Last month’s maiden World Rally Championship event in Croatia was a special moment for Sébastien Ogier, and not just because of his dramatic final-stage triumph over Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans.
During the weekend, Ogier became the first current WRC driver to pass the 600-stage win barrier, placing himself among some fairly prestigious names. With Ogier set to hang up his helmet at the end of the season, there is time for the Frenchman to add yet more fastest times to his career resumé as well.
Ogier’s 600th stage victory got us thinking about where he placed among his fellow WRC legends. And so naturally, we came up with another top 10 list!
10 Jari-Matti Latvala
539 stage wins
First: Opaker, Rally Norway 2007
Last: Aberhirnant 1, Rally GB 2019
The current Toyota team principal has not yet officially stopped driving, so his total of stage wins may well increase. But for the time being, Latvala has amassed an impressive number of fastest times on the special stages during his lengthy career, one less than one of his world championship-winning compatriots (see below).
Having spent the first few years of his WRC career in a mix of Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza and Toyota Corolla machinery, Latvala bagged his first stage win in the Stobart VK-run Focus on the fifth stage of Rally Norway in 2007, en route to a fifth-placed finish. His most successful season came in 2014 with Volkswagen, where he ended up fastest on 85 stages as he finished runner-up in the standings to team-mate Ogier.
9 Marcus Grönholm
540 stage wins
First: Harju, 1000 Lakes 1992
Last: Sågen 2, Rally Sweden 2010
Up next on the list is Finland’s most recent World Rally Champion who, had it not been for a rotten spell of bad luck and mechanical misfortune during his 2001 campaign and then further frustration when his Peugeot team moved to the cumbersome 307 from 2004, would have managed far more stage wins than his 540.
Grönholm’s WRC career started as a 21-year-old on his home rally, the 1000 Lakes, aboard a Lancia Delta Integrale. Three years later, he won his first stage, again on the 1000 Lakes, but it took another eight seasons before he secured his maiden rally win in 2000. His final stage win came on Rally Sweden in 2010, when Grönholm drove a one-off event in a two-year-old Stobart-run Ford Focus RS WRC.
8 Didier Auriol
552 stage wins
First Tallone-Feo, Rallye de France 1987
Last: Langley Park Super 3, Rally Australia 2001
For a career which spanned 19 seasons and produced 20 rally wins, it’s little wonder that 1994 champion Auriol features as one of the most prolific stage winners in the WRC. Auriol’s first stage win came on the 1987 Tour de Corse in his Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, an event during which he ran as high as second before copping a 12-minute penalty for a late arrival at time control following a broken rear suspension on stage 12.
Auriol often found himself in the right team with the right car throughout his career, first with Lancia, then Toyota – with whom he won his only title – and then Peugeot towards the end of his WRC tenure. Despite a rotten 2001 season, which included seven retirements in nine events (five of which were consecutive), he did take 14 stage wins in his final year with Peugeot before moving onto pastures new with Škoda.
7 Sébastien Ogier
606 stage wins
First: Sweet Lamb 1, Rally GB 2008
Most recent: Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec 2 Powerstage, Rally Croatia 2021
The man of the moment, and the one who never seems to lose his pace regardless of the surface. Ever since Ogier moved into the top tier of the WRC, he looked like upsetting the largely comfortable applecart of the late 2000s.
Although the seven-time WRC Champion will bid farewell – at least in a full-time role – at season’s end, there is still the very strong possibility that he will be adding to his total of stage wins in the years to come on occasional one-offs in his favorite event, the Monte Carlo Rally. And he’s got a lot more winning left to do before the end of the year as well, with an eighth title firmly within his sights.
6 Ari Vatanen
637 stage wins
First: Jyväskylän Suurajot – 1000 Lakes 1975
Last: Hunter’s Lookout – Timbuctoo 2, Safari Rally 1998
Our more experienced readers will no doubt remember – and probably long for – the days when rallies were more of a test of endurance than an outright sprint. While those events were veritable nightmares for both cars and drivers, the good news for the man in sixth on our list of top WRC stage winners is that there were far more stages to win.
Vatanen was one of the fastest, most flamboyant rally drivers of his time, and continued to exude the same charisma well into the final years of his career. The 1981 WRC Champion recorded 121 stage wins during the 1977 season alone; just five fewer than he managed during the 1980 and 1981 seasons combined! His final stage win came on the Safari Rally in 1998, fittingly, the only stage win he ever achieved on the African event.
5 Hannu Mikkola
668 stage wins
First: Col du Corobin, Monte Carlo Rally 1973
Last: Elibank, RAC Rally 1988
For a driver of great stature like the late Hannu Mikkola, you often wonder how it was possible that he only ever won 18 WRC events. Four of them on home gravel in Finland and another four on the RAC. But where Mikkola missed out on overall victories, he made up for it on the special stage and powered his way to well over 600 fastest times and a place in the middle of our all-time list.
It’s safe to say that in the late 1970s, Mikkola was the king of the iconic Kielder stages on the RAC, winning all three in ’77, all five in ’78 and three out of the five in ’79. Anyone who knows UK rallying, and especially the tests in the Kielder Forest in British wintertime, will doth their caps accordingly.
4 Juha Kankkunen
699 stage wins
First: Aintree, RAC Rally 1984
Last: Cardiff 1, Rally GB 2000
When describing longevity in the WRC, there are few who did it better than Kankunnen. A four-time WRC Champion, he fell agonizingly short of 700 stage wins and, rather interestingly, topped-and-tailed his stage winning career with a pair of “Mickey Mouse” stages on Rally GB. His first, at Aintree, in 1984 came two years before his maiden title triumph and his last coming in 2000.
One of Kankkunen’s most dominant performances came on the 1987 1000 Lakes, where he won 35 of the 51 stages – the second pass of Arvaja was canceled. A real legend of the sport, Kankkunen was always a ‘no fuss’ type of driver who proved throughout his career that he was blindingly fast on any surface.
3 Carlos Sainz
756 stage wins
First: Estoril, Rally Portugal 1987
Last: Rengini 2, Acropolis Rally 2005
Much like Kankkunen and Vatanen, the man they call El Matador’s career in the WRC lasted nearly two decades, and Sainz almost always found himself in a car capable of winning rallies. Sainz’s credentials were immediately seen on his WRC debut in Portugal 1987 where he won his very first stage at the Estoril racing circuit. He won SS6 (Prestimo) that same rally but was soon forced out with a broken turbo on his Ford Sierra RS Cosworth.
The Spaniard’s best strike rate came in New Zealand, where he recorded 104 of his 756 stage wins as well as four victories. Rally Finland is a distant second on 83, where Sainz turned heads via a thoroughly impressive rally in 1989 en route to his maiden podium finish as Finns Kankkunen, Vatanen and Alén all hit trouble.
2 Markku Alén
830 stage wins
First: Jyväskylän Suurajot – 1000 Lakes 1973
Last: Abrantes, Rally Portugal 1993
In 129 WRC starts, Marku Alén finished second 17 times, two short of his victory count of 19. But the Finn adds another runner-up spot in our list of most successful stage winners in WRC history. Which isn’t to take anything away from his mammoth total of 830 stage wins at all, we must add.
Alén never won an official World Rally Championship title during his career but did win the FIA Cup for Rally Drivers in 1978, pre-dating the recognized driver’s championship by a year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Alén was most at home at…well, home, in Finland. He won a whopping 227 stages there, 151 on the RAC and another 131 in Portugal. The high-speed events clearly had a soft spot for a daring, charging driver like Alén and vice versa.
1 Sébastien Loeb
921 stage wins
First: Molini 1, Sanremo 2001
Last: Kizlan 2, Rally Turkey 2020
Now, clearly, after winning nine straight WRC titles and amassing 79 victories it doesn’t require a great deal of math to know that Loeb easily tops the list of the most prolific WRC stage winners. The Frenchman was a weapon at the wheel and his team and car combination was sometimes literally unbeatable, as displayed on the 2005 Tour de Corse when Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena won every single stage of the event. He nearly repeated the feat three years later, winning all but two stages – beaten only by François Duval and Mikko Hirvonen.
Although Loeb started off as more of an asphalt specialist – given his French Tarmac Championship roots – he quickly proved that he was not simply a one-trick pony. Loeb proved just as dominant on gravel as he did on asphalt and would routinely win rallies despite starting first on the road. He never did get a proper handle on snow rallies though, winning Sweden just once, but that didn’t stop him from picking up 44 stage wins on the winter classic.