WRC drivers to win on all surfaces

Only 13 drivers have ever won WRC rallies on asphalt, gravel and snow - and we've taken a look at all 13

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There are several factors that make the World Rally Championship unique, but one of the most obvious is the mixed composition of the rallies.

While in all other forms of motorsport every event in the calendar is either 100% asphalt, 100% gravel or a mixed combination of the two, in the WRC surfaces alter throughout the year as drivers are tasked with competing on rounds on asphalt, gravel and snow in the same season.

They’re three very different driving skills to master, and surprisingly few drivers have ever managed to win world championship rallies outright on all three surfaces. In fact, history proves only 13 pilots have managed it in the WRC’s now 50-year history.

It therefore clearly takes a very special driver to pull it off, so naturally 75% of the drivers to have accomplished the feat have also been crowned World Rally champion.

There are considerably more drivers from the modern eras to have done it too, when rallying has been less about surface specialists and more about all-round drivers.

Elfyn Evans could have the chance to join the club this year as he seeks his first win on asphalt to complement successes on gravel and snow.

Here are the 13 members he’ll be looking to join, listed in chronological order of how early they managed to win on all three surfaces:

Björn Waldegård

Asphalt wins: 2
Gravel wins: 12
Snow wins: 2

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Incredibly, it took Björn Waldegård just two years to conquer all surfaces in the WRC – clinching his first of four Safari Rally wins in 1977 to tick off a gravel win and he completed the hat-trick in what was only his fourth-ever WRC victory.

Gravel was by far the Swede’s favored surface despite his two Sanremo victories (which although was a mixed-surface rally was predominantly staged on asphalt) in a Lancia Stratos and a pair of successes on the snow and ice of his home event.

More specifically, African gravel was Waldegård’s bread and butter as more than half of the gravel WRC rounds the 1979 world champion won were either in Kenya or the Ivory Coast.

His other successes came on the Acropolis (twice), the Quebec Rally in Canada, the RAC in the UK and Rally New Zealand.

Stig Blomqvist

Asphalt wins: 1
Gravel wins: 5
Snow wins: 5

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Given that with the exception of 2007 there’s only ever been one event on snow and ice on a WRC calendar, it speaks volumes of Stig Blomqvist’s affinity with Rally Sweden that he should have won as many rounds on snow and ice than he did on any other surface.

With victories in 1973, ’77 and ’79 for Saab and successes in 1982 and ’84 for Audi, Blomqvist’s record of seven Rally Sweden wins (with two wins in 1971 and ’72 before the WRC was introduced) still makes him the most successful driver ever on his home event.

But the 1984 world champion wasn’t just a snow and ice specialist – even if that’s the surface that gave him his first four WRC wins. Blomqvist’s first success off the snow was in 1982 on Rally Sanremo in Audi’s dominant Quattro, and a year later he’d conquered all surfaces with a win on the RAC Rally.

Blomqvist’s title-winning season was, perhaps unsurprisingly, his most prosperous in terms of rally wins (five) with victories on the gravel of Greece, New Zealand, Argentina and the Ivory Coast to supplement his final Sweden win.

Ari Vatanen

Asphalt wins: 2
Gravel wins: 7
Snow wins: 1

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Ari Vatanen could drive anything quickly, and do so anywhere too. Across an unfulfilled career given the frightening events of Argentina 1985 that nearly killed him, Vatanen was renowned for his gravel prowess but did sneak in a couple of asphalt and a snow victory in the mid 1980s.

Vatanen’s first six WRC rally wins were all on gravel, and the first five all in rear-wheel-drive cars. The first was the 1980 Acropolis – a victory he successfully defended in 1981 – before success also came in Brazil and at home in Finland en route to the ’81 world title.

The Safari was tamed in 1983 behind the wheel of an Opel Ascona before Vatanen linked up with Peugeot and began to take the WRC by storm in the second half of 1984.

After another win in Finland, Vatenen secured his first on asphalt with success in Sanremo before an RAC Rally win to conclude the year. In 1985 he pulled off one of the most legendary drives in history to win the 1985 Monte Carlo and doubled up on the very next round with his first ever ice and snow win in Sweden. It would prove to be the final WRC victory of Vatanen’s career.

Markku Alén

Asphalt wins: 4
Gravel wins: 14
Snow wins: 1

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Markku Alén’s record isn’t quite what you’d stereotypically expect from a Finn in the WRC, with four times as many wins on asphalt than on ice and snow. But Alén was far from your stereotypical driver.

The lion’s share of his 19 WRC wins was scored on the loose, with a record-equaling five wins in Portugal and six on his local roads in Finland – all claimed in either Fiat or Lancia machinery (as in fact all of his world championship wins were).

Alén’s first five WRC wins from 1975-78 were all either in Portugal or Finland but he broke his asphalt duck on the 1978 Sanremo – an event he would win again five years later. But his most accomplished and impressive asphalt victories were a pair of back-to-back Corsican successes in 1983 and ’84 where Lancia’s rear-wheel-drive 037 wasn’t handicapped as much against its four-wheel-drive rivals.

Strangely, it would take Alén 13 years after winning his first WRC round to win in Sweden. And illustrating his love for certain events, Sweden was one of just eight different events Alén conquered following victories on the Olympus and Acropolis and succeeding his last-ever WRC win on the RAC.

Tommi Mäkinen

Asphalt wins: 7
Gravel wins: 14
Snow wins: 3

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If Markku Alén’s asphalt record for a Finn is impressive, then Tommi Mäkinen’s is simply extraordinary. Over a quarter of the four-time world champion’s WRC victories were on the black stuff and indeed no other Scandinavian has won as many Tarmac WRC rallies as Mäkinen.

But Mäkinen’s first success would come on gravel and at home in Finland when he was drafted into the works Ford team in place of Miki Biasion in 1994 and sensationally won.

Snow and ice would be ticked off the list in 1996 when he won Rally Sweden and his first asphalt win was achieved the eighth time he stood atop the podium with victory on Rally Spain.

Mäkinen won Sanremo twice but it was the Monte Carlo Rally where he was particularly strong, winning it four times on the bounce from 1999-2002. The only event he would win more was Rally Finland with five victories, while he took three wins in Sweden and Argentina, two in Kenya, Australia, Portugal and Sanremo with single successes in Spain and New Zealand.

Sébastien Loeb

Asphalt wins: 36
Gravel wins: 42
Snow wins: 2

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There wasn’t really much doubt that statistically the greatest WRC driver of them all, Sébastien Loeb, would appear on this list was there? But his mixed-surface adaptability perhaps wasn’t as accomplished as some others, as the Frenchman only won twice on snow and ice – equating to 13.33% of his snowy starts.

Throughout his early career especially, Loeb was renowned as an asphalt king – and with good reason given his first five wins were all on a sealed surface and he went unbeaten on Tarmac when driving a Citroën C4 WRC from 2007-2010.

Loeb’s first ice and snow victory came quickly though when he made history to become the first non-Scandinavian to ever win Rally Sweden in 2004. The only other time he would taste success in the frozen forests was on Rally Norway five years later.

Cyprus gave Loeb his first gravel win, also in 2004, in what was his seventh career victory, and really began the Loeb steamroller that would grab hold of the WRC for the best part of a decade.

Most of Loeb’s most successful events are asphalt encounters. He holds the record on Rally Spain (nine), Rally Germany (nine) and shares it on the Monte Carlo Rally (eight). His most prosperous gravel event was Rally Argentina as he’s won it a sensational eight times, but he also either holds or shares the record on Rally México (six), Sardinia (four) and Turkey (three).

In fact, there are just two events Loeb has started but not won in WRC: Safari Rally Kenya and Rally Poland, and he entered neither more than once. He was a bit special, wasn’t he?

Petter Solberg

Asphalt wins: 1
Gravel wins: 11
Snow wins: 1

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Adding the feather of a WRC win on all surfaces to his cap a year later than great rival Loeb, it’s fair to say that Petter Solberg was most at home on gravel.

Claiming his first win on Rally GB 2002, Solberg’s fourth world rally triumph was his first off the gravel and instead on the asphalt of Corsica. Crashing in shakedown, Solberg’s participation in the event was under threat before it had even properly begun but when the heavens opened, the Pirelli covers bolted to his Subaru worked wonders and Solberg executed the job perfectly to seal a famous win.

It would prove to be Solberg’s only win on Tarmac as he began to rack up loose surface victories in Cyprus, Australia, New Zealand, Greece, Japan, Italy and Mexico – but at long last he managed to add a snow and ice victory to his collection with a win on Rally Sweden in 2005.

Curiously, Solberg only ever won one event more than once but that was Rally GB – a rally he won a consecutive four times from 2002-05, book-ending his career of WRC wins.

Marcus Grönholm

Asphalt wins: 1
Gravel wins: 24
Snow wins: 5

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Were it not for Sébastien Loeb slithering off the side of the road at the end of the first leg of the 2006 Monte Carlo Rally, Marcus Grönholm’s name may never have appeared on this list. But as it happened, Loeb’s mistake paved the path clear for Grönholm to seal his one and only victory on a surface he never truly liked.

That’s not to say that the 2000 and ’02 world champion didn’t produce some strong performances on asphalt though. Rally Germany 2003 springs to mind where he finished just a matter of seconds behind Loeb’s Xsara WRC. But equally, it’s not a stretch to suggest that Grönholm was far more comfortable on the loose.

His first WRC victory came on the ice of snow in Sweden and would prove to be the first of five as Grönholm equaled Blomqvist for the most Rally Sweden victories in the WRC era. However the big Finn was even more successful at home, winning Rally Finland a record-breaking seven times with a near clean sweep from 2000-07.

Oceania was also a particularly happy hunting ground for Grönholm as he won Rally New Zealand a record five times and netted a further three wins in neighboring Australia too. His other WRC successes came in GB, Cyprus, Argentina, Japan, Greece and Turkey.

Sébastien Ogier

Asphalt wins: 20
Gravel wins: 31
Snow wins: 3

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Another shoo-in here given the success Sébastien Ogier amassed throughout his career, and his record is arguably even better balanced than compatriot and old sparring partner Loeb’s.

No non-Scandinavian has won as many editions of Rally Sweden (three) as Ogier, and like Loeb Ogier conquered snow and ice soon into his career with his eighth win coming on frozen ground. But unlike Loeb, Ogier was predominantly successful on gravel – and not asphalt – from the outset.

The first five of Ogier’s WRC victories were on gravel before he famously won Rally Germany 2011 in a massively contentious weekend for Citroën, and then he won Rally France Alsace immediately afterwards. Asphalt would ultimately prove kind to Ogier over the years with another 18 wins – eight of those on the Monte – but perhaps that was more down to him not being at the same handicap of sweeping the road clear as championship leader.

Ogier’s most successful events proved to be the Monte, Rally México, Rally Italy (Sardinia) and Rally Portugal – events he shares the record number of victories for with either Loeb or Alén (Portugal). However Ogier does hold the record for Rally GB all on his own having won the event five times – unbeaten in a Volkswagen from 2013-16 before taking the record with victory in an M-Sport Ford four years ago.

Jari-Matti Latvala

Asphalt wins: 2
Gravel wins: 12
Snow wins: 4

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As a huge historian of the WRC, Jari-Matti Latvala’s victory on Rally France Alsace back in 2014 meant a lot to him as he finally came out on top of an asphalt event. The 12th win of his career completed the set of surfaces and opened the floodgates for another in France a year later when the rally moved from the mainland to the isle of Corsica.

As with nearly every other driver on this list, due to the higher number of loose surface rounds in the calendar than any other surface Latvala has had the most success on gravel – but his winning feeling was first discovered on snow. His Rally Sweden win in 2008 made him the youngest winner in WRC history until Rovanperä eclipsed him 13 years later.

Latvala was always a threat on snow though, winning Sweden four times, but he also had a real affinity with his home event in Finland as he won thrice and with Rally GB where he won twice.

The current Toyota team principal also found success on a variety of different gravel events such as Italy, New Zealand, Greece, Argentina, Portugal, Mexico and Australia. He’s the second of three drivers not to win the world championship to feature on this list after Markku Alén.

Thierry Neuville

Asphalt wins: 7
Gravel wins: 7
Snow wins: 1

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Thierry Neuville is the final member of that non-world champion trio, but stands alone here as the only WRC driver to have won on all three surfaces but to have currently won as many rallies on asphalt as he has on gravel.

That doesn’t make him a surface specialist though, far from it. Although Neuville’s first win was on the asphalt of Germany – in similar style to Solberg’s Corsican win where he binned it on shakedown but recovered to take first place – he was soon a winner on gravel too with success on Rally Italy.

Proving his versatility, Neuville hasn’t won any WRC event more than twice. Corsica, Argentina, Sardinia and Spain are the only rallies he’s ever done the double, while other events he’s conquered include Poland, Australia, Portugal, Monte Carlo and at home on the Ypres Rally.

Neuville’s one and only win on the snow and ice came in Sweden back in 2018 – his seventh-ever career win – although intriguingly, the Hyundai driver hasn’t won a loose surface round of the WRC since April 2019. He’s won four rallies since then but all of them were on asphalt.

Ott Tänak

Asphalt wins: 3
Gravel wins: 9
Snow wins: 2

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Ott Tänak showed promise of winning world rallies and titles right from when he first hit the scene, but despite some near misses – think Poland 2016 – several years passed before he finally graced the top step. However, once he did, the floodgates were well and truly opened.

His first victory on Rally Italy was swiftly followed by an eye-catching win on the asphalt of Rally Germany. Curiously Tänak is still yet to win another asphalt round of the WRC, but he was undefeated on German soil for three years straight until the event dropped off the calendar after 2019.

Germany therefore stands as Tänak’s most successful event, as he’s only won one other rally – Finland – on multiple occasions. His other gravel successes have been secured in Argentina, Turkey, Chile, Portugal and Estonia.

But despite not taking multiple Rally Sweden wins – winning in 2019 en route to his championship title – Tänak has won on the snow and ice twice courtesy of his Arctic Rally Finland success in 2021. That stands as the Hyundai driver’s most recent WRC win to date.

 

Kalle Rovanperä

Asphalt wins: 1
Gravel wins: 2
Snow wins: 1

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The man of the moment joined the club after just his fourth WRC victory, winning an entertaining and difficult Croatia Rally to seal his first asphalt success.

Rovanperä’s first victories were on gravel, conquering the lightning-fast Rally Estonia in 2021 before following that up with an Acropolis Rally Greece victory soon after.

Rally Sweden earlier this year gave the Finn his first win on snow and ice and then on the very next round he underlined his world class credentials with victory on a very different kind of rally.

Rovanperä’s Croatia Rally win arguably stands as the best of the lot given the ferocity of the battle with Ott Tänak. The Toyota driver led the rally right until the penultimate stage before stealing it back right at the death.

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