A two-time world rally drivers' champion, five-time world rally champion with various teams and three-time Dakar Rally winner Carlos Sainz is one of the most successful Spanish racing drivers ever. On the list of drivers with the maximum number of WRC victories in history, Carlos Sainz is third-placed behind Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier.
With 196 WRC rallies, he was holding the record for most career starts in the world championship until 2019, when JM Latvala set the new record. Sainz is still very active and in January 2020 he participated in his thirteenth Dakar Rally, winning for the third time.
Real Madrid was his first love
Born on April 12, 1962, in Spain's capital Madrid, young Carlos Sainz played football and squash for the famous Real Madrid. He began rallying in 1980 with his first racing car: a Renault 5 TS. Over time, he became more and more successful, until he reached the top of the Spanish rally.
The best in Spain two years in a row
He was the Spanish champion in 1987 and 1988 driving a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth. With the same car, Carlos debuted in WRC at 1987 Rally Portugal, but retired. After that, he finished the Tour de Corse and RAC Rally. In 1988, his WRC programme expanded to five rallies, with the best result being fifth place at Tour de Corse and Rally Sanremo.
First WRC victory at 1990 Acropolis Rally
In 1989, Sainz joined the Toyota Team Europe and competed in seven rallies with Toyota Celica GT-Four ST165. After four consecutive retirements, he scored three podiums in a row and finished eighth in the championship standings. He missed his first WRC win at the Lombard RAC Rally only because due to mechanical problems.
He finally scored his first WRC victory in the 1990 Acropolis Rally. His performance during the season was superior; in 11 events he retired only once. With three more wins and five podiums he clinched the world title, far away in point standings ahead of Lancia's Didier Auriol and Juha Kankkunen.
Second world title with Toyota in 1992
In 1991, Sainz narrowly failed to defend his title, despite scoring five victories. Lancia's Juha Kankkunen also scored five wins, with a decisive triumph in the last round at RAC Rally. The Toyota Celica was refreshed for the 1992 season and Sainz clinched his second world title.
Lancia's drivers Kankkunen and Auriol were the main rivals once again. Four wins and four podiums were enough for Sainz to beat them, after an exciting finish and victory at the RAC Rally. As a part of the celebration, Toyota launched the limited edition of 440 Celica GT-Four ST185 cars, carrying Sainz's name on a plaque.
1995 Manufacturers' title with Subaru
Despite success with the Japanese manufacturer, Sainz changed the car in the 1993 season. He moved to Jolly Club, a Lancia-backed private team, which ran the Lancia Delta HF Integrale. The legendary Italian car lost ground to newer cars and Sainz scored only one podium finish at the Acropolis Rally.
Two seasons with the Subaru Rally Team followed. In 1994, Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae contributed to Subaru's second place in manufacturers' standings, while Sainz finished second behind Toyota's Didier Auriol. In 1995, we saw the domination of blue-and-yellow liveried Impreza 555, so Subaru WRT took the manufacturers' title. The season was remembered by the controversial Rally Catalunya in which Toyota was caught with an illegal turbo restrictor and it was the decision of the Subaru team to slow down McRae and allow Sainz to win. Despite that, McRae won the title with a victory at the RAC Rally.
Return to Ford's factory team
In 1996, Sainz returned to Ford's factory team, which ran the Escort RS Cosworth. His only victory was at the inaugural Rally Indonesia, but with five podiums, he finished third in the championship. In 1997, the Ford Escort WRC was promoted. Sainz was third again, with two victories (Indonesia and Acropolis). After two seasons with Ford, it was time for another change – Sainz returned to Toyota.
Catastrophic engine failure at Margam Park
In 1998, Sainz was a participant in one of the most memorable scenes in the history of world rallying. Sainz was in a title fight with Tommi Makinen and he had a chance to take the winning trophy after Makinen retired on the first day of last round (Rally GB). Sainz had to finish fourth to take the title and he was fourth, but about 500 metres from the finish of the very last stage his Corolla WRC stopped. Both Sainz and Toyota lost the titles and Makinen and Mitsubishi became champions.
Here's the video of catastrophic end of 1998 WRC season:
1999 Manufacturers' title with Toyota
The next year, Sainz and Auriol won the title for Toyota, but in the drivers' standings they were fifth and third respectively. Sainz scored eight podiums, but without wins. The frequent changing of teams was continued in 2000, when Sainz returend to Ford. His teammate was Colin McRae and they drove Ford Focus WRC.
Marcus Gronholm and Peugeot won the titles, Ford was second and Sainz was third, with only one win at the Cyprus Rally. Saint failed to score a single win in the 2001 season, which he finished sixth. In 2002 Gronholm and Peugeot were victorious again and Sainz finished third behind teammate McRae.
Three more titles with Citroen
In 2003, two rally legends Sainz and McRae moved to Citroen. Over the next three seasons Sainz won three manufacturers' titles with the French automaker. In the drivers' standings, he was 3rd in 2003 and 4th in 2004. At the 2004 Rally Argentina, he scored his last WRC victory.
Last WRC podium at 2005 Acropolis Rally
During the 2004 Rally Catalunya, after announcing his retirement, Sainz was considered the best rally driver in history by many drivers, co-drivers and directors of the official teams. At the time, it was really the truth, because it was the year when his teammate Sebastien Loeb scored his first of nine world titles. Despite being formally retired, Sainz raced in two more events in 2005 in Turkey and Greece and scored his last WRC podium at the Acropolis Rally.
From WRC retirement to Dakar adventure
Retirement from WRC was not the end, but just a new beginning for 43-year-old Sainz. In 2006, he joined Volkswagen at his first Dakar Rally. He continued to compete in cross-country rallying and Dakar Rally in the following years. He was always on top, but never a winner, until 2010. Together with co-driver Lucas Cruz he scored a victory in the world's toughest cross-country rally driving a Volkswagen Race Touareg.
Sainz participated in a development of the VW Polo R WRC
After six seasons as a member of Volkswagen's Dakar programme, Carlos Sainz also had a big role in preparation of WRC programme for the German manufacturer. He participated in the development and testing of new VW Polo R WRC during 2011 and 2012, but he dismissed the rumors that he will drive in the championship.
Five consecutive DNFs at Dakar Rally
From 2011 to 2016 he competed five more times at Dakar Rally with four different teams and vehicles. In 2011, he finished third driving Volkswagen for the last time. Sainz skipped the 2012 edition of the Dakar and returned in 2013 driving buggy for SMG-Red Bull Rally Team. In 2013, he competed one more time with buggy, driving the car which Demon Jefferies produced for the Qatar Red Bull Rally Team. In both attempts with buggies Sainz didn't finish the race.
He recorded three more DNFs in 2015, 2016 and 2017, as a member of the Team Peugeot Total dream team together with Dakar record holder Stephane Peterhansel.
Second Dakar Rally victory in 2018, third win in 2020
In January 2018, Sainz finally reached his second victory at Dakar Rally, driving the #303 Peugeot 3008 DKR Maxi in the last attempt of the French manufacturer before a withdrawal from Dakar. His navigator in a victory was Lucas Cruz, who was also his co-driver eight years earlier.
Peugeot withdrew from Dakar Rally before the 2019 edition so Sainz had to find a new team. He joined X-Raid Team to drive a Mini JCW Buggy. Due to technical problems, he finished just13th.
Next year, in January 2020, he skipped major problems and managed to win for the third time at Dakar Rally, which took place for the first time in Saudi Arabia.
Carlos Junior is continuing a racing business in Formula One
Sainz's knowledge, experience and speed are guarantees that 'El Matador' will be present at the top of the world's motorsport for many more years and that there will be many more victories to write about.
When Carlos Sainz decide to retire, his son Carlos Jr. will continue the family racing business of collecting victories and trophies. In 2015, the younger Carlos debuted in Formula One and he is still waiting for his first Formula 1 Grand Prix victory.