’98 and ’99 titles with Mitsubishi too.

Didier Auriol

1996: Subaru & Mitsubishi
960209S Auriol 06 rk

Aside from a couple of years with Lancia – that probably should’ve landed him the 1992 drivers’ title – Didier Auriol’s impressive stint in the WRC is best associated with Toyota.

But in 1996 Auriol only made two world championship appearances, and they were both for two of Toyota’s biggest rivals.

With Toyota suspended from the WRC for a year following its ingenious turbo cheat in 1995, Auriol elected to look elsewhere for competition instead of sticking around for sporadic, privately-run events in a Celica like ’95 team-mate Juha Kankkunen did.

Auriol was therefore looking for opportunities and Subaru gave him one for Rally Sweden as he joined McRae and Kenneth Eriksson in a works Impreza. It was far from Auriol’s most complete WRC performance though as he languished down in 11th overall at the finish.

Eight months later, Auriol’s driving services were requested again but this time by Mitsubshi as he took to the controls of an Evo III for the Sanremo Rally in place of Richard Burns. The 1994 world champion finished eighth as the only Mitsubishi to finish.

Alongside these competition appearances Auriol was however still involved with Toyota, helping to test and develop its Corolla WRC. He drove the car in competition for some events in 1997 before completing two full seasons in ’98 and ’99.

Ari Vatanen

1998: Ford & Subaru
Kankunnen, Safari

Throughout the 1990s, Vatanen had garnered a handsome reputation for picking up important results for manufacturers on a part-time program. It started with Subaru at the start of the decade before Vatanen joined Ford in 1994.

The 1981 world champion would enter just two WRC rallies across the next three years – both in Escorts – before he returned to a more complete program in 1998. Replacing Thiry for the Safari and Portugal, Vatanen was sensationally on the podium on the former and fifth on the latter.

Thiry was back in the #8 Escort WRC thereafter but also secured a drive on Rally Finland as a third entrant. Sadly, Vatanen was forced to retire from ninth place when his engine failed on the final leg.

Everyone expected that to be the end of his WRC season, but Vatanen would reappear on Rally GB at the end of the season. However, this time he was driving a Subaru Impreza WRC as the team was forced into a reshuffle.

Seat-bound Piero Liatti didn’t take part, so Vatanen assumed that entry, competing with Liatti’s co-driver Fabrizia Pons as Alister McRae joined brother Colin in the second car. Vatanen retired at the start of the third day with electrical problems.

Marcus Grönholm 

1999: Seat, Mitsubishi & Peugeot
1999 Portugali Rallyworld wide copyright: McKlein

For years, Marcus Grönholm had been driving Toyotas to some decent results in the WRC, but there just hadn’t been any room at the inn alongside Carlos Sainz and Didier Auriol – although Grönholm did drive a Corolla WRC on its debut event in Finland, 1997.

He was a free agent in 1999, which led to several manufacturers fancying his services. First to snap Grönholm up for an event was Seat which put him in the second Cordoba WRC alongside Harri Rovanperä for Rally Sweden – just the second rally of Seat’s top-class tenure.

Grönholm was eighth fastest on the opener but wouldn’t complete stage two as engine failure halted him. He was back in WRC action soon afterwards though in Portugal, albeit this time in a Mitsubishi, as Mäkinen’s team-mate, as regular driver Freddy Loix recovered from a big crash on the Safari.

Grönholm starred, running within the top three early on before sliding back to fifth and eventually having to retire on SS16 with a broken transmission. As disappointing as that was, Grönholm’s point had been proven and several teams were sniffing around for his signature.

Peugeot won. The brand was testing its 206 WRC on select rounds of the 1999 season before a full campaign in 2000. It entered Grönholm from its debut event in Greece onwards including Finland (where Grönholm was fourth), Sanremo, Australia and GB.

Grönholm remained part of the team in 2000 and won the world championship in his first full season in the WRC.

Petter Solberg 

2000: Ford & Subaru
05_000511RA Solberg 1 rkT

Petter Solberg’s mid-season move was perhaps one of the most controversial on this list as it wasn’t facilitated through injury to another competitor or a smaller program. Solberg simply spied a new challenge, committed his future to a new team and ended up driving for it early.

Solberg had risen to WRC stardom quickly, filling in for Thomas Rådström on the 1999 Safari and snaring a strong fifth place. He had been snapped up by Malcolm Wilson to drive a third Ford Focus WRC on select rounds of 1999 before a more complete 2000 program.

He was again fifth on the Safari and fourth on New Zealand but a messy accident in Finland indicated that he still had things to learn. However, Subaru wasn’t deterred, making an approach and duly pinching Solberg from Ford’s grasp.

Markko Märtin’s signature had also been secured as Subaru ramped up its team with an eye for the future. Märtin would eventually flee to Ford for 2002 but Solberg’s Tour de Corse debut (just one round after Finland) with Subaru in 2000 began a relationship that lasted until 2008 and netted one world title in 2003.

But Solberg is unique as the only driver in the modern era of the WRC to sign a full-time contract with a manufacturer between WRC rallies and drive for his new outfit on mutiple occasions that same season.

Freddy Loix 

2003: Hyundai & Peugeot
loix tor 60

Following a few seasons at Mitsubishi that delivered great promise but not great results, Freddy Loix found refuge in Hyundai for 2002 and ’03.

However, things weren’t exactly plain sailing in an Accent WRC. The team lacked the resources of some of its heavy-hitting rivals and the competitiveness of the car therefore suffered as a result.

Rally Australia would prove to be Loix’s last with Hyundai however as the team announced it would retire from the WRC with immediate effect. Loix had however engineered his exit earlier, signing a contract with Peugeot for 2004 one month before Hyundai’s decision.

Loix was however expecting a quiet end to 2003 with Hyundai disappearing with four rounds still remaining, but the Belgian made his Peugeot debut earlier than expected on Rally GB, 2003.

When Richard Burns fell ill on the eve of the rally – an illness that would tragically take his life two years later – Peugeot needed a replacement and new recruit Loix was therefore drafted in to drive the vacant 206 WRC.

He finished sixth before an underwhelming five-round campaign in ’04 with the flawed 307 WRC.

Dani Sordo 

2012: Mini & Ford

Sordo emerged as a WRC driver with Citroën, graduating from Junior WRC in 2005 to a works program in a Xsara WRC for 2006. He remained with the team until 2010 when he decided to leave – his spot under threat by the emerging Sébastien Ogier – and join the fledgling Mini project.

Mini, which hadn’t been present at the top of rallying since the 1960s, only ever planned to contest a part-time program in 2011 before a full season in ’12, and Sordo was its lead driver. Early signs were encouraging as Sordo collected two podiums on the asphalt of Germany and France, but things soon turned a bit sour.

There was unease between BMW – owner of the Mini brand – and Prodrive which ran the WRC concern about financing the project, and only one main driver was able to be kept on in 2012. Sordo was retained, but his program was only seven rounds instead of 13.

Sordo would however sneak in an eighth on Rally Argentina as Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala broke his collarbone in a skiing accident. Ford needed a driver at short notice and Sordo was drafted in for Rally Argentina to partner Petter Solberg, driving a Fiesta WRC for the one and only time in his WRC career.

It was almost a dream result. Sordo had been running third heading onto the powerstage, but the alternator failed and put paid to any podium dreams he and the team harbored.

Andreas Mikkelsen

2017: Citroën & Hyundai

Andreas Mikkelsen looked to be a Volkswagen Motorsport lifer before VW bosses unexpectedly decided to pull the plug on the program late in 2016. That left Mikkelsen, Ogier and Latvala without a drive but Mikkelsen was the only one of the trio who failed to secure one for 2017.

He instead regressed to WRC2 in a Škoda and achieved some strong results before earning an opportunity back in the top class of the WRC. Citroën came calling and offered Mikkelsen the chance to drive a C3 WRC in Italy, Poland (controversially in place of Kris Meeke) and Germany.

Mikkelsen struggled to make an impression on gravel however, achieving a best finish of eighth in Sardinia. On asphalt – where the C3 WRC was fundamentally better suited – things reversed and he was in the thick of the fight for victory, narrowly missing out to M-Sport’s Ott Tänak.

Rally Germany was the last of Mikkelsen’s Citroën deal, but he would only have to miss one more WRC event that season. Hyundai Motorsport brought Mikkelsen in for Rally Spain, GB and Australia in a bid to strengthen its manufacturers’ championship prospects and to support Thierry Neuville’s drivers’ title bid.

Neither Hyundai nor Neuville succeeded but Mikkelsen – despite making a mistake while leading in Australia – did enough to win a seat in an i20 Coupe WRC for the following two seasons.