We’re all familiar with wildcard entrants in motorsport, particularly when said entrant enters a round of an international championship that is happening on their doorstep. Often branded as ‘home heroes’, these drivers have been integral to the World Rally Championship over the years.
No matter whether they’re brought into a factory line-up as a one-off or punching above their weight as a privateer, there have been plenty of drivers who have prospered at home: think Possum Bourne in New Zealand or Ian Duncan in Kenya as just two quick examples.
Great Britain has produced countless talented drivers over the years – two world champions in Colin McRae and Richard Burns and potentially three if Elfyn Evans maintains his current lead – and several other homegrown stars have shown their mettle on Britain’s round of the world tour, Rally GB, too.
As part of DirtFish’s #RallyGBweek, we’ve compiled some of the more memorable drivers and drives. To qualify, the entrant must not be considered a regular factory WRC driver and has to have impressed most when competing at home, not on another round of the world championship.
As fun as it would’ve been to include ex-F1 drivers Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell on the list, neither had a particularly jolly time when they entered Rally GB in 1999 and 2002 respectively. Brundle suffered an accident in his Toyota Corolla WRC while Blundell ran into mechanical trouble in his MG ZR.
Let us know whether you agree with our picks in the comments section below.
It simply wouldn’t be possible to start this list anywhere other than with Roger Clark – even if it means we’re kind of cheating before we’ve even got underway.
Labelling Clark as a ‘wildcard’ is something of a stretch given he and co-driver Tony Mason were to be seen scoring points for Ford on sporadic foreign events throughout the 1970s when the WRC was solely a series for manufacturers, but who cares?
Clark was an absolute legend on British soil and for 18 years stood as the last Brit to win their home road until Colin McRae stepped up to the plate in 1994.
Clark’s two triumphs in 1972 and ’76 came back in the era when the event was a true tour of Britain rather than a tour of northern Wales as it has been in the last decade. Finishing the rally was as big a task as winning was, but Clark regularly achieved both and always shone on his home stages.
A four-time British champion, Clark was no stranger to the UK forests and was often uncatchable there which no doubt gave him both belief and an edge over his RAC Rally (as it was then) rivals who had been all over the world.
But his competition wasn’t exactly small fry with Scandinavians aces and legends of the era Timo Mäkinen, Stig Blomqvist and Björn Waldegård all challenging hard year in, year out.
Mason’s intimate knowledge of the rally – he intriguingly was always selected as co-driver for the RAC but not the British rounds – and the potency of the Escort beneath him were important factors to the success that made Clark the UK’s first true rallying hero.
The Higgins brothers Mark and David are one of the most successful rallying families in the entire world with four domestic titles and 10 US successes between them.
David might have done a lot of the heavy lifting there with his decade of American championships, but it’s Mark who tended to shine brighter and received the bigger opportunities on the pair’s home round of the WRC.
Starting his local encounter no fewer than 17 times, Higgins might not have the swashbuckling results to his name that Clark did but he was still every bit as impressive with his performances.
His best opportunities for success and therefore the drives that hogged the most limelight were undoubtedly 2001 and ’02 when he was inducted into the M-Sport line-up alongside Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Markko Märtin (’02).
He was something of a supporting act in the former year with McRae and Richard Burns embroiled in a fight for the World Rally Championship title at home, but Higgins was lying seventh overall in an era where there were seven manufacturer teams in the service park before withdrawing out of respect after SS11 of 17 when team-mate Sainz collided with some spectators.
In 2002, he’d go one better and claim sixth overall just behind team-mate McRae and would again perform well in 2005 in a privately-run Focus WRC. The record books place him eighth overall, but the rally’s results were skewed due to various crews taking time penalties out of respect when Michael Park was killed.
But even when he wasn’t in top line machinery, Higgins was still mighty. From 1996-2000 he would claim three ‘class A7’ wins in a Nissan Sunny, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra Kit Car respectively and on his final Rally GB appearance was 2013, he took third in WRC2 and 10th overall at 42 years of age on his first ever rally behind the wheel of an R5 car.
Elfyn Evans may now be the torchbearer for Welsh rallying with his father Gwyndaf a firm favorite with the fans too, but speak to anyone of a certain age and they’ll only have one rallying hero: David Llewellin.
Llewellin was unmistakable – and not just for his famous face decoration. He has and continues to be a natural entertainer today, and was blindingly quick on the special stages. Particularly at home.
Unfortunately Llewellin’s tale with Rally GB is more of a heartbreaker; a true ‘what if’ story rather than a success that’s toasted each year. He should have had that success to toast, but the rallying gods had other plans for him.
Along with several of his counterparts in the British championship at the time, Llewellin was a real thorn in the side of the permanent works entries on Rally GB at the height of the Group B era, but ultimately the British cars weren’t always as competitive as the manufacturer cars.
However in 1989 and firmly into the Group A period, Llewellin was in with a real shot at glory. Driving a Toyota GB Celica GT-4, he soon discovered his car could match the factory cars of Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Kenneth Eriksson. Game on.
He was never lower than fourth and just 31 seconds shy of Kankkunen’s lead after the opening ‘Mickey Mouse’ leg and four forest stages, only for it all to go wrong.
Llewellin has since said he had the pace to win and believes the victory was stolen from him as his Celica developed a multitude of mechanical woes that dropped him outside the top 70.
He recovered to 32nd before a driveshaft went and ruled him out for good. He was poised for an almighty push through Yorkshire that his co-driver Phil Short knew impeccably well.
The following year, it transpired that the development of the works car compared to his British championship car had been so severe that Llewellin couldn’t compete. He would finish this time in eighth, but over 10 minutes down on rally winner Sainz.
Despite the heartache attached to Llewellin’s Rally GB record, his speed was there for all to see and that 1989 event will forever be known as one of Rally GB’s many near misses for the underdog.
Jimmy McRae (and Russell Brookes)
For all his success at a UK and Irish level – a record five British titles no less – the most senior member of the McRae rallying clan wasn’t ever a hotshot in the WRC, even if his talent was more than deserving of the chance.
McRae was a late bloomer to rallying, meaning he was already on the back foot compared to several of his rivals but he did at least get the chance to fight the world’s greatest on multiple occasions as they headed to the British series thanks to its burgeoning reputation at the time.
Rally GB was regularly part of McRae’s program though, and indeed he would start the main event 19 times as well as competing in the ‘national’ section several times too, as recently as last year.
In similar fashion to Llewellin however, McRae would frequently find himself in second-tier machinery that stymied his chances of grabbing a standout result.
But in McRae’s case it was even more painful as an Opel driver in the 1980s. His Ascona and later Manta just wasn’t competitive against the four-wheel-drive Group B machines – although he did grab a third place in 1983.
Instead, like it was on the British rallies, McRae would slug it out with Russell Brookes on Rally GB who too was without four-wheel drive. Brookes’ prowess at home was imperious too with three consecutive podiums between 1977-79 proving he could match anybody when in a fair fight.
Indeed, most of the British Rally Championship runners at the time were capable of upsets against the WRC regulars, but McRae and Brookes were always at the forefront of this.
Tony Pond in particular and Malcolm Wilson managed some scalps over the years, but as regular WRC drivers they can’t be included here.
Our final pick is perhaps controversial in that Tom Cave has never competed in the WRC’s top class before in his career, but that doesn’t make his performances on his home world championship round any less remarkable.
In truth, drivers in R5 machinery – particularly the WRC3 class – are where home heroes get the chance to shine in the modern age. Just look at last month’s Rally Italy for example where Italian Umberto Scandola muscled his way into a comfortable fourth in class.
Cave’s performances in his homeland have been even more emphatic than Scandola’s recent effort. The Welshman has tackled his fair share of WRC events in the past as he competed in several junior formulae – and even grabbed a third in class with a Hyundai i20 R5 on Rally Finland in 2017 – but he’s been most potent in Wales.
Another third in class on Rally GB that same year, this time in a Ford Fiesta R5, proves the point while his drive on last year’s event puts the matter beyond doubt.
On the back of yet another near miss in the British Rally Championship that he narrowly lost to Matt Edwards, Cave was absolutely flawless on Rally GB a month later and came 14.7s away from the WRC2 class win and a world championship point.
Devastatingly, all of that time was chucked away on the treacherous opener at Oulton Park. Struggling in the super-slippery conditions, Cave was outpaced by eventual winner Petter Solberg by 15.1s.
Things are never that simple where you can claim he would have won by 0.4s had things been different, but the anguish there is obvious.
Regardless, it was an incredibly assured performance where Cave looked every bit a WRC regular and finished ahead of this year’s WRC2 challengers Nikolay Gryazin and Adrien Fourmaux as well as 2C Competition Hyundai driver Pierre-Louis Loubet.
David Bogie deserves a shout-out here too for his rapid pace in the Welsh forests. A five-time Scottish and previous British champion, Bogie’s stock in the UK is high but he’s an unknown quantity on the world stage.
He was quick in a Škoda Fabia R5 in both 2016 and ’18 but 2017 was when it all hooked together. An R5 stage win on the penultimate test of the rally was the cherry on top of the cake ahead of much bigger names like Kalle Rovanperä, Teemu Suninen, Pontus Tidemand and Ole Christian Veiby.