The life of Scots rally superstar Colin McRae

Scottish rally driver Colin McRae during the Neste Rally Finland, the 9th round of the FIA World Rally Championships in August 2001.

Scottish rally driver Colin McRae during the Neste Rally Finland, the 9th round of the FIA World Rally Championships in August 2001.

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Throughout the course of his career, Colin McRae MBE bagged 25 wins and 1 World Rally Championship before his life was cut short by a tragic air accident.

Born on 5 August 1968 in Lanark, McRae was part of a racing family from the start alongside future rally driving brother Alastair McRae. As the son of rally legend Jimmy McRae, Colin got involved in autotesting from the age of 16 and quickly excelled on rough surfaces.

1986 saw the young star behind the wheel of a Talbot Sunbeam in the Scottish Rally Championship, and two years later he claimed the championship title after beating off competition in his rally-prepared Vauxhall Nova. After upgrading to a Ford Sierra XR 4x4i and latterly a Sierra Cosworth, McRae stunned crowds at the 1987 Rally New Zealand by finishing 5th in the heavy, rear-wheel drive coupe in a field dominated by grippier four-wheel-drive machines.

Only four years later, McRae turned professional and started a world-famous association with the Prodrive rally team and their blue-and-gold Subaru Impreza WRC cars. As a curious aside in 1992, McRae also competed for Prodrive in a BMW 3-series coupe at the Knockhill round of the British Touring Car Championship, where he was disqualified for causing an avoidable collision with fellow racer Matt Neal.

The Scot’s first professional World Rally Championship win came in 1993 at Rally New Zealand where he had shocked crowds in the Ford before. McRae by this point was reaching the peak of his career, with an out-an-out duel with world champion teammate Carlos Sainz seeing McRae crowned as World Rally Champion for 1995.

Subsequent seasons saw him fail to better his second place, and he completed a move to rivals Ford in 1999.

Colin McRae shared much of his Ford career with Welsh co-driver Nicky Grist, pictured here at the 2002 San Remo Rally. Image: Carenthusiast

Colin McRae shared much of his Ford career with Welsh co-driver Nicky Grist, pictured here at the 2002 San Remo Rally. Image: Carenthusiast

At Ford, McRae’s rapid pace and flamboyant driving style remained while the American company paid him approximately six million pounds over two years; making him the highest-paid rally driver in history at the time. Reliability issues with the Ford Focus WRC - and McRae’s penchant for rally-ending flips and crashes - meant that he would again finish fourth in 2000 and second in 2001, behind Finn Tommi Makkinen and fellow Brit Richard Burns.

Eventually, McRae’s contract with Ford expired at the end of 2002 and the Scot made the move to up-and-coming hopefuls Citroen. Alongside former teammate Carlos Sainz and then-rookie Sebastian Loeb, McRae secured a second-place finish on that year’s Monte Carlo rally, which was to be his highest rally finish for the remainder of that season where he finished seventh in the championship rankings.

READ MORE: The story of F1 world champion Jim Clark

After being let go by the French outfit due to 2004 rule changes that reduced the number of championship drivers in a team from 3 to 2, McRae was left without a drive for the new season. It was in this year that he decided to try out different forms of motorsport, with an entry into the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race with a Prodrive-entered Ferrari 550-GTS Maranello rewarding him with a third place podium spot in his class and ninth place finish overall. McRae would also enter the Dakar Rally event in latter years and even make a surprise return to the WRC in a semi-works team Citroen Xsara in 2006 after Loeb had broken his hand.

An out-an-out duel with world champion teammate Carlos Sainz saw McRae crowned as World Rally Champion for 1995.

McRae’s unexpected death in September 2007 came not behind the wheel of a car but in a helicopter accident which also took the lives of his son and family friends. Reacting to the news of his death, close friend and then F1 racer David Coulthard said: “He was fearless, flamboyant, [and] blindingly quick in the car. He had all the good Scottish traits.”

Coulthard then opted to race the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix with a commemorative helmet design to honour the Lanark icon.

Since the death of Colin McRae, the Colin McRae Forest Stages Rally has been run in Perth since 2008 and attracted big-name rally stars such as Ari Vatanen, Stig Blomqvist, Travis Pastrana and Colin’s father, Jimmy McRae. McRae is frequently cited as one of the most exciting and talented drivers by spectators, thanks to his fluid driving style which often saw the car pitched sideways through corners.

McRae was a veteran of many accidents over the course of his career, with tools not always close to hand to effect roadside repairs. Image: Tentenths

McRae was a veteran of many accidents over the course of his career, with tools not always close to hand to effect roadside repairs. Image: Tentenths

McRae's 1995 championship-winning Prodrive Impreza. Image: Goxwak

McRae's 1995 championship-winning Prodrive Impreza. Image: Goxwak

Ford gave McRae his first professional start as a World Rally Championship driver. Image: David Hickey

Ford gave McRae his first professional start as a World Rally Championship driver. Image: David Hickey

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