Grönholm’s lesser-known factory chance

Prior to his Peugeot stint, long-time underdog Marcus Grönholm also had a shot with Seat - and Mitsubishi

Gronholm Mitsubishi Girardo overlay

It is common for top drivers in the World Rally Championship to drive for multiple manufacturers, as the notoriously fickle makes come and go, or simply as they chase the most competitive rides.

Yet there are still plenty of drivers indelibly linked with one or perhaps two manufacturers, even if they did drive other cars at some point in their careers. Think Colin McRae and Subaru; Tommi Mäkinen and Mitsubishi; Sébastien Loeb and Citroën.

And, of course, Marcus Grönholm and Peugeot. Well OK, Ford too. But Grönholm and Mitsubishi? There surely aren’t many people who associate the two-time world champion with the Japanese marque?

As unusual driver-car combinations go, it’s right up there. But it did happen – once, 25 years ago.

Back in 1999, Grönholm had finally secured a full-fat factory drive with the returning Peugeot squad. He’d spent years trying to impress in Toyota machinery, sometimes with works backing. But this was his big chance.

Marcus Gronholm Story

Having left the WRC as double champions in both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ categories when the curtain came down on Group B, Peugeot finally returned to the top table more than a decade later with the 206 WRC.

The car that famously only reached the minimum length requirements via its bulbous bumpers would go on to power Grönholm to world titles in 2000 and 2002. But for 1999, Peugeot only contested a part-time program, with Grönholm’s first appearance not scheduled until the Acropolis in June.

Before that, Peugeot allowed him to take drives elsewhere, as he continued to build his experience of the WRC. Grönholm drove a Seat Cordoba on Rally Sweden, and then substituted for Freddy Loix at Mitsubishi on Rally Portugal.

Loix had been injured in a big smash on the Safari and would not be fit to compete again until Spain in April. So Grönholm stepped into his Lancer Evo VI, badged as a Carisma GT, for Portugal, where he had briefly led in a privateer Toyota a year earlier.

Developed to suit lead driver Mäkinen, by then a three-time world champion, the Lancer proved to be notoriously difficult to extract the maximum from for many drivers. But on his one appearance in the car, Grönholm went second fastest on the opening superspecial and set four more top-three times before transmission failure ended his event on stage 16 of 23.