LONDON -- Despite winning more rallies than
any other driver in history, Spaniard Carlos Sainz may be best
remembered for one he failed to finish.
The twice world champion's career came to a premature close
on Wednesday when injury prevented him from taking part in this
week's Rally of Australia which the 42-year-old had said would
be his 195th and final race.
It was a disappointing way to end to an 18-year career in
which "El Matador" won a record 26 rallies but nowhere near as
disappointing as the circumstances that denied him a third world
championship in the final round of the 1998 season.
Tommi Makinen led Sainz by two points in the drivers'
standings going into the season-ending Rally of Britain and the
pair were expected to battle it out for the title in the forests
But Makinen's Mitsubishi crashed on day one and he was
forced to pull out of the event leaving Sainz only to finish in
the top four to add the 1998 title to those he had won in 1990
Driving conservatively, Sainz seemed assured of the triumph
when he started the final day in third with his nearest
challenger a minute behind.
But with the finishing line of the final stage of the 13th
and final rally of the season in sight 400 meters away, Sainz's
Toyota ground to a halt and hopes that he might be able to get
it going again were dashed when smoke started to billow from
beneath the bonnet.
His distraught co-driver Luis Moya threw his helmet through
the windscreen in frustration and Sainz had to settle for second
in the championship behind Finn Makinen, who became the first
driver to win the world title three years in succession.
He had another chance to claim his third title last year
when he went into the final round, again in Britain, as joint
championship leader with Citroen teammate Sebastien Loeb only
to see his hopes disappear in a third-stage crash.
Sainz's career began in 1980 in a local event near his
birthplace Madrid and before long he was working his way up the
various regional championships, winning titles in each one.
He made his debut in the world championship in 1987 for Ford
and three seasons later won his first rally, the Acropolis Rally
in Greece, and his first world title for Toyota.
Second place in the championship in 1991 -- one of four
times he was runner-up -- was followed by another title with the
Japanese manufacturer a year later.
A remarkably consistent driver who was an almost permanent
fixture in the top four in world rallying for almost two
decades, Sainz ended as the most respected man in the sport and
had raced for most of the major manufacturers.
His victory in Argentina earlier this year made him the sole
owner of the record for most rally wins after sharing the former
mark of 25 with Briton Colin McRae.
Married with three children, Sainz said on announcing his
retirement that his decision was made mainly so he could
dedicate himself to his family.
Despite his disappointment at being unable to complete the
season after injuring his neck by crashing into a tree on
Tuesday, it was perhaps appropriate that his final rally was on
home soil in last month's Rally of Catalunya, where he finished