WRC drivers to win on debut with their new team

Sébastien Loeb's historic Monte Carlo win for M-Sport is just one example of when a driver has won first time out with a new employer


As David Evans wrote in his 2022 Monte Carlo Rally review, it’s the story that keeps on giving. Sébastien Loeb’s victory for M-Sport Ford – his 80th in the 50th season of the World Rally Championship on the 90th edition of the Monte – was a truly historic moment in WRC history.

It was Loeb’s first win for any team other than Citroën, Isabelle Galmiche’s first career win on her maiden WRC start as a factory co-driver, and subsequently the first win for a female competitor in 25 years. But it also allowed Loeb access to a rather exclusive club of WRC drivers to win on their debut with a manufacturer.

For the purpose of this feature, we have omitted drivers who won their debut event in the WRC but had already driven (and won) for the team in other major series like the European Rally Championship.

That also includes Swede Stig Blomqvist who competed on three Swedish national events (winning two of them) before his victorious WRC debut on his home event in 1982.

We also haven’t included drivers who won on their return to a team either – like Walter Röhrl with Lancia in 1983 or Carlos Sainz with Toyota 15 years later.

Here are the nine examples in WRC history where a driver has managed to win on debut with their new team.

Achim Warmbold

Fiat – Poland 1973

730712Polish Warmbold 1bearb

The very first season of the WRC in 1973 was only open for manufacturers, and that meant drivers would often appear in different cars throughout the season as teams rotated their line-ups from event to event.

Achim Warmbold was one such driver that found himself swapping cars throughout the season. Beginning it with BMW driving a 2002 Tii, Warmbold was hired by Fiat to compete on the fast-paced Rally Poland and Rally Finland.

Driving a 124 Abarth Rallye, Warmbold cleaned up to claim his first of only two WRC victories with a certain Jean Todt beside him. His second would come later that year in Austria but back with BMW.

Warmbold was eighth on his second outing with Fiat in Finland and his efforts certainly helped its cause but not enough to prevent Alpine claiming the inaugural WRC title.

His son, Antony, would also launch a WRC career 30 years later but wouldn’t ever achieve a result better than seventh in a Ford Focus WRC.

Hannu Mikkola

Toyota – Finland 1975

750829SF Mikkola 1

Instead of asking which manufacturers the late Hannu Mikkola drove for in his WRC career, the more pertinent question is perhaps which manufacturers didn’t he drive for?

Throughout a 20-year career that culminated in 18 rally victories, Mikkola competed for Ford, Peugeot, Volvo, Fiat, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Audi, Mazda, and Subaru. But the only time he won on debut with his new team was back in 1975 with Toyota.

It transpired to be his only success with Toyota but it was an incredibly well-judged drive in his Corolla Levin as he saw off the challenge from Simo Lampinen’s Sab and Timo Mäkinen’s Ford to win Rally Finland for the second year in succession.

Having won the previous edition for Ford, Mikkola ditched the team for 1975 and competed with Fiat and Peugeot as well as his cameos for Toyota. His next rally for the team – GB – didn’t go anywhere near as well as he retired.

Jean-Pierre Nicolas

Porsche – Monte Carlo 1978

780121MC Nicolas 1

Winner of the fourth ever WRC rally, Jean-Pierre Nicolas was a staple of Alpine’s early success when the WRC was first formed half a century ago.

But the 1978 season was by far his most successful as he won three rallies for two different teams: Porsche and Peugeot. And it’s with the former that Nicolas earned himself a spot on this list.

By this period Nicolas was regularly driving different cars. In the preceding 1977 season, for example, he had been entered by Opel, Peugeot, Ford, and Renault. And at the start of the 1978 season, he joined Porsche’s attack for the Monte Carlo Rally.

Nicolas had regularly challenged for honors on the Monte but never quite got the job done. That all changed in 1978. Taking the lead early on the second day, Nicolas’ 911 Carrera RS wouldn’t be overhauled thereafter and he beat Jean Ragnotti’s Renault 5 Alpine by nearly two minutes.

Nicolas, who in the future would become Peugeot’s sporting director during its WRC stint in the early 2000s and then co-ordinator of the ERC, would enter one more rally for Porsche in his career – the Monte the following year – but he would only finish sixth.

Walter Röhrl

Audi – Monte Carlo 1984

1984 Monte Carlo Rally copyright: Mcklein

After spending a season competing against – and defeating – Audi with Lancia in 1983, two-time world champion Walter Röhrl switched allegiances in 1983 and strapped himself into a Quattro A2.

The Monte was the first event of Röhrl’s partial program, and it was an event that had belonged to him the past two seasons after victories with Opel in ’82 and Lancia in ’83.

Remarkably Röhrl would extend his record and win his third Monte in succession for a third different manufacturer, in what was a tremendous result for Audi as it swept the podium with Stig Blomqvist and Hannu Mikkola.

Surprisingly, Röhrl would only win one more rally with Audi, Sanremo 1985. He wouldn’t compete for another marque in the WRC, sticking around briefly in 1987 when Group B was abolished but calling it quits after that.

Didier Auriol

Toyota – Monte Carlo 1993

930121MC Auriol 1 rk

Didier Auriol had been a Lancia driver for four years prior to 1993. But when Lancia pulled out as an official manufacturer entry, both he and Juha Kankkunen transferred to Toyota, while reigning world champion Carlos Sainz going the other way to Jolly Club.

Auriol had come painfully close to winning the ’92 title for Lancia but he put that disappointment behind him early in ’93 as he claimed his third Monte Carlo Rally victory in four years for his new team.

It wasn’t until late on in the rally where Auriol seized the initiative though. In a thrilling fight with François Delecour’s Ford Escort Cosworth, Auriol snuck ahead on the penultimate stage and eventually won by just 15s.

Kankkunen was fifth on his return to Toyota – having driven for it in two previous spells before 1993 – but would go on to claim the drivers’ title that year, while Auriol’s wait for a first crown ended in 1994.

Despite a one-off rally for Subaru and Mitsubishi apiece in 1996 when Toyota was serving its WRC suspension, Auriol stayed with the manufacturer until it pulled out of the WRC in 1999. Stints at Seat, Peugeot and Škoda followed thereafter.

Tommi Mäkinen

Subaru – Monte Carlo 2002

Makinen 1

A four-time world champion with Mitsubishi, Mäkinen grew frustrated as the team slipped off the pace – particularly when it finally unleashed the first World Rally Car iteration of the Lancer onto the stages.

So with Richard Burns joining Peugeot, Mäkinen swooped in and filled the vacant Subaru seat – and managed to win on his first appearance in blue and gold.

It was a controversial weekend as Sébastien Loeb won on the road but was later docked two minutes for a tire infringement ahead of the final day.

Citroën appealed that penalty and it was deferred to the FIA’s court of appeal, meaning that Loeb won the rally by 45.9s on the road from Mäkinen. It was Loeb and Citroën, not Mäkinen, who celebrated a victory in front of Casino Square.

But days later the appeal was dropped and Mäkinen was credited with a victory – his first and only for Subaru – that at the time moved him level with Carlos Sainz on 24 wins, a record at the time.

Marcus Grönholm

Ford – Monte Carlo 2006


After seven seasons with Peugeot, Marcus Grönholm joined Ford as Peugeot pulled the plug on its WRC program after two disappointing seasons with the unorthodox 307 WRC.

Leaving the team with which you claimed two world championships might rock some drivers, but not Grönholm, who was fiercely competitive throughout a two-year stint at Ford.

And it started in perfect fashion with an unexpected victory on the Monte Carlo Rally – Grönholm’s first and only ever WRC win on asphalt.

Sébastien Loeb’s Kronos Racing-run Citroën Xsara WRC set the pace as expected in the early running, carving out a lead of over 1m15s before getting caught out and sliding off the road into retirement for the day.

Loeb restarted with two days remaining, facing a five minute gap to make up. He put in a masterful drive to rise back up to second. Grönholm though completed his mission too, not pushing too hard to risk a mistake but still going hard enough to stay in the lead.

It was a dream start to his new partnership with Ford that only got better on the next round in Sweden when Grönholm made it two from two on his 38th birthday.

Sébastien Ogier

M-Sport – Monte Carlo 2017


The next Monte Carlo M-Sport debut to feature on the list, and of course not the last, Sébastien Ogier’s success back in 2017. It was quite some story for both him, M-Sport and the WRC itself. Sound familiar?

After leaving Citroën for Volkswagen and winning four back-to-back titles between 2013-16, VW’s sudden departure from the championship in the wake of the company’s emissions scandal meant Ogier needed a new
employer – and fast – so he put pen to paper on a deal to drive with M-Sport.

A lack of familiarity with his new team didn’t hamper Ogier once he reached the Monte. Although it was Thierry Neuville and Hyundai that proved the quickest combination over the weekend, Ogier and M-Sport were the smartest as they netted a two-minute victory together ahead of Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala.

Having not won a rally since losing Ford manufacturer support after 2012, the 2017 season was a dream for M-Sport. It claimed both championships with Ogier, who also endeared himself to rallying fans far and wide having won in far different circumstances to his dominant VW days.

This debut win also stands out among its eight peers. Ogier is the only driver in WRC history to win their debut event with a new team and then go on to win the world championship title that same season.

Sébastien Loeb

M-Sport – Monte Carlo 2022


For years, Sébastien Loeb destroyed M-Sport and Ford’s hopes and dreams as he won nine titles on the bounce for Citroën. Just seeing him compete for his old rival was quite astonishing, but then for him to win – 18 months after his last WRC event and 10 years after his first full-time season – was extraordinary.

The first ever WRC event to feature hybrid vehicles at the front of the pack, the battle for victory was between M-Sport’s Loeb and Toyota’s Ogier. It was nip and tuck throughout as first Ogier was ahead, then Loeb, then they tied before Ogier stole a march he didn’t look like relinquishing.

But an Ogier puncture on the penultimate stage threw the contest wide open again. Suddenly Loeb was on for a record-extending 80th WRC victory and his first for a team other than Citroën.

Ogier stole back nine of the 9.5s he needed, but a 10s jump-start penalty made it all academic as victory was Loeb’s by 10.5s. His first for M-Sport on his very first rally with the team and M-Sport’s first since 2018.

New ground was broken by Loeb’s co-driver Isabelle Galmiche too, who claimed her very first WRC win on her debut with a factory team and first rally alongside Loeb. That means Loeb and Galmiche join another illustrious club of driver and co-driver pairings to win on debut together:

Driver Co-Driver Event Car
Jean-Luc Thérier Jacques Jaubert Portugal 1973 Alpine A110
Joginder Singh David Doig Safari 1974 Mitsubishi Colt Lancer
Sandro Munari Silvio Maiga Monte Carlo 1976 Lancia Stratos HF
Harry Källström Claes-Göran Andersson Acropolis 1976 Datsun Violet
Jean-Pierre Nicolas Michel Gamet Morocco 1976 Peugeot 504 Ti
Kyösti Hämäläinen Martti Tiukkanen Finland 1977 Ford Escort RS1800 Mk2
Henri Toivonen Neil Wilson GB 1985 Lancia Delta S4
Henri Toivonen Sergio Cresto Monte Carlo 1986 Lancia Delta S4
Miki Biasion Carlo Cassina Portugal 1988 Lancia Delta Integrale
Juha Kankkunen Nicky Grist Argentina 1993 Toyota Celica ST185
Didier Auriol Denis Giraudet Tour de Corse 1995 Toyota Celica ST205
Sébastien Loeb Isabelle Galmiche Monte Carlo 2022 Ford Puma Rally1