Top 10 WRC debuts of the decade

Mārtiņš Sesks impressed on Rally Poland, but where does his performance rank among other recent WRC debutants?


Mārtiņš Sesks is the talk of the town after blowing everyone away with his first top-line World Rally Championship appearance at Rally Poland.

The young Latvian showed pace and maturity in equal abundance, and grasped his golden-ticket opportunity with both hands to claim a superb fifth place overall last weekend.

Making an impression on your WRC debut does not guarantee future success – but it hardly hurts! And Sesks is far from the only driver to perform strongly when handed his first opportunity at the sport’s top level.

That’s not to say it works out for everybody, though. Whether it be a driving error or a mechanical mishap, some WRC debuts are consigned to the history books for all the wrong reasons.

Rally Finland in just four weeks’ time will answer which side of that equation the next debutant, Sami Pajari, falls into, but in the meantime we’ve compiled a statistical list of the best WRC debuts of the 2020s – whether that be in the old World Rally Cars or current Rally1 machines.

Neatly, 10 drivers have done so, thus allowing us to present this as a top 10:

10 Ole Christian Veiby


After a season representing Hyundai in WRC2, Ole Christian Veiby was handed the keys to a 2C Compétition i20 Coupe WRC for the 2020 season finale at Monza.

With four seasons of experience in an R5 car, Veiby could perhaps have been expected to fare well but unfortunately an accident on the second day curtailed his event. He had been running eighth overall beforehand.

Although Veiby would drive the car on two more occasions, neither were in the WRC and his own world championship career was curtailed when a COVID-19 breach led to a six-month ban from the championship.

Nowadays he competes in the World Rallycross Championship as team-mate to six-time champion Johan Kristoffersson.

9 Pierre-Louis Loubet


Ironically, the driver Veiby replaced in the 2C Hyundai for that Monza outing is next on this list: Pierre-Louis Loubet.

On the back of a WRC2 title in 2019, Loubet stepped up to top-class machinery in 2020 but not until after the COVID-enforced break in the calendar. That meant he debuted at that year’s Rally Estonia.

Loubet made steady progress throughout the event to be lying ninth overall heading into the final day, but broken steering on SS13 forced him to retire from his maiden outing.

The Frenchman’s chapter with the 2C squad was dogged with frustration, before a part-time campaign with M-Sport in 2022 showed the world his true potential. That led to a full season in 2023, but a mix of mechanical problems and driving errors meant things never took off.

Loubet is back in WRC2 this year in a Toksport Škoda, but a crash in Portugal, mechanical DNF in Sardinia and puncture in Poland have made it a frustrating season to date.

8 Alberto Heller


Home hero Alberto Heller was one of two drivers to make their Rally1 debut at last year’s Rally Chile.

Visibly loving his time behind the wheel of an M-Sport Ford Puma, the Chilean made steady progress to run inside the top 10 after the first day. Saturday was trickier as – like so many others – he was caught out on the wrong tires and picked up two punctures, then damaged his steering hitting a stone on the last stage.

Despite Heller and co-driver Luis Ernesto Allende’s best efforts, they went OTL and had to retire from the day but returned on Sunday to record a 15th-place finish.

This year Heller has competed twice at home and once in Italy, but suggested he would be open to more Rally1 drives last year so he may well reappear at Rally Chile later this year.

7 Grégoire Munster


The other driver making their top flight debut in Chile last year was current M-Sport factory driver Grégoire Munster.

Driving the Puma Rally1 owned by friend and personal backer Jourdan Serderidis, Munster stepped up having driven for M-Sport in WRC2 with its Fiesta Rally2. Chile was the first of two events, with Central European Rally following thereafter.

CER was the more convincing performance of the two, but Munster was running an encouraging seventh in Chile before running wide, clipping a bank and puncturing his tire. That moment led to a classic stage-end quote courtesy of Kalle Rovanperä, as the Finn was caught in Munster’s trailing dust and joked: “It’s like playing Super Mario Kart with someone throwing bananas or smoke bombs in front of you.”

Munster went on to finish 13th, and is currently seven rounds into his first full season as a Rally1 driver with M-Sport.

6 Jari Huttunen


Perhaps one of the unfairly forgotten drives – and indeed drivers – Jari Huttunen made a one-off appearance at Rally Finland 2022 for M-Sport, and came away with a ninth-place finish and two world championship points.

But, much to the Finn’s frustration, it could’ve been more.

After earning a spot in Hyundai’s driver development program, Huttunen drove the i20 Coupe WRC on national events but never in the world championship. Cutting official ties with Hyundai, a mega 2020 season where he won the Polish championship as well as WRC3 put Huttunen back on the map.

His Rally Finland chance came amid a WRC2 campaign with M-Sport, and he was a strong eighth overall (ahead of Puma Rally1 team-mates Loubet and Gus Greensmith) before a fuel-pressure issue on SS8 pegged him back.

An intermittent power-steering problem made the rest of the rally complicated, but Huttunen did at least recover from 25th to that eventual ninth place.

Last season he regressed to the Finnish championship and finished third, but the 30-year-old is yet to start an event in 2024.

5 Nil Solans


A WRC drive looked like the longest of long shots for 2017 Junior WRC champion Nil Solans back in 2021, but when Loubet was injured after being hit by a car in Paris traffic, a seat in a 2C Hyundai was suddenly going spare and Solans got the nod for Rally Spain – his home event, no less.

The reigning Spanish Gravel champion at the time, Solans had been competing in the ERC with a Rally2 car so the step up to WRC power and aero was unquestionably a challenge, but he performed admirably.

A spin aside, the Spaniard didn’t put a foot wrong en route to an eighth-place finish – just 8.2s behind Oliver Solberg who had driven the car before.

Solans then attempted an ERC title challenge in 2022, winning twice before budget constraints forced him to abandon such ambitions.

4 Oliver Solberg


Signed by Hyundai to compete in WRC2 and develop its new i20 N Rally2 in 2021, few expected Solberg’s shot in a World Rally Car to come so soon – just two rounds into the season at Arctic Rally Finland.

And not only did Solberg have to learn a new car, he had a new co-driver too as Seb Marshall was drafted in to replace Aaron Johnston who was ruled out by a positive COVID-19 test.

Working in Solberg’s favor was his affinity for ice and snow, but to go fourth fastest on just his second stage in the car was extraordinary. Proving that was no fluke, Solberg then posted the third-best time on SS3.

The weekend ended with a small dose of frustration as the Swede spun on the powerstage, handing Takamoto Katsuta sixth spot by just 1.2s. But the impression he made was mighty, and he was promoted to Hyundai’s Rally1 program in a shared seat with Dani Sordo in 2022.

Hyundai’s struggles that year were not a good environment for somebody to learn in though, and Solberg was dropped towards the end of the season. Today he is vying for the WRC2 title with Škoda.

3 Kalle Rovanperä


Kalle Rovanperä is an outlier in this list – not least because he is the only WRC rally winner as well as a world champion, but also because he made his top-flight debut as a fully-fledged factory driver signed up for a complete campaign.

Rovanperä had been snapped up by Toyota for years prior to 2020, but after winning the WRC2 Pro title with Škoda in 2019 he was strapped into a Yaris WRC as part of an all-new lineup alongside Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans.

While both Ogier and Evans fought eventual winner Thierry Neuville for the lead in a thrilling three-way scrap in Monte Carlo, Rovanperä concentrated on learning and building his speed, settling into an early sixth spot.

Sixth then became fifth on the penultimate stage when none other than Sébastien Loeb went off, leaving Rovanperä with a top-five finish on his WRC debut.

By the very next round he became a podium finisher, by 2021 he was a rally winner, and we’re not sure what happened to him since…

2 Adrien Fourmaux


Before he was a regular WRC podium visitor and supplier of golden, movie-inspired stage-end quotes, Adrien Fourmaux didn’t have a huge profile. But his performance on his first-ever World Rally Car start quickly changed all that.

After a year driving for M-Sport in WRC2, Fourmaux was offered a half season in a Fiesta WRC for 2021 – sharing the drive with Teemu Suninen as team-mate to Gus Greensmith.

Fourmaux had to wait until April and Croatia Rally for his first start, but it proved to be worth the wait. Taking to it like a duck to water, the Frenchman was faultless and claimed two second-fastest stage times on his way to fifth place overall.

He repeated that result a few rounds later in Kenya before earning a full season in 2022 with a Puma Rally1. But Fourmaux’s career went backwards after a troubled year, before he expertly rebuilt it back in WRC2 in 2023 which earned him a Rally1 reprieve. So far this year, Fourmaux has three podiums from seven starts.

While Fourmaux claimed the same end result as Rovanperä on his debut, he ranks ahead courtesy of finishing closer to the rally-winning time. Which is the precise reason Fourmaux didn’t make top spot, either.

1 Mārtiņš Sesks


The man of the moment, Mārtiņš Sesks, comes in at number one on this list – adding further weight to the argument that his debut performance was one of the best the WRC has ever witnessed.

As part of a two-event campaign, facilitated by WRC Promoter and M-Sport, Sesks entered Rally Poland with a non-hybrid Ford Puma Rally1, before he’d drive the full-fat version at his home event in Latvia.

A previous winner in Poland and a proven driver in the ERC he may have been, but little was expected of Sesks given how much he had to learn and his car having a theoretical performance disadvantage.

But he produced a masterful performance to run as high as second overall (courtesy of a second-fastest time) after the second stage, and eventually finish fifth overall – ahead of four other Rally1 drivers with superior experience and, of course, a hybrid unit.

Latvia will be the big one for Sesks and expectations will naturally be higher after what he managed in Poland, but regardless of how that event goes the immediate impression Sesks has made on the service park is undeniable.