PHOTO: Björn Waldegård in the 1979 Southern Cross International Rally at Port Macquarie (Paul Horton pic)
THE first World Rally Champion driver, Björn Waldegård, died on Friday.
The Swede won the championship in 1979 and took 16 WRC victories until his retirement from top-level competition in 1992, WRC.com reported.
He did not contest Rally Australia during his WRC career, but drove a works Ford Escort RS1800 in the 1979 Southern Cross International Rally at Port Macquarie, vying for a win until his differential failed on the final day.
Waldegård began rallying at home in Sweden, where he took his first national championship title in 1967. He recorded his first international win in 1969 when he drove a Porsche 911 to victory at Rallye Monte-Carlo – a feat he repeated the following season.
Victories followed on a number of other international events, mostly with Porsche, and when the WRC was established in 1973, Waldegård was signed as one of the star drivers in the Alitalia-backed works Lancia squad.
He claimed his maiden WRC wins in 1975, driving the evocative Stratos to first place in Sweden and Italy. A bitter rivalry with fellow Lancia driver Sandro Munari came to a head on the 1976 Rallye Sanremo when Waldegård was asked by the team to surrender a four-second advantage over his Italian team-mate.
Waldegård did as he was instructed but went on to win the rally anyway, such was his dominance.
He switched to Ford soon afterwards. For the next three years, Waldegård joined Roger Clark and Hannu Mikkola as they drove the Ford Escort RS 1800 into the rallying history books.
Waldegård took three wins in 1977, one in 1978, and enjoyed his most successful year in 1979 when he won the first-ever World Championship for Drivers’ title in a dual programme aboard an Escort and a Mercedes 450 SLC.
In 1981, Waldegård linked up with Toyota, beginning an association that lasted until 1992, when he retired after breaking his arm in a crash on the Safari Rally.
In later years Waldegård contested various historic events for fun, most notably the East African Safari Rally. His final rally win came on the Kenyan event at the age of 68.
He had been receiving treatment for cancer when his condition deteriorated.