WRC drivers remember their first rally cars

WRC drivers remember their first rally cars

© Guillaume Ivaldy

Rallying’s finest get all misty-eyed about the cars they made their competitive debuts with.

Your first ever racing car is a bit like your first boyfriend or girlfriend – the relationship may have finished a long time ago, and your standards may have gotten a bit higher over the years, but you’ve still got a little soft spot for them.

Finding out which cars World Rally Championship drivers took their first competitive steps in is a fascinating look at how the best started out, and how far they’ve come since.

So read on as Sébastien Ogier, Thierry Neuville, Mads Østberg and more remember their first rally cars, accompanied by some rare photos of the drivers from back in the day. 

Sébastien Ogier

“My first rally car was the Peugeot 206 from the [Rallye Jeunes] Cup in France. Great memories, and it’s funny because not long ago, I found the guy who got my car. Of course, I told him that the day he wants to sell it, I want it, because that’s something I would keep as a memory of my career.”

WRC drivers remember their first cars
Sébastien wants to buy back his Peugeot 206

Mads Østberg

“My first rally car was an Opel Ascona. It was a nice car. I bought it when I was 15 for, like, €2,000, and it was already quite old – it was a 1987 model, the same as me! I actually still have that car, and I did my first rally with it in 2004 in Sweden, which was a fantastic experience. I’d done some rallies before that as a co-driver for my dad [Morten Østberg], so I was familiar with rallies. But driving for the first time myself was really, really good.

“Because it was a cheap car, though, nothing worked consistently on it the way it should have. I remember I had some brake problems with the car, which we never really found the cause of. But just from time to time, I lost the brake assistance, so I couldn’t really stop the car, and that was quite scary… I never crashed because of it, but I went off the road.”

Hayden Paddon

“The first car I had was a Mini. At 13 years old in New Zealand, you can do paddock time trial events. I didn’t finish last in my first event, I remember that, but it was a big learning curve.”

WRC drivers remember their first rally cars
Hayden Paddon with his beloved Mini

Thierry Neuville

“My first rally car was an Opel Corsa that I bought in 2007. It was a really basic car, but still fast; the gearbox was changed, the engine as well. The two first events I did, I finished second and third, so it was a good entrance into the world of rally.

“I was a co-driver before I bought that car, though, and in my first ever rally, we did 10km and crashed into a tree. So I stopped being a co-driver, even though the crash was for sure not my fault! Then I jumped behind the steering wheel. My first rally was in Luxembourg and, like I said, I finished second overall, so I had a pretty good event.”

WRC drivers remember their first rally cars
Thierry gets some air in his Opel Corsa

Ott Tänak

“It’s back to 2003, 2004, something like this. I did some rallycross with a VW Scirocco. It was an old car, an ’86 or an ’87 model or something. It had a 2.0-litre engine, which was very strong, but the chassis wasn’t great – especially compared to the current WRC cars! But I think if you start with some not-so-easy handling cars, it makes it a bit more complicated for a driver, and that’s a thing that can improve your driving – you need to work harder.

“But my first proper rally was a local one, and I did it in a Volkswagen Golf Mk II. I did four kilometres and then had a crash, so I was pushing already! The crash took a corner off the car. After this I learned a bit, but I still remember my first four kilometres.”

WRC drivers remember their first rally cars
Ott's first rally lasted four kilometres!

Malcolm Wilson, M-Sport team principal

“The very first rally car that I drove on the highway when I was qualified to drive was a Ford Anglia, and then I very quickly moved on to what everybody did in my era, which was getting a Mk I [Ford] Escort. Basically I had that car from 1974 right through till the end of 1977. I converted it all the way from a 1300 Escort, put a twin-cam Lotus engine in it, then a 1700, then an 1800 BDA. So basically that car served me for three years. I rallied the Anglia, but only on road rallies, not on stage rallies.”

WRC drivers remember their first rally cars
Malcolm in his later Mk II Escort at the 1980 RAC