With news that former double WRC champion and Dakar Rally-winner Carlos Sainz has become the first person to receive the freedom of his home town of Pozuelo de Alarcón, Spain, by the local mayor, we celebrate six of Señor Sainz Senior’s most memorable moments.
The car in front is a Toyota
Having left first WRC team Ford for Toyota in 1989 and then starting with four straight retirements, Carlos then made the new car competitive and almost scored his first-ever victory, at Rally GB, only for mechanical failures to deny him on the season’s last rally (an omen for what was to come some years later? – see below). However, 1990 proved a different story, with a maiden win followed by a further three victories and a first WRC title, with Toyota breaking Lancia’s constructors’ title stranglehold into the bargain. After narrowly missing out on defending his title in 1991, Sainz again took four victories in ’92 to join the distinguished club for double world champions with a second drivers’ crown.
Rear Window (thriller movie)
In his second spell at Toyota in 1998, Carlos suffered heartbreak at the season-ending Rally GB in what must rank as the unluckiest moment in WRC history. Only needing fourth place to grab the title after Tommi Mäkinen hit problems in his Mitsubishi, the Spaniard’s rally-leading Corolla died just 500m from the finish, leaving him head-in-hands as Mitsubishi’s Richard Burns took the victory and rival Mäkinen grabbed the title. Co-driver Luis Moya was unable to control his frustration, sending his helmet crashing through the stricken Toyota’s rear windscreen. Relive the desperate moments with Carlos and Luis below.
You’re only as old as you feel
Having joined Citroën and enjoyed two victories, Turkey 2003 and Argentina 2004, Carlos had virtually decided to retire from WRC, with World Touring Cars thought to be an option, but the indifferent form of François Duval saw the veteran of 196 world rallies back in the seat of the Xsara WRC at the age of 43. Sainz didn’t disappoint in his brief two-rally swansong for the French outfit, scoring fourth in Turkey and a third place in Greece, meaning he bowed out on the podium. Sébastien Loeb won the rally. Who’s this Sébastien Loeb, I hear you ask? Just kidding…
Hopes come crashing down
Having showing that being in your forties is no barrier to success, Carlos switched his attentions to rallies where you drive for many more hours, over many more days, across some of Planet Earth’s most hostile territory. In 2009, leading the Dakar Rally in their Volkswagen Touareg, Sainz and co-driver Michel Périn found out just how hostile when a mistake in a pacenote saw them plunge off the road and crash into a small ravine. Sainz desperately hoped to return, but with Périn’s broken arm already being placed in a sling, it was clearly all over. You can watch here, but it’s uncomfortable viewing. Sainz’s South African team-mate Giniel de Villiers went on to win the event.
Second time lucky
Having won the Silk Way Rally in Turkmenistan and Russia in September 2009 with new co-pilot Lucas Cruz, Carlos took a maiden win in 2010 in the Touareg as the Dakar Rally went back to Chile and Argentina. This time, he swapped the lead for much of the event with VW team-mate Nasser al-Attiyah, but a stunning series of stage times meant he just edged out the Qatari, leading a terrific 1-2-3 Volkswagen victory in the car class, al-Attiyah and Mark Miller taking second and third. Relive Carlos’s moment of 2010 Dakar glory here.
It’s a Real honour
Carlos, as we have heard, is now a freeman of his home town of Pozuelo de Alarcón, which lies on the outskirts of Spain’s capital Madrid – and Carlos is a huge fan of local soccer legends CF Real Madrid. At one time, he ran for the office of vice-president of the club – though this didn’t come to pass, Real honoured Carlos’s 2010 Dakar win by inviting their most famous fan to kick off the match between the Galácticos and Malaga last January. It was a memorable game in which to be involved, with Ruud van Nistelrooy saying an emotional farewell to the players and fans, followed by Cristiano Ronaldo scoring both goals that won the game 2–0 and then being sent off. Watch the drama unfold here.