There is a long-held tradition among World Rally Championship drivers hailing from Finland to make a return to their home WRC round on their 50th birthday year.
But Frenchman Didier Auriol came very close to doing the same thing on his home event after turning 60, agreeing a deal with M-Sport to drive a current generation World Rally Car on the 2019 Tour de Corse that only fell through due to a lack of sponsorship.
Auriol, who amassed 20 WRC wins and won the 1994 title with Toyota at 36 years old, made his final appearance on the world stage in 2005, retiring with engine failure from the Monte Carlo Rally in a privateer Peugeot 206.
But 14 years later, Auriol had lined up a return to the world stage with a works Ford Fiesta WRC prepared by M-Sport, though budget issues ultimately stopped him from returning.
“Two years ago I tried for my 60th birthday to rent a current World Rally Car,” Auriol told DirtFish.
“I had some contact with Malcolm Wilson to do Corsica with the Ford, but unfortunately we didn’t manage to get the budget. It was a very big budget and it was impossible.
“It was a really enjoyable idea. I was 60 and I would like to make a road rally with a World Rally Car of today! But unfortunately, we didn’t manage.
“Malcolm tried really hard and tried to make a good deal for me but still I don’t manage.”
Auriol was quick to acknowledge that he wouldn’t have been competing with the current crop of WRC stars for overall position, but instead targeting fast times on specific stages.
“To make a good time, yes, To fight for victory, no. I don’t think so!” he said.
Making some good times sometimes was my hope, but not to fightAuriol on what his rally aims were
“OK, still I have a good style of driving, but this fight that you have when you are young, you miss it. I am sure I wouldn’t fight with these guys. It’s nearly impossible.
“A driver like [Sébastien] Ogier goes very fast because they have a lot of experience of everything.
“I mean not only driving but the style and making the difference with tires, with the feeling of the tire and when it starts to go [down in grip], making little driving style difference to keep the tire [life] and to attack again.
“Making some good times sometimes was my hope, but not to fight.”
Auriol wouldn’t have been the first world champion to make a one-off return in a current WRC-spec car, had his planned Corsica comeback materialized.
His former Toyota and Peugeot team-mate Marcus Grönholm rented a Yaris WRC for Rally Sweden in 2019 but retired on the first leg, suffering an off on every stage in the first leg before going off into a tree on stage four and coming back the next day.
‘I think Marcus is a very fast driver but you can see [what happens] when you stop and don’t drive,” said Auriol.
“If you did three, four, five, six testing days and driving, then maybe Marcus would have made some good times. But unfortunately, he was not really lucky at this time. And maybe that would be my story on Tarmac if I tried to do that!”