1994: Carlos Sainz and his Subaru Impreza, an intense year
6 months ago
The 1995 World Rally season started with a series of changes in regulations which meant all teams had to install restrictions on the engine intake and reduce the cars’ power. These limitations also affected the tyres and services. With these changes and the uncertainty of knowing which car would be the strongest in these circumstances, the World Championship began. It consisted of eight rounds, all for points, and with a very narrow margin for error which could take you out of the running for the World title.
Rallye Monte Carlo
The first race was held in Monte Carlo. The famous Monegasque round promised, as always, to be a treacherous asphalt spectacle, with very tricky sections and ice patches that were even more dangerous at night. Almost every driver started strong, but they soon started dropping like flies due to unpredictable weather and the difficulty of selecting the most suitable tyres for each situation.
Carlos Sainz’s teammate, Colin McRae, came off the the track early on and had to sit out the race. The driver from Madrid was also affected by the same problems as his rivals, although he was able come out unscathed. The most interesting situation Carlos Sainz faced in Monaco was on the night stage in Col de Turini, where he was unlucky and the entire electrical system failed. After a few moments of crisis and uncertainty, the car started up again and the Subaru was able to finish the stage with Luis Moya reading the notes without the interior light. As a result, Carlos took control of the race with seven special stage victories, a lead he held until the grand final win in the Monegasque capital ahead of François Delecour and Juha Kankkunen.
The second round of the World Rally Championship took them to Sweden, a new Rally for the Sainz-Moya partnership, which promised unparalleled complexity on its snow and ice tracks. The fact they weren’t familiar with the tracks or the race didn’t stop Carlos Sainz setting the fastest times on each special stage. The Spanish car was flying and seemed the favourite to win the round, but a sudden drop in temperature caused the Imprezas to have mechanical failures and the cars broke down. With 0 points on the board, but still in high spirits after seeing the times that had been achieved, the team set their sights on the next round of the World Championship.
Rally de Portugal
The Rally de Portugal was, kilometre by kilometre, a constant battle between Carlos Sainz and Juha Kankkunen. The complicated Portuguese gravel tracks featured muddy stages that made choosing the right tyres decisive to be competitive.
The driver from Madrid chose well and, although it wasn’t enough on its own to fight for victory, he had to use his prodigious hands and great driving skills to overcome the superior power of the Toyotas. The first day ended with Carlos at the top of the table, with four special stage victories out of a total of 11. The second, however, was complicated, since the Finnish driver was chipping away seconds from Carlos stage by stage. Juha Kankkunen was flying, he ended the day 22 seconds in front, and the fight for victory remained tightly contested. Sainz was concerned about haemorrhaging seconds, but decided to take a risk on the last day.
The rain came, and with it mud, which meant the stage was slippery, and the Toyota’s lead was gone. Sainz made the most of it and, little by little, clawed back time and moved above the Finn in the ranking on stage 31. On the last and final stage, where Sainz started by leading the race, a stone severed a brake line two kilometres after starting and the car was left with just the rear brake. It seemed that bad luck was following Carlos, but using experience and skill, he took victory by a mere 12-second difference over Juha Kankkunen. The pressure got to the Toyota team driver.
Tour de Corse
The World Championship then travelled to France for the Tour de Corse or Rallye de France, an asphalt rally where power was key in overcoming all the stages with guarantees. Again, the Imprezas suffered in performance against the Toyotas, plus a malfunction in the centre differential of Sainz’s car forced him to fight for survival and not lose too many points. Without winning any special stages, Carlos managed to finish the rally in a commendable fourth position, one minute and eighteen seconds behind the race winner, Toyota’s Frenchman Didier Auriol. Second was François Delecour with the Ford Escort RS, and Andrea Aghini with the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO III.
Rally New Zealand
Little can be said about the fourth scoring round of the World Rally Championship, after Carlos Sainz suffered an accident on a mountain bike and his injured shoulder didn’t recover in time, he was unable to take part in the Rally New Zealand. A race that was won by his greatest rival and Subaru Repsol teammate in the World Championship, Colin McRae. He led more than half the rally in an all-out fight against the three Toyotas of Auriol, Kankkunen, and Schwarz.
In the Rally Australia, luck was once again against the Spaniard. Still recovering from his shoulder injury, Carlos Sainz tried to give his all, but a broken radiator on stage 10 forced him to abandon the race. Peter Bournse’s Subaru also suffered a mishap and had to abandon the Australian race. The only positive note for the team in this rally was McRae finishing second, who managed to lead for some stages.
With two rounds left, and with the World Championship still very open, it was time to compete in the Rally Catalunya, a highly difficult race, full of bends and mountain roads. McRae came in with 55 points to Sainz’s 50. Stage by stage, the rally changed leaders. First Sainz, then McRae, the two Subaru Repsol drivers fought side by side and, despite having problems with the tyres, “El Matador” managed to overtake his teammate in 4 stages on the first day.
The second day started with Kankkunen dominating and climbing into the lead until stage 16, where an error led him to destroy his Toyota preventing him from continuing in the race. With the track clear, everything pointed to a victory for Carlos and a second place for McRae, especially when the team gave strict instructions to do so to safeguard the Manufacturers’ Championship. Colin McRae wasn’t too happy with the decision, who continued to press and managed to take the lead. Although after an embarrassing public argument, the team forced the Brit to give up his position and for this he intentionally penalised by giving over his documentation for this stage. This meant Carlos Sainz would take victory.
If that wasn’t enough, the stewards discovered that the Toyotas had an unauthorised modification that had given them extra power throughout the year, and they were excluded from the World Championship. That completely cleared the way for Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae to battle it out for the title in the final rally of the year.
And then came the final round, the RAC Rally in England. Sainz and McRae, tied with 70 points in the ranking and with the Toyotas out of the race, would have to give it their all in a four-day race characterised by difficult gravel terrain and bad British weather. Tommi Mäkinen set the tone for a race that, beyond knowing who was going to win it, focused its interest on the fight between the two title contenders.
With the focus on this fight, Mäkinen abandoned the rally on the seventh special stage and after finishing the second day Carlos took the lead, 39 seconds ahead of Colin McRae, who suffered a puncture and took a blow to the right front suspension of the Impreza. But the Brit didn’t give up and, with grit and determination, linked several special stage victories that brought him dangerously close to Sainz on the leader board.
Sainz’s car seemed to not have the same power as his rival’s and, stage by stage, McRae was chipping away time. By the end of the third day, McRae was not only able to catch up with Sainz, but also took the lead with a difference of 17 seconds over the Spaniard, making up almost one second per kilometre over the Spaniard. On the fourth and final day, despite Carlos’ attempts to make up time, he only achieved two special stage victories over Colin McRae, who claimed victory 36 seconds ahead of Carlos Sainz, and was crowned Champion, handing another World Rally title to the Repsol Team.
After disagreements with the team over the two years with Subaru, Sainz tried to return to Toyota, the car with which he achieved two world titles, but due to the sanction and one-year suspension from competition for the non-regulatory modification of the Celicas’ turbos, Carlos was without a team. The only option was to start from scratch with Ford and the Escort Cosworth, a promising car, but one that would have to evolve in 1996.