Ott Tänak’s victory on Rally Chile was significant for a number of reasons.
It meant the 2019 world champion maintained his unbeaten record on the event; it was the first time that M-Sport has taken two wins in a season since 2018; and it elevated Tänak into the top 10 drivers with the most World Rally Championship event wins.
Here is the full list of those most successful drivers since the WRC began in 1973:
=9 Ott Tänak
Until Rally Chile, Tänak was lying joint 10th on the WRC winners’ list with three other drivers. But success in South America puts the Estonian into the top 10 proper. It also reestablishes him as the most successful active full-time driver, eclipsing his team-mate of the past and future, Thierry Neuville.
The early part of Tänak’s career was spent within the M-Sport fold, and while his first WRC podium came with the squad in 2012 it would be five more years before Tänak got to taste the winner’s champagne.
Having been dropped and then reintroduced to the team, Tänak’s first win came in 2017 after the Hyundais hit trouble in Sardinia. He added another with an impressive display in the Ford Fiesta WRC on Rally Germany before jumping ship to Toyota.
Two highly successful seasons with Tommi Mäkinen’s outfit brought 10 wins – more than half of Tänak’s career total to date – and culminated in the 2019 world title. Three years at Hyundai proved tougher, but among Tänak’s five wins were some of his greatest performances. This year’s return to M-Sport has also not gone as well as hoped but has still yielded two more wins to date.
=9 Markku Alén
Markku Alén is the only non-world champion on this list, although that is partly because his WRC career began before the drivers’ title existed.
Synonymous with Italian sister marques Fiat and Lancia, Alén’s first win at WRC level came in the 124 Abarth in Portugal in 1975. He added eight more in the 131 over the next six seasons, including three in 1978 when Alén won the FIA Cup for Drivers, before it was given world status.
The next seven years were spent winning in various Lancias, ranging from the 037 – in which he took three asphalt wins in 1983-84 – to the Delta S4 and its Group A successors. The Group B S4 looked to have powered Alén to the 1986 WRC title until the FIA decreed otherwise 11 days after the season-ending Olympus Rally.
Alén’s final WRC wins came with a trio of victories in the Delta Integrale in 1988. They included the Finn’s home event – his sixth win on the 1000 Lakes – and the season-ending RAC Rally. That 19th win (or 20th if the subsequently annulled 1986 Sanremo had counted) was a record at the time.
8 Didier Auriol
Didier Auriol’s impressive 1988 performances in a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth – including his maiden WRC win on the Tour de Corse – attracted the attention of Lancia.
The next four years with the crack Italian squad brought three more Corsica victories as well as eight further wins. In 1992, Auriol took six wins – a single-season record that remained intact for more than a decade – and yet was still classified only third in the championship.
A switch to Toyota brought a win on debut on the 1993 Monte Carlo Rally, then three wins the following year earned Auriol the world title. There were two successes in the Corolla WRC upon Toyota’s return after its 1996 ban.
After a year with Seat, Auriol was snapped up by Peugeot in 2001 when he took his 20th and final WRC rally win – 14 of which were on asphalt-based events – in Spain.
7 Juha Kankkunen
Four-time world champion Juha Kankkunen’s first WRC win came in just his 11th rally in the championship when he won the 1985 Safari in a Toyota Celica Twincam Turbo. He took the Africa specialist car to another win in Ivory Coast before being snapped up by Peugeot for 1986.
There, Kankkunen won three times en route to the title. He successfully defended it the following year with two wins in Lancia’s Delta HF 4WD after the banning of Group B. Recognizing he wasn’t the team’s favored driver, Kankkuknen switched back to Toyota for two years blighted by unreliability that brought only a single win.
A three-year spell at Lancia brought seven wins, including five in his 1991 title-winning season, before he again returned to lead Toyota Team Europe’s charge. Five wins in 1993 brought Kankkunen his fourth championship crown as well as breaking Alén’s victory record.
Only three more wins followed over the next six years as Toyota was thrown out of the championship and Kankkunen was then winless in the Ford Escort WRC. His last two victories came at Subaru in 1999, somewhat controversially passing team-mate Richard Burns on the final stage in Argentina before repeating the result on home ground in Finland.
6 Tommi Mäkinen
Having shot to prominence by winning the 1994 1000 Lakes Rally aboard a Ford Escort RS Cosworth, a one-off appearance for the Boreham-based team, Tommi Mäkinen accepted an offer to drive for Mitsubishi in 1995.
All but one of Mäkinen’s remaining 23 WRC wins would come with Andrew Cowan’s Ralliart squad, beginning with Rally Sweden in 1996. That started a dominant run of five wins in seven events as Mäkinen took his first world title.
Thirteen more victories took Mäkinen to three further consecutive WRC crowns before Mitsubishi’s Group A Lancer eventually struggled to compete with the other manufacturers’ World Rally Cars.
After four wins in his final two seasons at Mitsubishi, Mäkinen moved to Subaru where he took his last WRC rally victory on the 2002 Monte – his debut with the Prodrive-run squad.
5 Colin McRae
The highest-placed one-time world champion on this list, Colin McRae delivered Subaru its maiden WRC win with his own first success, on Rally New Zealand in 1993, piloting a Legacy RS.
That enabled Prodrive to introduce the Impreza 555, and it was in this car that the ever-spectacular Scotsman took four wins over the next two seasons, culminating in his famous comeback performance on the 1995 RAC that earned the him world championship crown.
McRae’s unsuccessful title defense still brought three more wins before the Impreza WRC was introduced for 1997. Fast but somewhat fragile, it brought McRae eight victories – including five in 1997, his most successful year in terms of wins.
Following a big-money move to Ford, McRae recorded nine wins in four years. A record fifth success on the Acropolis Rally preceded his final WRC victory, on the 2002 Safari Rally. At that point, his tally of 25 WRC wins was a record.
4 Carlos Sainz
The longevity of Carlos Sainz’s top-line career is demonstrated by his WRC wins spanning 15 seasons from 1990 to 2004.
El Matador’s first victory came in his second season at Toyota, winning the 1990 Acropolis Rally in a Toyota Celica GT-4. There were three more wins that year en route to his first title, five the next as he was pipped by Kankkunen, and another four in 1992 as Sainz took a second world crown.
The whole of the rest of his career could only match Sainz’s win tally from those three seasons as a disastrous move to a Jolly Club Lancia preceded more successful two-year spells at each of Subaru, Ford and Toyota. Three wins in 1995 was Sainz’s best tally of the period as he just lost out to Subaru team-mate McRae in the title race.
Having vied with Kankkunen, McRae and Mäkinen for the win record over the 1990s and 2000s, it was eventually Sainz who ended his career with the most, scoring a 26th and final WRC success with Citroën on Rally Argentina in 2004.
3 Marcus Grönholm
Sainz’s record lasted only a couple of years before two drivers surpassed it. Marcus Grönholm was the second to do so, in 2007 – his final year in the WRC.
The Finn packed an impressive 30 WRC rally wins into a top-line career lasting only eight full seasons. The first of those was with Peugeot in 2000. Grönholm won Rally Sweden on his seventh start in the 206 WRC (after a part-season in 1999) and then added three more as he stormed to the title that same year.
There were another 14 wins in five more seasons with Peugeot, including five in an utterly dominant 2002 title-winning campaign.
The 307 WRC used in 2004-05 was nowhere near as successful as it predecessor and Peugeot pulled out of the WRC, leaving Grönholm to switch to Ford. He took 12 more wins with the blue oval, and was narrowly beaten to the title by Sébastien Loeb in both 2006 and 2007. His final win came on the 2007 Rally New Zealand in a Focus WRC.
2 Sébastien Ogier
As with many WRC records, two drivers stand head and shoulders above the rest. Eight-time world champion Sébastien Ogier has recorded almost double the number of WRC wins as Grönholm but, on this measure, still falls some way short of no. 1.
Ogier was the young upstart at Citroën, recording his first WRC win in the C4 on Rally Portugal in 2010 and adding another in Japan later that year. There were five wins in 2011, but Citroën wasn’t big enough for two Sébastiens.
Ogier jumped ship to the nascent Volkswagen WRC assault, via a year driving Škoda Super 2000 machinery. At VW, his dominance was absolute, taking 31 wins and four world championship titles in four seasons, and displacing Grönholm in second position on this list in the process.
Upon Volkswagen’s withdrawal, Ogier joined M-Sport for the WRC’s new era in 2017. Up against more competitive opposition, Ogier took two more titles and six wins. A ‘homecoming’ to Citroën in 2019 was less successful, though still yielded another three wins.
Ogier scored WRC wins with a fifth different marque when he joined Toyota in 2019, and is still going strong in 2023, achieving three wins already this season despite a part-time program. Victory in his GR Yaris Rally1 on the Safari stands as his latest win at the time of writing.
1 Sébastien Loeb
Who else could top this list but the nine-time world champion who set new standards through his unprecedented period of dominance?
Particularly striking is that 79 of Sébastien Loeb’s 80 wins in the WRC came with a single manufacturer: Citroën. The first of his record-breaking tally came in 2002 when Loeb took the Xsara WRC to victory in Germany. It was the first of an incredible eight successive wins on the event.
Three wins, and defeat in the title race by just a single point, followed in 2003 before nine successive title-winning seasons in which Loeb only three times recorded fewer than eight wins in a season. He passed Sainz’s record of 26 victories when he triumphed on 2006’s Rally Japan. Two years later, he broke his own record for wins in one season with 11.
Loeb retired from driving full-time at the end of 2012 with 76 wins but has since added four more in part-time campaigns. The last of those – who knows if it will be his final win in the WRC? – was on last year’s Monte Carlo Rally when, at the age of 47, Loeb won first-time out in M-Sport’s Ford Puma Rally1.