Motor racing legends has been a series where we have looked into some of the most talented drivers that ever lived, from Stirling Moss the multi talented London born racing character to more recently focusing on the likes of Michael Schumacher and Petter Solberg who have achieved outstanding awards in their individual motor racing careers.
Continuing with rally drivers we now take a look at the driving prowess and raw technique of the Scottish Rally Driver – Colin McRae.
Born Colin Steele McRae on the 5th of August 1968, in Lanark, Scotland. Colin Began his motor racing career young, racing on trails bikes. The two wheel motor sports only kept his interest shortly though as he always seemed to take a shine to the four wheeled equivalent. When McRae was 16 years old he traded his Bike in for a Mini Cooper, a move that he planned in order to allow him to enjoy his new found favourite motor sport. With the Coltness Car Club Colin McRae began autotesting.
Within a year Colin had moved up, negotiating the use of a fellow club members Hillman Avenger. He used the car for the Kames Stages (single staged rally venue based near McRae’s home.) This stage saw McRae finish fourteenth although first in his class and overall he achieved a high position throughout.
This was just the start for the talented Colin McRae and by 1986 he was driving a Talbot Sunbeam in the Scottish Rally Championship. It was apparent to spectators of this rally that McRae was a force to be reckoned with, his fast driving and exciting style made fans draw comparisons to the Finnish World Rally Champion Ari Vatanen, someone that Colin had always considered a role model.
The following years saw Colin progress to a Vauxhall Nova, Ford Sierra XR and in 1987 he took part in his first WRC event – the 1987 Swedish Rally. Two years after that first WRC rally in his nova, Colin finished 15th overall in the same event but driving his Ford Sierra. He went on to finish 5th overall at Rally New Zealand driving a rear-wheel drive Sierra Cosworth.
Several years later saw the union of Colin McRae with the infamous Subaru Rally team. In 1991 he signed to the Subaru team (by prodrive boss David Richards.) With this team he entered the British Rally Championship, claiming the title in both 1991 and 1992, guaranteeing his place with the Subaru Factory team in the World Rally Championships.Driving the Group A Subaru Legacy built by Pro-Drive, McRae won his first WRC rally at that year’s Rally New Zealand. After this Subaru started using the Subaru Impeza 555 and following an eventful two years in which the top TTE ran Toyota’s were excluded for using illegal turbo-chargers, Colin collected the Drivers Title.
Colin McRae then continued to win rallies for the following years, especially in the more specialised arenas such as Safari Rally and Tour De Corse, although he continued to be beaten at the last post by Finlands Tommi Mäkinen (driving for Mitsubishi Ralliart.) He did however manage to aid Subaru in completing their 3 consecutive manufacturer’s titles in the meantime. 1998 Saw Colin win 3 more rallies, placing him third in overall standings as well as winning the “Race of Champions” in Gran Canaria.
A new year and a new team, in 1999 Colin McRae signed to the Ford M-Sport team, driving the brand new ford focus rally car. A move that instantly brought fruit for Colin as he breezed two consecutive wins at Safari Rally and Rally Portugal, however after numerous reliability issues from the new ford McRae managed sixth place in the championship standings. Colin made a comeback over the asphalt turns of Catalunya, dominated the gravel corners of Greece and managed 4th in the 2000 championship overall. McRae seemed to find it difficult to consistently drive within the new ford, with good and bad patchs such as failing to score at all in the first for rounds, only to score 3 consecutive victories in the rounds thereafter (Argentina, Cyprus and Greece.) However despite his dominating of the championship and heading into the final round in Great Britain, Colin again had problems with the car, crashing and loosing the first place in the drivers championship – a mere 2 points behind the Subaru team’s Richard Burns.
2002 saw McRae make the record books – the driver with the most event wins within the World Rally Championship, a record that has since been broken by Carlos Sainz, Sébastien Loeb and Marcus Grönholm. The first two who beat Colin’s record were to be his team mates in 2003 as he joined Citroën Rally Team.
Citroën had struck lucky the previous year with Loeb, but otherwise they had never really successfully targeted WRC. Colins addition to the team lead to a 1-2-3 finish on his debut race in Monte Carlo with Loeb and Sainz (Colin providing the second place position.) Unfortunately this was not a sign of things to come and McRae and he ended the season in seventh place with no victories and the Citroen team then decided to drop Colin for the following season.
In 2004 Colin was left without a drive, suitors Subaru chose another driver to partner with Petter Solberg and so McRae pursued some other interests, including competing in the famous Paris Dakar Rally as well as the 24 Hours Le Mans. In 2005 McRae also drove a Skoda Fabia WRC at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff -the Special Stage of the 2005 Rally GB.
Continuing for Skoda, McRae entered in one off drives for Skoda – 2005 Rally GB and Rally Australia saw him take seventh place, retiring due to a clutch problem on the Fabia.McRae Competed in the first live televised American rally in Los Angeles in 2006 as part of the X-Games. He rolled his car on the penultimate corner after landing skewed from a jump. Despite this he managed to retain a time only 0.13 seconds slower than the eventual winner named Travis Pastrana. Colin had one more final rally at World Championship level, replacing the then injured Loeb for Kronos Citroen at Rally Turkey, however an alternator problem restrained him and co-driver Nicky Grist to a final place below the top ten positions.
Colin McRae partook in numerous types of racing, his competitive desire to race stretching far from the World Rally Championship. He drove in Ascar (the UK equivalent of Americas NASCAR), as well as the aforementioned Le Mans 24 hour race, Race of Champions and Paris Dakar rally.
Colin McRae was the 1991 and 1992 British Rally Champion and the 1995 World Rally Champion. He lead Subaru to their constructors title three times in succession from 1995 to 1997. Appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1996 Colin McRae was truly a Motor Racing Legend.
In a tragic accident on 15th September 2007 McRae, his Son Johnny and two family friends, Graeme Duncan and Johnny’s friend Ben Porcelli died when a helicopter they were in crashed to the ground. Piloted by Colin McRae it was identified that the crash was caused by mechanical failure. A tragic event for both motorsport and the families of the deceased.
To view photographs of Colin McRae the motor racing legend see our Motor Racing Legend Gallery. Or if you would like to read about some of the other Motor Racing Legends in this series: