Find out Carlos Sainz’s career highs and lows

The Spanish Dakar and rally legend guides us through the best and the worst of his 30-year career.
By Anthony Peacock

Carlos Sainz is one of rallying's true legends: a two-time world champion, he has 26 wins, 97 podiums and 757 stage wins behind him. Known as the 'King' or 'Matador' for his ability to reign supreme while taking no prisoners, Sainz guides us through all the highs and the lows of an amazing career that started 30 years ago at the Rally Portugal and is still going strong today in races like the Dakar Rally.

First of all, here he is celebrating 30 years since his debut in 1987 with a flying run at Rally Portugal's Fafe Stage...

The highs

Winning the first stage in Portugal on his WRC debut

"Everyone remembers their first WRC rally and for me it was in Portugal in 1987, as a reward for winning the Spanish championship. Of course, what I never could've predicted is that we would go on to win our first stage. I was very surprised when it happened, and very excited – I knew that we had a chance to be competitive against the top drivers in the sport, and this is what I was asking myself before. I would never have expected to achieve the success I eventually had in my career, but of course I dreamed about it, and dreaming is free, especially when you're young."

Winning his first rally at Greece in 1990

"When I won my first rally, it was more a feeling of relief than anything else. I'd come so close to winning rallies before, but something always happened: even the previous year, in 1989, I'd been leading the RAC Rally – the last year it was a blind rally – with a big advantage until we had a mechanical failure with just two stages to go. So my reaction on winning in Acropolis was, 'Finally! We can do it!' And in fact, it became a lot easier from there. Later on that year, I won my first world title."

Winning Rally Finland in 1990

"This was very special for me, because maybe what I'm most proud of in my career is the fact that I was able to end the era of the specialist. I wanted to be quick everywhere, and I knew I could do it. Just because you're Spanish, why does this mean that you can only be quick on asphalt? That made no sense to me. But Finland's the most specialised gravel rally of all, so it meant a lot that we could win it, especially as no drivers from outside Scandinavia had won in Finland before."

Winning the Dakar Rally in 2010

"After I finished my WRC career, I was very lucky to find a place at Volkswagen for the Dakar Rally, which was a big adventure. We developed the car and it soon became competitive. I'd led the Dakar before, but in 2010 I eventually won, after a really big fight with Nasser Al-Attiyah – I think it was the smallest winning margin in Dakar history. Of course the story with Dakar continues for me, as I've been driving for Peugeot recently, and I think we'll carry on next year."

Winning WRC Argentina in 2004

"I was delighted to win in Argentina, which was my last full year of the sport, as it showed that I was competitive from the start to the finish of my career. I actually had a contract to stay with Citroën in 2005, but I decided not to activate it as I wanted to be sure of being competitive and retiring from WRC on my own terms. Argentina's one of my favourite rallies, so it was great for me to take my final win there."

Seeing my son making his F1 debut

"My son Carlos had a nice career in single-seaters and worked hard, so it was great to see him get his reward with a Formula One drive at Scuderia Toro Rosso. I think he deserves this opportunity, and so far he's doing a very good job."

The lows

Carlos Sainz's Lancia Delta in 1993
Carlos Sainz's Lancia Delta in 1993 © Getty Images

Missing out on the 1998 WRC title within sight of the finish

"It was one of the most famous moments of my career, but that's OK, there are worse things. Nobody likes to lose a world championship title like this, but you resign yourself to it in the end. I think it was definitely made easier by the fact that we'd won two championships already. If that hadn't been the case, I think I really would've cried!”

Never managing to win in a Lancia Delta

"I signed to drive a Lancia Delta for the 1993 season. It was a private car, and I think it was probably the only decision I made in my career when I really let my heart rule my head. By then the Lancia was coming to the end of its life, so it really wasn't competitive, and we had some reliability problems as well. The regret is that it was the only one of my cars that I wasn't able to win in at least once."

Dakar 2016: Carlos Sainz retired from the lead
Dakar 2016: Carlos Sainz retired from the lead © Getty Images

Retiring from the lead of Dakar Rally 2016

"Again, if you look at this in the context of everything, it wasn't so bad: I'm lucky to have enjoyed a career with many more highs than lows. However, it was disappointing that we were in the lead of the Dakar, with only a few days to go, and we retired with a breakdown. That always hurts. The car was certainly good enough to win."

Hearing bad news

"There are only two real low points I've had in my career, and they're the only ones that matter. It's when you get to the end of a stage and you hear that there's been an accident and a friend or a colleague's died. That's happened to me twice, and those are the only really low moments – the rest is insignificant."

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