Exhausted. Triple-digit speeds inches from trees and cliffs. In the rain, through the night, over jumps — It's no surprise many consider rally pilots the greatest drivers of all, and now Jalopnik readers have picked the best of the best.
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Rallying is simple: you find the most treacherous, horrifying paved/gravel/mud road imaginable, you give people a chance to take a few notes of where they might fly into a boulder and explode, and then set them loose to go as fast as humanly possible through the sort-of familiar terrain. Unsurprisingly, nearly everyone who shows up is a
lunatic with a death wish hero. This means that we're going to have to leave a lot of greats off of our top ten list.
The sport has a history that stretches back into the 19th century, and rallying has pitted drivers against the greatest challenges in motorsports. Take the 1907 Peking-to-Paris rally, where competitors drove 9,317 miles of near-impassible terrain for nothing more than a big bottle of champagne. Every single driver from these early years deserves to be on this list.
So, too does every single driver who competed in the World Rally Championship's Group B in the ‘80s, when the organizers basically tore up their rulebook and said "build whatever you want and go as fast as you want." We ended up with rally cars as fast as Formula One cars, only through forests and deserts, for hours on end. Fans loved it and packed the roads, but things got too fast, drivers died, and the series was cancelled. Every single human being involved in Group B, like the great Ari Vatanen, deserves a medal.
Rallying was filled with other champions that we just don't have space for, like Stig Blomqvist (who we have already lionized), Gigi Galli, Jean Ragnotti, the late Richard Burns, Timo Mäkinen, Eric Carlsson, and Petter Solberg, who bought and ran his own car when his team (Subaru) dropped out of the sport.
So feel free to yell and scream at us in Kinja below that your favorite driver didn't make the top ten cut. We understand.
Photo Credit: Saab
10.) Marcus Grönholm
One of the few drivers to face off against the unbeatable monster that is Sébastien Loeb and come away with wins. A big talker, emotive, the antithesis to the stone-faced, boring pro-driver stereotype. He also gave one of the best racing interviews ever.
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9.) Carlos Sainz
"El Matador" was the first non-Scandinavian to win the legendary 1,000 Lakes Rally, and he did it with a broken ankle, no less. He was a double-world championship winner and he excelled at long-distance desert races, the toughest rallies of all.
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8.) Rauno Aaltonen
One of the first people to be called a "Flying Finn." Aaltonen, along with Paddy Hopkirk, won some of rallying's greatest victories, coming first in the famous Monte Carlo Rally in tiny little Minis. His '67 Monte may have been the greatest rally win of all, accidentally cutting the course by flying off a cliff.
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7.) Tommi Mäkinen
With four driver's championships on the trot, Mäkinen seemed like he'd be the winningest rally driver of all time, until Sebastian Loeb wiped away the Finn's records. Mäkinen actually was a late bloomer for rallying, only starting at 20, after becoming a twice national plowing champion.
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6.) Hannu Mikkola
Mikola stands out not for his one driver's world championship, in a Audi Quattro in '83, but that he pulled out a world championship after having been a professional rally driver since 1963. His success across what ended up being a 31-year career is absolutely unreal.
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5.) Michèle Mouton
Mouton nearly grabbed a driver's world championship in 1982, losing on the final race while mourning the death of her father days earlier. She is the last woman to compete in the top of rallying, and one of the greatest of all women racing drivers.
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4.) Walter Röhl
Röhl won the Monte Carlo rally four times in a record four different cars. He was his sport's first double-world champion and remains one of its most prestigious, versatile drivers.
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3.) Juha Kankkunen
The most mulletted of all great rally drivers. If there is anyone who was more versatile than Röhl, it was four-time champion Kankkunen, who was the only Group B driver to also win a championship in the smaller, slower Group A cars that followd Group B's demise.
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2.) Colin McRae
Do not judge McRae by statistics. He only won a single driver's title, but he easily threw away two others by crashing the shit out of his cars. McRae was by far the most exciting, and perhaps the crashiest driver the sport has ever seen. He raced with one motto: "When in doubt, flat out."
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1.) Sébastien Loeb
Loeb should technically be disqualified from this list, because he is not a human being. He is a robot, programmed to do nothing but drive faster than all of his competitors until he wins. And he has won a record eight driver's titles and 46% of all the rallies he's entered. He's not just the greatest rally driver, he's a candidate for greatest driver of all time.