World champions spanning six decades kicked off the FIA World Rally Championship’s 50th season celebrations in style on Wednesday at a star-studded gala in Portugal.
Title-winning drivers, co-drivers and team managers created the biggest ever gathering of WRC champions in Matosinhos. The event launched five days of celebrations at Vodafone Rally de Portugal during the first gravel fixture of the sport’s innovative hybrid era.
Nine-time champion Sébastien Loeb (FRA) and eight-time winner Sébastien Ogier (FRA) took a break from preparations for round four of the 2022 series to attend the gala, which recalled some of the most memorable moments across 50 years.
They were joined by Walter Röhrl (DEU), Marcus Grönholm and Ari Vatanen (both FIN), Miki Biasion (ITA), Carlos Sainz (ESP), Petter Solberg (NOR) and Ott Tänak (EST). Between them they have amassed 28 titles.
Robert Reid, Derek Ringer and David Richards (all GBR), Luis Moya (ESP), Christian Geistdörfer (DEU), Tiziano Siviero (ITA), Timo Rautiainen (FIN) and Martin Järveoja (EST) represented the champion co-drivers.
Michèle Mouton (FRA) and Fabrizia Pons (ITA), the only female pairing to win a WRC event outright, were present, along with WRC Ladies’ Cup winners Louise-Aitken-Walker (GBR) and Isolde Holderied (DEU), their co-driver Tina Thörner (SWE), and Christine Driano (FRA).
The gala, attended by 250 guests, was held in the rally’s Exponor headquarters. Portugal was a host country in 1973’s inaugural WRC season and this year’s event marks the championship’s 619th round.
The celebrations continue over the weekend with almost 30 classic cars charting the WRC’s history on display. They include an Alpine A110, the model which won the first WRC round at Rallye Monte-Carlo. They will also take part in demonstration runs at special stages.
The gala was organised by championship commercial rights holder WRC Promoter and motorsport’s governing body, the FIA.
“It was a truly special occasion,” said WRC Promoter managing director Jona Siebel. “We were honoured by the presence of title winners from all six decades of the WRC’s history for an evening of celebration, joyous memories and good old-fashioned fun.
“The festivities continue for the next four days and it will be pure nostalgia to watch some amazing title-winning cars driving special stages ahead of today’s superstars fighting for tenths of a second.”
FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem was an enthusiastic guest. “There are so many memories and it is such a special moment to be here among your own family,” he said.
“It is an immense pleasure to be present at Rally de Portugal and celebrate the champions, alongside WRC Promoter and all the partners and friends of the sport. I would like to extend my gratitude to Automóvel Club de Portugal’s president, Carlos Barbosa, for hosting the festivities as part of the rally event.”