Sainz is surprise winner of WRC greatest driver vote

Haydn Cobb

The 1990 and 1992 WRC champion, who celebrated his third Dakar Rally win earlier this year, went up against nine-time world champion Loeb in the head-to-head final with the Spaniard clinching the honour with 57.28% of the vote, as over 80,000 fans taking part in the title-decider.

Over 300,000 votes were cast in total during the knockout-style poll which Sainz beat 1983 WRC champion Hannu Mikkola, ’96-99 champion and current Toyota Gazoo Racing team principal Tommi Makinen and 2013-18 champion Sebastien Ogier on his way to the final vote against Loeb.

“I cannot be more happy and more proud about this recognition,” said Sainz. “Thank you very much for bringing me first to the final and, of course, secondly for allowing to me to win this recognition against Sebastien Loeb.

“I don’t need to tell you how much I rate Sebastien Loeb and how much he deserves to be the greatest. But I have to say not only him, all the world champions merit this recognition. But somebody has to win and, in this case, it has been myself.

“I gave everything to rallying. Rallying has been my life, rallying has been my dream and today rallying and the whole family of rallying is giving me a big smile and this big recognition.”

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Despite Loeb’s vastly superior WRC statistics of 79 WRC wins to go with his haul of nine world titles, compared to Sainz’s 26 victories and two crowns, the 58-year-old starred as a fan favourite while remaining supremely competitive at the Dakar Rally at the age of 58.

All 18 WRC champions since the introduction of the drivers’ world title in 1979 were included in the competition plus two wildcard drivers with fans voting in the knockout rounds once the final 16 were decided.

The greatest WRC driver vote was created during the 2020 season postponement due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Last week Rally Portugal became the first event on this year’s calendar to be cancelled due to the COVID-10 crisis, originally scheduled for 21-24 May, having previously been postponed along with the rounds in Argentina and Italy. Earlier this year Rally Chile was dropped due to social unrest in the country.

The opening three rounds of this year’s schedule have been completed, although last month's Rally Mexico was cut short by a day to allow teams to return to Europe safely during the growing uncertainty surrounding international travel.

As things stand, the Safari Rally in Kenya is due to be the next round of the 2020 WRC season on 16-19 July.

Ogier currently leads the WRC standings for Toyota by eight points from team-mate Elfyn Evans thanks to his victory in Mexico.