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Date: September 17, 2007 04:58AM
Farewell to Colin
McRae, a Scottish world champion
STUART BATHGATE CHIEF SPORTS WRITER ([email protected]
COLIN McRae's death in a helicopter crash has robbed Scotland not only of one of
its few sporting world champions, but also of a man whose adventurous spirit was
an inspiration well beyond the traditional boundaries of motorsport.
Far more interested in ploughing on to the next challenge rather than dwelling
on what he had already done, McRae did not court publicity, and the World Rally
Championship (WRC), which he won in 1995, receives little media attention in
Britain compared to Formula 1. For both those reasons, the magnitude of his
achievement was, if anything, underestimated in his own country, only being
fully appreciated elsewhere.
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The elder son of the five-time British Rally Championship winner Jimmy McRae,
Colin learned from his father's experiences. Married to his own innate ability,
this body of knowledge helped him reach new heights in his chosen
"He was really daring, always pushing it further," the Formula 1
driver Heikki Kovalainen recalled. "I always liked his attitude.
"It was maximum attack always and he had some big rolls sometimes. Every
time he had one, though, it was like: 'Oh well, it's just a roll,' and he just
David Richards, who owned the Prodrive Subaru team for which McRae raced when he
became world champion, also remembered a man who put everything into his racing
- and who was never deterred by mishaps. "There was never a minute when he
didn't try 100 per cent and, of course, we had lots of accidents," Richards
"And it is with great irony that, with all the accidents he had in rally
cars that he walked away from unscathed, this happens in a helicopter. He had a
competitive spirit like I've never seen in any other individual in my
That spirit was evident from a very early age, and he was competing on
motorbikes by the age of seven. After school he ensured he could help carry on
the other McRae family business by training as a plumber, but by the time he
qualified it was all but inevitable that he would make a more lucrative living
on the road. "I didn't set goals as I went along," he recalled earlier
this year. "I just wanted to be quick as possible and win as much as
Born in 1968, he was still a teenager when he began his rallying career. That
was in 1986, and a year later he began his long association with the World Rally
Championship - an association that would go on for nearly two full decades.
It was after becoming the British rally champion in 1991, then successfully
defending his title the following year, that McRae's career began to hit the big
time. He won his first WRC rally - the Rally New Zealand - in a Subaru Legacy in
By then his Subaru team-mate Carlos Sainz had two world titles under his belt,
and in 1995 had high hopes of winning a third. But, in the final round, the
British Rally, the Scot got the better of the Spaniard to take the title.
The friendship-cum-rivalry he enjoyed with Sainz was not the only one in McRae's
career. Richard Burns, the 2001 world champion who died of a brain tumour two
years ago at the age of 34, was another who spurred him on to try ever harder.
Besides the example of his own father and the competition from his brother
Alister, McRae must also have found inspiration in the Scottish motor-racing
tradition - in legends such as Jim Clark, and in contemporaries like the
motorcyclist Steve Hislop.
Hislop, who came from the vilage of Chesters near Hawick, was seven years older
than McRae, but at his peak around the same time. He won the British Superbike
Championship in 1995, the year the younger man took the WRC title. Hislop also
died in a helicopter accident, in 2003.
After winning that title in 1995, McRae was runner-up the following two years,
third in 1998, then second again in 2001. He competed in 146 world rallies in
all, winning 25 and taking 42 podium places. He was appointed MBE in the same
year as he first ended as WRC runner-up.
Besides his early impact on the British rally scene and his sustained stay
towards the top of the WRC rankings, McRae's love of motorsport came out in a
variety of other events. He competed in the Le Mans 24-hour race, drove a Nissan
truck in the Paris-Dakar Rally, then returned to the Subaru stable when he
entered the first televised American rally as part of the X Games, the
multi-sport event based in Los Angeles.
In the 2006 event, he flipped his Subaru and tore a wheel off the car.
Typically, he still managed to finish second.
The X Games were perhaps a new departure for McRae, but his name was by then
familiar to many of the American teenagers who tuned in to watch the event on
TV. For, at the same time as he had kept going with his rallying career, McRae
also developed a sideline which would see his name become familiar to a new
generation - the "Colin McRae Rally" computer game which first became
available in 1998.
The popularity of this game soon reached far beyond the normal confines of
rallying, and indeed of motor sport. As a consequence McRae rose to become one
of the country's highest-earning sportsmen.
"It was something that I didn't really know anything about when I got
involved in it, back in the early '90s," he told the magazine
"It's been great, it's been very successful - and probably one of the
single things that increased my popularity and notoriety more than
Notoriety was the wrong word, for McRae was notorious to no-one, apart perhaps
from a few who found his driving style simply too adventurous. Popular was a
more accurate term by far, but popular in an understated way, because he
remained a modest, matter-of-fact man who, for all his wealth, kept firmly in
touch with everyday life.
Colin McRae had a drive for perfection, a restlessness which would not allow him
to settle for second best. Those qualities provided an example worthy of
emulation not only in rallying, not only in sport, but in every walk of
'A sad loss for Scotland of a real hero and an immensely popular friend'
AFTER the death of Colin McRae was confirmed yesterday, tributes poured in from
the world of motorsport and beyond .
"Helen [ my wife] and I are very sad to hear the tragic news. Both Paul and
Mark [ my sons] were good friends with Colin also. We want to extend our sincere
condolences and deepest sympathy to Ali, Jimmy and the rest of the McRae fa m i
ly. “ It’s a sad loss for Scotland of a real hero and an immensely popular
friend." – SIR JACKIE STEWART, Three- time F1 world champion
"He and [ his wife] Alison were good friends and I cannot imagine either
without the other. He was fearless, flamboyant, blindingly quick in the car. He
was very down- to- earth, matter- of-fact that he was so good. He had all the
good Scottish traits." – DAVID COULTHARD, Formula 1 driver
"We used to drive to the max and push everything to the absolute limit. But
when it came to socialising we had great fun also." – NICKY GRIST
McRae’s former co- driver
"Colin McRae was an outstanding Scottish sportsman of international stature
and achievement. His death is a great tragedy, and my thoughts and condolences
are with all the families and friends bereaved by this terrible accident."
– ALEX SALMOND First Minister
"I don’t think anybody disliked him, everyone was his friend in the
sport. Everywhere he went he was an ambassador, an ambassador for the sport and
for Scotland, he was terrific." – MAX MOSLEY President of the FIA
"He had a competitive spirit like I’ve never seen in any other individual
in my life. I remember when I put him in a Formula One car at Silverstone and
how great he was in that straight away. It could have been a sports car, touring
car, Paris- Dakar, you name it. It’s unusual to call somebody a legend, but
it’s very appropriate for Colin." – DAVE RICHARDS Owner of Prodrive
team with whom McRae won the world championship
"He was really daring, always pushing it further. I always liked his
attitude. It was maximum attack always and he had some big rolls sometimes.
Every time he had one, though, it was like: ’ Oh well, it’s just a roll,’
and he just carried on." – HEIKKI KOVALAINEN Formula 1 driver
"Colin was an inspiration to all who knew him and to millions around the
world who knew of him. His energy, commitment and extraordinary talent brought
him domestic and international success, while his uncompromising style and
determination made him the hero of fans everywhere. “ Throughout a glorious
career, that saw him rise from the grassroots of the sport to the pinnacle of
the world stage, Colin was always a great ambassador for Scottish and UK motor
sport." – COLIN HILTON Chief Executive of the Motor Sports
"He was something special. He started in 1988 and was world champion seven
years later. That shows just what a driver he was. He was a great friend and I
had no fear of flying with him and I’ve been at the controls of the
helicopter. I felt 100 per cent safe with him and I never had any fears."
– MURRAY GRIERSON Former Scottish rally champion
"I need to remember Colin McRae. I dedicate to him this victory because he
is one of my idols." – VALENTINO ROSSI MotoGP rider
"Cruelly taken from us in such a heartbreaking way. May you enjoy going ‘
flat out’ on God’s special stage." – Message left on St Andrews flag
outside Subaru Impreza Drivers Club
Last updated: 17-Sep-07 01:11 BST
Comments Add your comment
1. Muir Fan / 5:14am 17 Sep 2007
A truly sad day. Scotland has too few true champions and to lose one in this
fashion is really heart breaking. Add to that the loss of Colin's son, another
young boy and a family friend and it just sadder still. Colin epitomised
everything you could look for in a Champion and in a Scotsman. He had a God
given talent, was fearless, had a never say die approach but was modest and self
depricating with it. Colin was the UK's first Rally World Champion and a true
Legend that can never be replaced. My best wishes go to his family at this