RIP Bjorn Waldegard 1943-2014


Rallying's first World Champion, Bjorn Waldegard, has died at the age of 70 following a lengthy battle with cancer.

'Walle' won the inaugural Driver's World Rally Championship in 1979, but his career in motor sport began much earlier. His rally debut came in 1962 at the age of 19, and within five years he'd captured his first Swedish Rally Championship. He added a second in 1968.

He quickly outgrew his native Sweden and set his sights on top-flight international competition, winning the 1969 Monte-Carlo Rally driving a Porsche 911, and again in 1970. In the mid-1970s, he took part in the European Championship for Rallycross Drivers, privately entering a Porsche Carrera RSR.

By then, Waldegard was driving a works Lancia in the WRC, establishing a bitter rivalry with teammate Sandro Munari aboard the Alitalia-liveried Stratos.

Following a controversial team-orders incident at San Remo, he then decided to move to Ford before the end of the season. With just the RAC Rally remaining on the calendar Lancia cancelled his entry, prompting Waldegard to take the wheel of his RS1800 earlier than expected: he won ahead of Munari. 

He got on well with the Escort in the following season, too, winning three of the world's most challenging rallies: the East African Safari, RAC and Acropolis rallies. He would become known as an African rally specialist, and spent a great deal of time in Kenya, where he was adored. 

Two years later Waldegard beat Hannu Mikkola to the WRC title, driving a works Escort on European rounds and – due to Ford not competing in Africa –  a Mercedes-Benz 450SLC on the Safari and Ivory Coast rallies. It went down to the wire in the Ivory Coast, with Mikkola taking the laurels. However, second place was enough for Waldegard – he won the World Championship by a single point.

The '80s were mostly spent at the wheel of Toyota Celicas, first a 2000GT in 1982, then TCTs in later years, before changing to a GT-Four ST165. His top-flight career came to an end in 1992 after he crashed on the Safari Rally, breaking his arm. 

Even in retirement Waldegard would never be too far from a car. In 2008 the seasoned campaigner drove in the Colin McRae Forest Stages Rally to commemorate the Scottish star, who died in 2007. He later took victory in the East African Safari Classic at the age of 68, fittingly in a Porsche 911.

Rallying was in his blood, and one of his last outings was at the wheel of a Toyota Twincam Turbo at this year's Goodwood Festival of Speed. 


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