The second corner of Goodwood’s Festival of Speed hillclimb, or maybe it’s the second part of the first corner. Either way, it’s definitely a right-hander. Which begs the question, why is this Subaru Impreza WRC2007 turning left? And apparently turning left at some speed?
SEP 13th 2017
Remembering Colin McRae – 10 years on
Car unbalanced and sliding, the answer becomes clear. Right-hand down with all the power Prodrive’s finest can muster, Colin McRae exits the corner with the car’s left-rear nibbling Lord March’s lawn and the crowd loving it. At this end of his career, the appreciation between the Scot and his people was mutual.
The hard-edged, hard-charging 1995 World Rally Champion had become a showman. He knew what people wanted and he knew how to deliver.
The 2007 Goodwood Festival of Speed was McRae’s last public outing in a rally car. Just weeks after thrilling fans with his trademark cocktail of flamboyance and flair, the world’s most recognisable rally driver had gone.
Ten years ago, the McRae family lost a dad, a son, a husband and a brother. A feeling of loss, disbelief and desolation enveloped the sport, but our grief was nothing compared with what Colin’s family and friends experienced.
And it wasn’t just McRae: his son Johnny and two family friends were also lost to a tragic helicopter accident.
Ten years on – 10 years – it still feels wrong to talk about my hero in the past tense. That there’s been nobody to match McRae in terms of global rallying phenomenon offers a true demonstration of his standing in the sport. If ever somebody genuinely transcended a sport, it was Colin. Rallying was his world.
In between trips up and down the South Downs a decade ago, McRae was interviewed by Goodwood’s Henry Hope-Frost – a man whose professional and personal appreciation for McRae matched my own – and the two talked about the quieter life and Colin’s hopes for his own, all-new rally car, the R4.
Little did we know, behind the scenes a plan was being hatched to deliver the dream for fans around the world: a McRae World Rally Championship return. And that return would come in the right colours: Subaru blue and yellow. And the right soundtrack: the flat-four boxer burble of Colin’s car. The Impreza.
What could we have expected? Would McRae have stormed fortress Citroën and toppled a big, little Frenchman who had recently celebrated his fourth straight world title?
No. But can you imagine the global interest and appreciation for a Subaru World Rally Team with Colin McRae and Petter Solberg? Granted, it would probably only have been for a year, but who knows: maybe a 2008 McRae return would have been enough to keep Subaru in the sport. If anybody could do that, Colin could.
Motorsport often presents iconic partnerships. Think Senna-guided McLaren MP4/4, Hailwood aboard a 500cc MV Agusta or Vatanen dancing an Escort RS1800 between the trees. But nothing comes close to McRae and Subaru.
Every livery that came for a Banbury-built, Scottish-steered Subaru, I loved; the Rothmans Legacy RS in which he won two British titles and even the green-white-and-blue version he used to upstage the Finns in Finland. Such was the Prodrive-McRae influence in the early 1990s, I genuinely considered yellow trousers, a pink rally jacket and Denim aftershave as the only way to be seen and smelt.
But once that deal to tout 555 – China’s fag of choice – down the flanks and on the bonnet above the flat-four was done, McRae was as much about the blue and white saltire as he was the blue and yellow bananas. The bananas were 555’s answer in countries where cigarette advertising was banned.
For me, the best memory and the biggest win has to be from 1994. Yes, I know he and Derek Ringer were on top of the world 12 months later, but 1994 ended all that speculation about when Britain would finally have another RAC Rally winner.
And, don’t forget, expectation of a McRae success had been at the forefront of all of our minds for the three previous years when he led the event, was comfortably quickest but couldn’t quite bring it home.
From then on, McRae ruled the world. Tommi Mäkinen might have clinched more titles in their era, but McRae ruled the world. Fans from the world’s four corners were transfixed by what they saw. And I was among them. But it was my immense good fortune that I got to see this show from the best seat in the house as well.
Never, ever will I forget McRae lining up a Ford Focus WRC for a sixth-gear left-hander, a good 100 or so yards before the apex. For far too long, the pair of us stared out of my window to see what was coming in this particular flat-chat section.
And at least one of us had at least one eye shut.
Anybody can do skids and play with a car in third or fourth gear, but to do that nearing the limiter in top between the trees and the monstrous drops that line Whinlatter Forest marked out McRae as a top-drawer hero’s hero.
But that was never in question was it. To see him in his pomp, backing a Group A Impreza into corners, unsettled but completely controlled on the throttle was to witness true genius.
McRae lived on a line few feared to even acknowledge, let alone approach in terms of speed and commitment.
This fearless titan of our time scored some outrageous wins, endured some enormous crashes and was revered in a way no driver was before him or will be after him.
Fans lining Goodwood’s hill will never see the like of Colin McRae again.
And for those who were there that June day just over 10 years ago, hold that memory of that drift and that donut. And for those who weren’t, take a moment today and think back to one corner, one moment. One McRae.
Photography courtesy of LAT
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