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The son of five-time British Rally champion Jimmy McRae wrote his own page in the sport’s history. Fast and spectacular throughout his career, Colin McRae became Great Britain’s first World Rally Champion in 1995 and his fame spread beyond motor sport thanks to a series of licenced computer games.
Family background and early career
McRae was born in Lanark and was given a trials bike when 10 years old. That was replaced by a Mini Cooper for autotests before McRae borrowed a Hillman Avenger to make his rallying debut at a local event as soon as he was legally able to drive. That was replaced by a Talbot Sunbeam Ti for the 1986 Scottish Rally Championship and he led Group A on Scottish Rally before the suspension failed.
World Rally Championship debut
A member of the British Junior Rally Team in 1987, McRae drove a Vauxhall Nova for his World Championship debut in the Swedish and the RAC Rallies. Runner-up behind Pentti Airikkala in Group N of the 1988 British Championship, three WRC starts in 1989 included finishing fifth in New Zealand when driving Gary Smith Motorsport’s Ford Sierra RS Cosworth.
Second in the 1990 British Championship, McRae had a new Ford Sapphire 4x4 for the RAC Rally and proved a sensation. His battered Shell-sponsored car beat the works Fords and McRae finished in an impressive sixth position.
World Champion for Prodrive and Subaru
McRae signed with Prodrive and Subaru in 1991 at the start of an eight-year association. British Rally champion in 1991 and 1992 when driving a Subaru Legacy, his schedule that latter year included five WRC outings. Second in Sweden and fourth on the Acropolis further proved his worth and McRae was a full-time member of Subaru’s World Championship line-up from 1993. Winner of Rally New Zealand that year and the next, McRae ended 1994 by becoming the first home winner of the RAC Rally in 18 years.
Retirement from the opening two rallies of 1995 did not bode well but he finished all the remaining rounds, winning in New Zealand and Great Britain once more, to become the first British WRC champion. McRae finished as WRC runner-up to Tommi Mäkinen for the next two years, only losing the 1997 title by a single point, and was third overall in his final season with Subaru.
Subsequent years with Ford and Citroën
He accepted a lucrative offer from Ford in 1999 but that campaign was marred by crashes and retirements although McRae did win twice. He extended his contract into 2001 and only lost that year’s title to Richard Burns when he crashed in Britain. He established a since-beaten record for WRC wins with victory in the 2002 Safari Rally.
Ford did not match his terms at the end of the year so McRae moved to Citroën for a winless single campaign in 2003. Without a regular ride from 2004, he competed in events as diverse as the Dakar Rally-Raid, British Touring Car Championship and Le Mans 24 Hours.
He made his last start in the World Rally Championship in the 2006 Turkish Rally but was killed along with his five-year-old son and two family friends when his helicopter crashed near his home in September 2007.