Martin Schanche is a Norwegian rallycross legend who was active from 1976 to 2001, capturing the European Rallycross Championship title six times and finishing as a vice-champion eight times. Because of his success, he was nicknamed 'Mister Rallycross'.
Outside rallycross, he recorded few participations in the World Rally Championship and an attempt at Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, but without any success. Between 1985 and 1988, he also participated in the World Sports-Prototype Championship.
Relatively late start of a career for the Wild Man from Tana
Martin Schanche was born on January 1, 1945, in Trondheim, as a son of German airplane pilot and a Norwegian mother. As his father lost a life three months after Martin's birth, he grew up as an adopted child in one village in Tana municipality in the most northern part of Norway.
He started a racing career relatively late, at the age 27, earning a nickname Villmannen fra Tana (The Wild Man from Tana) because of aggressive driving style. After winning the Norwegian Ice Racing Championship in 1975, Schanche made a rallycross debut in 1976.
European Rallycross Championship debut in 1977, first title in 1978
In 1977, Schanche made a debut in the FIA European Rallycross Cup, the main rallycross competition of the time. His first race car was a Ford Escort RS 1800. The highlight of his debut season was the third place in the German round.
In 1978, Schanche clinched his first championship title, scoring four wins and seven podiums in a Ford Escort RS 1800. In 1979, the competition had been renamed to European Rallycross Championship and Schanche defended a title in Touring Cars division, still driving a Ford Escort RS 1800. He spent one more season in that car, scoring four wins and finishing second in the 1980 championship, behind Per-Inge Walfridsson.
Third championship title in a Ford Escort RS 1800 Turbo
In 1981, Schanche was driving an upgraded Ford Escort RS 1800 Turbo, taking his third championship title in four years. He scored four wins.
In 1982, Division 2 has been formed and Schanche spent two more seasons in a Ford Escort Turbo, finishing as a vice-champion in 1982 (behind Franz Wurz) and fourth in the points in 1983.
Fourth championship title in a Ford Escort XR3 Turbo
In 1984, a Ford Escort XR3 Turbo was a new race car for Martin Schanche. After winning six of nine championship rounds, he won his fourth ERX title.
In 1985, Schanche finished second, losing a title to Matti Alamäki. Schanche was a vice-champion again in 1986, behind Olle Arnesson, in his last season with Ford Escort XR3 Turbo.
Six seasons and one championship title in a Ford RS200
In 1987, following a ban of Group B cars in the World Rally Championship, those race machines were transferred to rallycross. Martin Schanche was driving a Ford RS200 E2, finishing just sixth in the championship in his first season with that car.
After that, he was a vice-champion three times in a row (1988-1990), all three times behind Matti Alamäki in a Peugeot 205 T16, finally taking his fifth championship title in 1991. He won seven rounds that year. Schanche's last season in a Ford RS200 was 1992 when he finished fourth in the points.
Six seasons and one title in a Ford Escort RS2000 T16
The next race car for Martin Schanche was a Ford Escort RS2000 T16. He raced with that car from 1993 to 1998, taking one championship title in 1995. Schanche captured his sixth ERX title with six victories during a season.
In other seasons with Ford Escort RS2000 T16, he was a vice-champion in 1994, losing a title to Kenneth Hansen, and third in the points in 1997 and 1998.
Three last rallycross seasons in an Opel Astra
In 1999, after more than twenty years in Fords, Schanche switched to Opel Astra G T16. For the first time since his debut season, he scored no wins, finishing 11th in the championship.
Schanche spent two more seasons with Opel Astra, scoring one victory in 2000 to finish fifth in the championship and one victory in 2001, closing a career with a fourth place in the championship.
Two WRC starts with Ford Escort RS 1800
Parallel to his rallycross career, Schanche recorded several participations in rally events, including two World Rally Championship starts. He made a rally debut at 1979 Arctic Rally in Finland, finishing 34th in a Ford Escort RS 1800 MkII. Next year, he participated in Swedish WRC round with that car, retiring after an accident on the second day.
In 1982, Schanche returned to WRC, driving a Ford Escort RS 1800 MkII at RAC Rally. He retired due to mechanical issues. His last participation in a rally event was at 1986 Memorial Bettega, where he was driving Group B Ford RS200.
1985 – first season in a prototype racing
Schanche's other activity during the late 1980s was his participation in sports-prototype racing between 1985 and 1988. He made a debut in the FIA World Endurance Championship in April 1985, driving the #97 Strandell 85-Porsche C2 prototype at Monza 1000 Km, sharing a car with Stanley Dickens. They failed to finish the race but two weeks later they finished 13th at Silverstone 1000 Km.
In June 1985, Schanche and Dickens participated at Le Mans 24 Hours. Unfortunately, they didn't manage to start the race due to engine failure.
Just one lap at Circuit de la Sarthe in 1986
In June 1986, Schanche returned to Le Mans with his own team running the #89 Argo JM19-Zakspeed prototype. His partners were Martin Birrane and Torgye Kleppe. They started the race but stopped after just one lap with a broken engine.
Over the season, Schanche was driving Argo JM19 in the World Sports-Prototype Championship, finishing best at Monza 360 Km race.
Five laps at 1987 Le Mans 24h race
In 1987, Schanche's team was running a new version of Argo JM19B, recording one more disappointing attempt at Le Mans. Their race lasted for just five laps. Schanche's co-drivers were Will Hoy and Robin Smith.
In the rest of the season, Schanche's best result was 11th place in two World Championship races, at Monza 1000 Km and Brands Hatch 1000 Km.
1988 – finally a proper race at Le Mans
In 1988, Schanche came to Circuit de la Sarthe for the fourth time. He finally had a proper race, reaching the finish line in the #117 Argo JM19C-Cosworth. Sharing a car with Robin Smith and Robin Donovan, he finished 25th overall.
In the World Championship, Schanche's best result was the tenth place at Brands Hatch 1000 Km in July 1988. It was his last race in a prototype racing.
Politics and engineering in a post-race career
After retiring from racing in the early 2000s, Schanche became known as a local politician. He stayed involved in motorsport through his team, continuing his engineering activities in preparation of transmissions, differentials and other parts for race cars.
In 2006, he worked as a consultant for Prodrive in a preparation of Subaru WRC cars. Most recently, Schanche was working on new combustion engine project.