Sainz won't race in Australia after all
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 of Wales.
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 and 1992.
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 third.