Peugeot is synonymous with two of the World Rally Championship’s finest eras – the pulsating Group B ruleset of the 1980’s and the ultra-competitive World Rally Car breed of the early 2000s.
It should come as no surprise then that the brand has won the constructors title an impressive five times in 1985, ’86, 2000, ’01 and ’02 with three men claiming four drivers’ titles in either 205 T16 and 206 WRC machinery in Timo Salonen, Juha Kankkunen and Marcus Grönholm.
Peugeot’s 48 world rally victories places it fifth in the all-time list, one victory ahead of Subaru but it could so easily have been more. As well as competing in the top class with the 205, 206 and 307 models, Peugeot has been a regular in the support classes with the 306 Maxi Kit Car of the late ’90s the most famous of them all, almost winning rallies on asphalt.
Nowadays, Peugeot’s main rallying revolves around the front-wheel-drive Rally4 class but fans’ dreams remain alive that one day the little lion will return to the top level of world rallying.
Here’s a ranked list of Peugeot’s most prolific rally winners from over the years.
6= Bruno Saby
First victory: Tour de Corse 1986
Last victory: Tour de Corse 1986
No. of wins: 1
Cars: Peugeot 205 T16, Peugeot 205 T16 Evo2
Bruno Saby’s spell with Peugoet was short and sweet – entering just eight rallies for the squad – but he drove for the brand in one of its most competitive eras in 1985 and ’86. Previously a tamer of Renault’s 5 Turbo, Saby was a real threat and particularly on his home round of the world championship: the Tour de Corse.
Second in 1985, Saby and co-driver Jean-François Fauchille went one better the following year on an event that’s best remembered for claiming the lives of Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto.
Both of Saby’s team-mates Timo Salonen and Michèle Mouton retired on the first day with an accident and gearbox niggles respectively, leaving Saby to lead Peugeot’s charge. But he’d been in that position anyway, leading a Peugeot 1-2-3 after the first stage before he and Toivonen began to stretch clear.Toivonen’s Lancia had been leading before his fatal accident but in the aftermath, the other Delta S4 of Miki Biasion was withdrawn from the event leaving Saby’s path clear to claim a 13-minute victory with no four-wheel-drive Group B cars left in the running.
He would join Lancia for the following season and earn the chance to celebrate a WRC victory properly without it being marred by tragedy.
6= Didier Auriol
First victory: Rally Spain 2001
Last victory: Rally Spain 2001
No. of wins: 1
Cars: Peugeot 206 WRC
The 1994 world champion spent just one season in Peugeot colors, joining from Seat when it left the WRC after the 2000 season, and things didn’t quite go as planned. As Auriol told DirtFish earlier this year: “What I wanted to do was try to get the title with Peugeot, with the French team. That was my idea. But immediately, I can see and feel it was not as I imagined. Unfortunately, I was fighting with some engineers at this time and I was not really enjoying driving.”
But things did at least click on the fourth round of the 2001 season in Spain. All of the pre-event chatter surrounded Peugeot’s PSA rivals Citroën which was debuting its Xsara WRC with drivers Jesús Puras and Philippe Bugalski. Puras was subject to controversy too as rumors circulated that his pacenotes were just a little bit too detailed…
The FIA ultimately saw no wrongdoing and Puras shot off like a scalded cat, leading team-mate Bugalski by 8.7s after the first day. Auriol kept in touch though, leading the Peugeot attack from Gilles Panizzi. Puras’s rally was done late on the second day when his Xsara developed a fuel pressure problem, leaving Bugalski clear and ahead of Auriol by 27.7s with one leg to go. The rally looked to be Citroën’s.
But things unravelled on that final day for Bugalski. His Xsara picked up a clutch problem before the start of the day’s second stage, and he and Jean-Paul Chiaroni had worked on it in the time control. For that, they incurred a four-minute time penalty and paved the path clear for Auriol to sneak by and claim his first WRC win for Peugeot and the final one of his career.
6= Harri Rovanperä
First victory: Rally Sweden 2001
Last victory: Rally Sweden 2001
No. of wins: 1
Cars: Peugeot 206 WRC, Peugeot 307 WRC
Like Auriol, Harri Rovanperä joined Peugeot in 2001 as a Seat exile but unlike the Frenchman, the Finn was a privateer in 2000 and stayed with Peugeot for three years after 2001, eventually being replaced by Markko Märtin in 2005 as Rovanperä emigrated to Mitsubishi.
His first – and only – win for both Peugeot and in the WRC itself came on the very first rally of his career in a 206 WRC as Rovanperä defeated four-time world champion Tommi Mäkinen on Rally Sweden.
In truth though, Rovanperä never looked like letting this one slip once the opportunity had presented itself. The father of current Toyota driver Kalle moved into the lead on Saturday afternoon, disposing Carlos Sainz of the position and showed assurance beyond his years – just as Kalle does in 2021 – to keep Sainz and the two Mitsubishis of Mäkinen and Thomas Rådström behind him.
Ultimately Mäkinen faltered, launching his Evo into a snowbank and a subsequent tree on the final stage in his efforts to overhaul Rovanperä. That rally and the 2001 season would be the highlight of Rovanperä’s time with Peugeot as he claimed fifth in the championship standings with three further podiums to complement his Swedish victory.
He spent the next two years sharing the third 206 WRC with asphalt ace Gilles Panizzi and the final in the flawed 307 WRC. Seven podiums – including six second places – would be his reward.
5 Juha Kankkunen
First victory: Rally Sweden 1986
Last victory: Rally New Zealand 1986
No. of wins: 3
Cars: Peugeot 205 T16 Evo2
Picked up from Toyota at the end of the 1985 season, 1986 would be rising Finn Juha Kankkunen’s first in a four-wheel-drive Group B car but he joined as a two-time rally winner, clinching a couple of victories in Africa with the Celica Twincam Turbo in ’85.
Kankkunen adapted to the challenge superbly. Team-mates with reigning champion Timo Salonen, Kankkunen was a winner with Peugeot on just his second event with the team in Sweden and tripled up with back-to-back successes on the Acropolis and New Zealand.
This put him in a strong championship position, and indeed Kankkunen would go on to win that 1986 title – his first of four in the WRC – but not without controversy. All three of Peugeot’s entries had been excluded from Rally Sanremo for having illegal side skirts, but the team had appealed that ruling from FISA meaning a court hearing 11 days after the final round could decide the final world title of the Group B era.
And so it proved. Kankkunen’s rival, Lancia’s Markku Alén, won that final round in the US and at that point had won the title. But Peugeot’s Sanremo exclusion was overturned meaning all points earned from that rally were annulled. Alén, who had won the event, therefore lost crucial points and that swung the title equation towards Kankkunen.
4 Ari Vatanen
First victory: Rally Finland 1984
Last victory: Rally Sweden 1985
No. of wins: 5
Cars: Peugeot 205 T16
Peugeot sent shockwaves through the WRC when it first joined the series midway through the 1984 season. The 205 T16 was tipped to be a pocket rocket and a thorn in the side of Audi and Lancia, but if only they knew just how much it would prove to be…
Ari Vatanen was the man at the helm along with Jean-Pierre Nicolas, and the Finn soon made the Peugeot point clear. After eight stages of the car’s debut in Corsica, he was leading. After 19 tests, he was nearly two minutes clear of Markku Alén’s 037 before Vatanen crashed and gave up the win.
However, result or no result, Vatanen and the 205 had set their stall out. While Vatanen was sidelined with engine failure on the Acropolis, he hit his stride at home in Finland to take Peugeot’s first ever WRC victory by some two minutes.
It kickstarted a devastating run of form where Vatanen and the 205 T16 swept all before them. Winning both Rally Sanremo and Rally GB at the end of the year, the domination continued into 1985 with victories on the two opening rounds of the season: Monte Carlo and Sweden.
The Monte success was particularly satisfying given the manner in which it was achieved. Audi’s Walter Röhrl – a recognized master of the Monte – led early on before Vatanen turned up the wick to lead.. But an eye-watering eight-minute penalty for an early check into a time control pegged Vatanen back, four-and-a-half minutes adrift of Röhrl’s Quattro.
What followed was truly sensational. A superb tire choice of studded Michelins proved to be a masterstroke over the famous Col de Turni, and not only did Vatanen grab the lead from Röhrl again but he actually passed him on the stage!
Vatanen could’ve and probably would’ve won more rallies for Peugeot were it not for a string of reliability issues in ’85 and the terrifying crash in Argentina that almost cost him his life. When Vatanen returned to rallying, Peugeot was gone, and he wouldn’t win again.
2= Gilles Panizzi
First victory: Tour de Corse 2000
Last victory: Rally Spain 2003
No. of wins: 7
Cars: Peugeot 306 Maxi Kit Car, Peugeot 206 WRC
When you consider the fact that Gilles Panizzi, although part of Peugeot’s WRC set-up for four consecutive years, was never a full-time member of the squad, it’s a mighty effort that he should find himself equal second on this list.
Panizzi, the 1996 and ’97 French champion, was a known force to the WRC’s elite as he and François Delecour irritated the establishment in their 306 Kit Cars on asphalt in the late ’90s, utilizing the lightweight nature of the Formula 2 cars that weren’t disadvantaged by their two-wheel-drive transmissions on dry, smooth roads.
It wasn’t until the year 2000, Peugeot’s first full season back in the topflight after a part campaign in 1999, that Panizzi would get the job done however, sealing victory on Corsica before doubling up on the very next round in Italy.
Corsica, Sanremo and Rally Spain would become happy hunting grounds for the Frenchman who would win all three in 2002 as well as Sanremo one further time in 2001 and Spain in 2003. Panizzi was deployed to score points for Peugeot on the asphalt round and it certainly paid off, given he won over half of them between 2000-03.
Co-driven by younger brother Hervé, perhaps Panizzi’s most famous moment was when he decided to perform some donuts under the famous bridge on the Villadrau stage of Rally Spain 2002. The fact Hervé was clearly not expecting it made it that bit more entertaining!
2= Timo Salonen
First victory: Rally Portugal 1985
Last victory: Rally GB 1986
No. of wins: 7
Cars: Peugeot 205 T16, Peugeot 205 T16 Evo2
As Peugeot’s WRC charge intensified and it targeted both titles, Timo Salonen was signed from Nissan for the 1985 season to partner Ari Vatanen. It was widely expected that Vatanen would be the one to spearhead Peugeot’s challenge, but instead it was his Finnish compatriot that became the first driver to win the drivers’ title in a Peugeot as the team doubled up with the manufacturer’s crown as well.
Salonen was sublime throughout 1985. Third on the first two rounds as Vatanen won, he extended Peugeot’s winning streak to six events in succession in Portugal and, a lowly seventh on the Safari Rally aside, would be either first or second on the next five rallies his 205 T16 wasn’t halted by mechanical woes.
That included a dominant run of four straight wins in Greece, New Zealand, Argentina and Finland that well and truly made him the title favorite. In the end it wasn’t even close as Salonen scored 127 points with second-placed Stig Blomqvist notching up just 75.
The following season was less prosperous however, even if the team would retain both of its titles. Although Salonen would win the final two rounds of his season in Finland and Great Britain, new team-mate Juha Kankkunen was the force to be reckoned with and duly claimed the ’86 drivers’ crown for himself; Salonen’s season dogged by mechanical failures and a crash in Corsica.
When Peugeot pulled out after the termination of the Group B ruleset, Salonen moved to Mazda before retiring in the early 1990s.
1 Marcus Grönholm
First victory: Rally Sweden 2000
Last victory: Rally Japan 2005
No. of wins: 18
Cars: Peugeot 206 WRC, Peugeot 307 WRC
Unquestionably the most successful driver in Peugeot’s WRC history – as well as the series itself – with 18 rally wins and two world titles for the French manufacturer, Marcus Grönholm is a pillar of Peugeot’s rallying history.
In 2000, Grönholm won his first ever WRC event in Sweden and nine months later – after further wins in New Zealand, Finland and Australia – was a World Rally Champion, edging Subaru’s Richard Burns to the spoils. The 2001 season was a bit disastrous with various gremlins and mistakes blunting Grönholm’s title defense, but he still managed to three times throughout the 14-round season.
Next season though, Grönholm and Peugeot were practically untouchable. With Burns now as his team-mate, Grönholm was imperious and won five times to take his second title at a canter. Despite his best efforts with Peugeot and later Ford, it would be the last of Grönholm’s career.
He would win several more rallies though including a spirited comeback in Argentina 2003. When leading, Grönholm ran his 206 WRC wide and clouted a rock, dragging the rear-left wheel at a 45-degree angle to the rest of the car – costing him almost two minutes. The misdemeanour dropped him to sixth but he picked off his rivals one by one to win the event by almost 30s.
The first victory in the 307 WRC almost came in Cyprus 2004 before his on-the-road win was taken away for a water pump discretion, but there’d be no stewards enquiry into a win at home in Finland. In 2005 Grönholm was more competitive, fighting Solberg hard for second in the points and eventually equalling the Norwegian’s total with one more Finnish win and maximum points in Japan.
That would be Grönholm’s final victory for Peugeot as he moved to Ford in 2006; Peugeot pulling the plug on its WRC program. While it has remained active in rallying, it is since yet to return to the top tier of rallying.