Colin Steele McRae, MBE (5 August 1968 – 15 September 2007) was a British rally driver from Scotland, born in Lanark.
The son of five-time British Rally Champion Jimmy McRae and brother of rally driver Alister McRae, Colin McRae was the 1991 and 1992 British Rally Champion and, in 1995 became the first British person and the youngest to win the World Rally Championship Drivers' title, a record he still holds.
Colin McRae at the X Games XIII in 2007
|Born||5 August 1968
|Died||15 September 2007 (aged 39)
|World Rally Championship record|
|Active years||1987–2003, 2005–2006|
|Co-driver|| Derek Ringer
|Teams||Subaru, Citroën, Ford, Škoda|
|First rally||1987 Swedish Rally|
|First win||1993 Rally New Zealand|
|Last win||2002 Safari Rally|
|Last rally||2006 Rally of Turkey|
McRae's outstanding performance with the Subaru World Rally Team enabled the team to win the World Rally Championship Constructors' titlethree times in succession in 1995, 1996 and 1997. After a four-year spell with the Ford Motor Co. team, which saw McRae win nine events, he moved to Citroën World Rally Team in 2003 where, despite not winning an event, he helped them win the first of their three consecutive manufacturers' titles. He was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to motorsport in 1996.
McRae died in 2007 when he crashed his helicopter near his home. The accident also killed his son and two family friends. In November 2008 he was posthumously inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame.
Personal and early life
McRae was married to Alison, and had two children, Hollie and Johnny. McRae moved to the principality of Monaco in 1995, partly through his friendship with David Coulthard. However, as his young family grew up, he spent more time back at his home in Lanarkshire—accepting the higher tax liability of living in Scotland. The couple bought the 17th century Jerviswood House.
Colin McRae began his competitive career in motorsport riding trial bikes at an early age, despite being more interested in four wheeled machines rather than two wheel bikes. At the age of sixteen, through the Coltness Car Club, McRae discovered autotesting, he soon traded his bike for a Mini Cooper and started competing. A year later, he began to negotiate with another club member to use his Hillman Avenger for the Kames Stages, a single-staged rally venue not far from McRae's home. McRae finished the event fourteenth; first in his class although he had run most of the event in a higher position.
In 1986, driving a Talbot Sunbeam, McRae entered the Scottish Rally Championship and soon made a name for himself with his speed and exciting style of driving. His driving style drew many comparisons to Finnish ex-World Rally Champion Ari Vatanen, whom McRae had always idolised. In 1988 he performed a giant-killing act when he took the Scottish Rally Championship series crown in a humble Vauxhall Nova. Craving more power, his next car was a Ford Sierra XR 4x4.
His first WRC event was the 1987 Swedish Rally behind the wheel of his Nova, and again two years later, driving the Sierra and finishing 15th overall. Later that year, he finished 5th overall at Rally New Zealand in a rear wheel drive Sierra Cosworth. By 1990 McRae was driving a Sierra Cosworth 4x4 and achieved sixth place in that year's RAC Rally, despite several accidents. 1991 saw McRae turn professional as he was signed by Prodrive boss David Richards to his Subaru team in the British Rally Championship for an annual wage of approximately £10,000. McRae was British Rally Champion in both 1991 and 1992, soon graduating to the Subaru factory team at World Rally Championship level. 1992 also saw Colin McRae make his début in the British Touring Car Championship, with a one-off appearance for the Prodrive-run BMW factory team at the Knockhill round. In the second of the two races of the event, McRae collided with Matt Neal. Race officials found McRae to have caused an avoidable collision and subsequently disqualified him.
World Rally Championship
On his promotion for 1993, McRae initially drove the Prodrive-built Group A Subaru Legacy alongside Finns Ari Vatanen, Hannu Mikkola and Markku Alén. McRae then won his first WRC rally in the car at that year's Rally New Zealand. It was also the first rally win for the newly formed Subaru World Rally Team, shortly before the Legacy was due to be pensioned off in favour of the new Subaru Impreza 555. Such were the rising fortunes of his young Subaru factory team as they competed against the frontrunning Toyota-powered Team TTE, who were excluded from the championship after the 1995 Rally Catalunya due to the use of an illegal air restrictor. It took only until 1995 for McRae to win the drivers title, which he secured with a victory in a straight contest with his double champion teammate, Carlos Sainz, on the season-ending Rally of Great Britain. Although still a winner with the outfit in individual rallies in succeeding years, including, increasingly, more specialised events such as the Acropolis Rally, Safari Rally and the Tour de Corse, McRae could not better second place in the standings in either 1996 or 1997, on both occasions behind Finland and Mitsubishi Ralliart's Tommi Mäkinen. He helped Subaru complete their run of three consecutive manufacturers' titles during this time. In what would turn out to be his final season with the team, in 1998 he won three more rallies and placed third in the standings, as well as winning the Race of Champions in Gran Canaria, the Canary Islands.
After several years of varying success, McRae switched to the M-Sport-run Ford factory team for 1999, driving the new Ford Focus rally car. The deal saw McRae earning six million pounds over two years, which at the time made him the highest earning rally driver in history. This move was immediately rewarded with two consecutive wins at the Safari Rally and Rally Portugal. A number of shunts and reliability issues for the new car for much of the rest of that season, however, resulted in only sixth place in the championship standings overall. Moreover, a rare personal pointless run had begun for McRae that year which was only to be halted with a podium on the following February's Swedish Rally, the beginning of a recovery which saw McRae victorious on the asphalt turns of Catalunya and the gravel of Greece, and post 4th in the 2000 overall standings. Midway through the 2000 season, the lacking reliability of the Focus had led to McRae threatening to leave the team if the problems continued. The upturn towards the end of the season resulted in him deciding to renew his contract with Ford for a further two years. McRae's intermittent success with Ford continued into 2001, where after failing to score in any of the first four rounds, including having momentarily led defending winner Tommi Makinen on the stages of the season opening Monte Carlo Rally prior to being forced into retirement, he then went on to score three consecutive victories in Argentina, Cyprus and Greece to tie with Mäkinen at the top of the points table. However, having again led the championship outright entering the final round in Great Britain, McRae once more missed out on a possible second title, crashing out and finishing second in the drivers championship, two points behind Subaru's Richard Burns.
With victory in the Safari Rally in 2002, McRae made the record books as the driver with most event wins in the World Rally Championship. His record has since been broken by Carlos Sainz, Sébastien Loeb and Marcus Grönholm. McRae's contract with Ford came to an end following the 2002 season, and after reportedly asking for wages of five million pounds a year, Ford decided against renewing the contract, reluctant to commit such a high amount of their budget to a driver's salary. The two parties split on amicable terms, with Ford's European director of motorsport Martin Whitaker stating "On behalf of all of us at Ford Motor Company I would like to publicly thank Colin and Nicky for their efforts during the past four years with the Ford team. I wish them both well in the future." McRae said of his time with Ford "It's been a very successful four years, we've achieved a lot of very good results and I'm quite happy that myself and Ford have had a very successful partnership."
For 2003, McRae signed for Citroën, a team of winning pedigree due to its successes of the previous year with young Frenchman Sébastien Loeb but otherwise undertaking its first complete campaign at World Rally Championship level. McRae's second-place finish on his début in Monte Carlo alongside Loeb and Carlos Sainz whom, aboard the Xsara WRC, helped complete a 1–2–3 finish, transpired to be the finest result he would achieve for the team, for the season was to end with seventh in the drivers' championship, with no victories. Rule changes that were to be brought in for the 2004 season changed the previous practice of having three nominated points-scorers within a team to two. With Loeb partway through a multiple year contract, this meant the Citroën factory team, under Guy Frequelin's leadership, were forced to choose between dropping McRae or Sainz. With Sainz being the more successful of the two during the 2003 season, it was McRae who had to look elsewhere for 2004. David Richards, McRae's former boss at Subaru, who had by now taken over WRC's commercial rights holders ISC and worried that the loss of a character like McRae would damage his ability to market the sport, set about trying to help McRae find a drive for 2004. McRae was unable to find a team, and for the first time in over ten years he would not be competing in the World Rally Championship.
As the only other potential alternative suitors, Subaru instead eventually chose Mikko Hirvonen to partner Petter Solberg, McRae found himself without a drive for the 2004 season. He instead pursued other interests, including competing in the Dakar Rally and the 24 Hours of Le Mans (see below).
In 2004 and 2005 McRae represented Great Britain in the Race of Champions alongside Formula One driver and fellow Scot, David Coulthard. For the 2006 event England and Scotland entered separate teams with McRae and Coulthard re-uniting to represent Scotland.
McRae then returned to the series for one off drives for Skoda on the 2005 Rally GB and Rally Australia, respectively finishing seventh and retiring due to a clutch problem on the final leg of the rally, the latter dashing hopes for what may otherwise have been only the team's second ever podium place after the 2001 Safari Rally.
On 5 August 2006, McRae competed for Subaru in the first live televised American rally in Los Angeles as part of the X-Games. McRae rolled the car on the penultimate corner after landing awkwardly from a jump, which damaged the front bumper and left front tyre. Despite this, McRae kept the car running and continued on to the finish, his time only 0.13 seconds slower than eventual winner Travis Pastrana. McRae was, though, to have one more opportunity at world championship level: he was unexpectedly entered for his final rally by semi-works Kronos Citroën at Rally Turkey in September, where he replaced Sébastien Loeb while the Frenchman recovered from an injury he sustained in a cycling accident immediately prior to the event. A final-stage alternator problem consigned him and returning co-driver Nicky Grist, to a final placing outside the top ten.
|24 Hours of Le Mans career|
|Best finish||9th overall, 3rd in class (2004)|
McRae's competitive spirit also led him to compete in racing series other than the WRC. In September 2002 he tried his hand at oval racing when he took part in the Ascar (UK version of NASCAR) race at the Rockingham Motor Speedway, Northamptonshire; eventually finishing in sixth place.
McRae rejoined Prodrive for the 2004 24 Hours of Le Mans where he took third place in the GTS class, and ninth position overall in a Ferrari 550-GTS Maranello partnering Darren Turner and Rickard Rydell. Fellow countryman, and Le Mans winner Allan McNish commented that "Colin has adapted far better than people expected" to endurance sportscar racing.
McRae, made his debut on the gruelling Dakar Rally Raid with Nissan in January 2004, and impressed the team by scoring two stage wins on his way to a memorable finish on the gruelling Sahara event. He returned to the Dakar in 2005 and was fastest on two of the first three stages in Morocco, before crashing out of the rally towards the end of stage six.
In August 2007, McRae claimed to still be working on finding a seat for the 2008 WRC season, stating that "if it doesn't happen next year, then I won't (return) because you can only be out of something at that level for so long."
McRae died on 15 September 2007 when his helicopter, a Eurocopter AS350, crashed 1 mile (1.6 km) north of Lanark, Scotland, close to the McRae family home. McRae's five-year-old son Johnny, and two family friends, Graeme Duncan and Johnny's six-year-old friend Ben Porcelli, also died in the crash. McRae's previously active website, ColinMcRae.com, was later replaced with a memorial screen stating a few details about the crash, and then with a short statement released on behalf of McRae's father, Jimmy, and later a book of condolences.
Funeral and celebration services
The funeral for Colin and Johnny took place on 26 September at Daldowie Crematorium near Glasgow, conducted by the Rev Tom Houston, who had married the McRaes, and the Rev Steven Reid, chaplain at Johnny's school. An address was given by Robbie Head, a former rally driver and commentator who was a close friend of McRae's, with the Rev Houston giving the benediction. McRae's niece and nephews performed the tune Highland Cathedral, a popular funeral song. Also, the song "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding, a favourite song of McRae's, was played when the family entered the chapel; and The Proclaimers' song "I'm on My Way" was played when they left. Colin and Johnny McRae were cremated in the same coffin. Among the attendees at the funeral were fellow Scottish racing drivers Jackie Stewart and Dario Franchitti.
A "Celebration of Life" service took place at St Nicholas Church in Lanark on Sunday 30 September at 4 pm. Images from McRae's career and personal life were displayed on large video screens outside the church. Around 700 mourners filled the church, with crowds of up to 15,000 outside. Shortly before 4 pm, Martin Hewins, McRae's personal bagpiper for many years, played "Flower of Scotland" as the family arrived at the church. The service was conducted by the Rev Alison Meikle, who said "Two weeks ago Lanark was struck by silence. A terrible silence bought at an enormous price. However, in our tears love is stronger than death." Later, the Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton song "Islands in the Stream", a favourite of Johnny's, was played. Friends of the pair shared poems and anecdotes from the McRaes' lives. After the service, Colin McRae's widow, brother and father bowed and applauded the crowds who had gathered outside to pay tribute to the McRaes.
In 2015, 20 years from when McRae clinched the 1995 WRC Championship, an exhibition of memorabilia, including cars, racing gears and pace notes, were displayed at a service park at 2015 Rally GB.
McRae's death was met by much grief from former colleagues, rivals and fans alike. The announcement of his death took place during the 2007 Belgian Grand Prix with ITV commentator James Allen informing viewers of his death. Formula One driver David Coulthard, a good friend of McRae, who was due to represent Scotland along with him in the Race of Champions at Wembley Stadium on 16 December, described him as "an understated yet fantastically talented individual", he also announced that he would race the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix with a helmet paint design similar to that of McRae's as a tribute. During the finale of the 2007 Scottish Rally Championship, the "Colin McRae Forest Stages" held in Perth in September 2007, there was no number 1 car as McRae had been due to drive the course car on the event. Instead, his car was parked at the starting point of the rally, where fans were able to sign a book of condolences.
Following his win at the Brands Hatch meeting of the 2007 World Touring Car Championship season, Andy Priaulx dedicated it to McRae, commenting that his death "shows how fragile life can be". McRae's former rival, four-time World Rally Champion Tommi Mäkinen commented the helicopter accident as terrifying news, and described McRae as "a pleasant fellow and a tough rival". Valentino Rossi, who was taught the basics of driving a rally car by McRae, said he was shocked and saddened by the sudden departure of the former World Rally Champion. Valentino dedicated his win at Estoril MotoGp in 2007 to Colin McRae saying to the media "I want to dedicate this to Colin McRae. He was one of my big idols when I was very young and it's because of him I have a big passion for rally".
As a mark of respect for McRae, the Swedish Rally organisers set up an award for the longest jump over a crest on the Vargåsen stage of the rally. The inaugural winner of the award, named Colin's Crest, was Ford's United Arab Emirates driver Khalid al-Qassimi who recorded a distance of 30 m.
On 27 September 2008 the Colin McRae Forest Stages Rally took place in Perth, Scotland. An enhanced entry list of several former big name rally drivers took part in memory of Colin. The impressive entry list included ex-World Championship drivers Hannu Mikkola, Ari Vatanen (partnered by his 1981 WRC winning co-driver David Richards), Björn Waldegård, Stig Blomqvist, Malcolm Wilson, Russell Brookes, Jimmy McRae, Andrew Cowan and Louise Aitken-Walker, many competing in their original cars. A handful of current WRC drivers also took part including Matthew Wilson, Kris Meeke and Travis Pastrana. The event was deemed a great success, attracting record spectator numbers to the Perthshire forests. Outright winner was Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team driver Matthew Wilson in a Ford Focus WRC. Fittingly, Colin's brother Alister McRae won the classic category.
In video game Colin McRae: Dirt 2 there is a race series named "Colin McRae Challenge" that is dedicated to him. Winning the race unlocks a video that is a tribute to him.
After the crash, an investigative team from the UK Department for Transport Air Accidents Investigation Branch attended the scene in co-operation with Strathclyde Police. The wreckage of the helicopter was removed to Farnborough for further forensic investigation. Pilots operate under strict regulations, and are expected in the case of helicopters under CAA rules to undertake a competency test every year, and to renew their licences every five years – not to do so is illegal. It later emerged that McRae had not undertaken a competency check as required in March 2006, and that effectively his licence had expired in February 2005. A CAA spokesman commented "The investigators must determine why hasn't kept up to date with his documentation. There is no suggestion that Mr McRae was not a competent pilot."
A report into the accident was published on 12 February 2009. In it, the AAIB did not reach a definite conclusion as to the cause of the accident, stating instead that "the helicopter crashed in a wooded valley while manoeuvering at high speed and low height. It was intact prior to impact, and the available evidence indicated that the engine was delivering power. The cause of the accident was not positively determined. Although no technical reason was found to explain the accident, a technical fault could not be ruled out entirely. However, it is more likely that the pilot attempted a turning manoeuvre at low height, during which the helicopter deviated from its intended flight path; whether due to the pilot encountering handling difficulties, misjudgement, spatial disorientation, distraction or a combination of such events. There were indications that the pilot had started a recovery but, with insufficient height in which to complete it, the helicopter struck trees in the valley and crashed, killing all four occupants."
A Fatal Accident Inquiry into the incident concluded, on 6 September 2011, that McRae was at fault for the avoidable helicopter crash that led to his death and the death of his passengers.Sheriff Nikola Stewart stated, after the 16-day inquiry, that McRae had been engaged in "unnecessary and unsafe" low-level flying at the time of the crash. Sheriff Stewart concluded that the accident might have been avoided if McRae had not flown into the Mouse Valley. For a private pilot such as McRae, without enough experience, low-level flying in that terrain was very imprudent.
Colin McRae Rally
Codemasters released the first Colin McRae Rally video game in 1998. Version 2, known as Colin McRae 2.0, was released in the year 2000, for Sony's PlayStation and Microsoft Windows; it was also ported to the Game Boy Advance in 2002. A third version found a wide audience on Windows and Xbox. Versions 04 and 2005 arrived in 2004 on all major platforms. 2005 was also remade for Sony's PlayStation Portable and Nokia's N-Gage.
Colin McRae: Dirt was the title for the next instalment of the series, which launched in 2007 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The PlayStation 3 edition was released in the UK on 14 September, the day before McRae's death. A special edition for mobile phones was released by Codemasters Mobile.
Colin McRae: Dirt 2 was released on the PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 on 11 September 2009, the PC version was released on 8 December 2009. This was the last in the series to include 'Colin McRae' in the title. Dirt 3 was released in Europe and North America on 24 May 2011, and two days later in Australia for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
Dirt: Showdown took the series in a new direction, focusing on stadium events such demolition derby. It was released on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on 25 May 2012 in Europe and 12 July 2012 in North America, the Windows version was released 31 May 2012 in Europe and 23 May 2012 in North America. On the 27 June 2013, a remastered version of Colin McRae Rally 2.0, simply titled Colin McRae Rally, was released for iOS devices.
Following inspiration from the Colin McRae games, Dirt Rally has come to PC in 2015 as an "early access" title available via the Steam distribution service. Unlike the previous titles, this installment focuses on a realistic simulation of rallying. DiRT Rally has been released in December 2015 and includes some famous Colin McRae cars like his championship winning Subaru and his 2001 Ford Focus.
Colin McRae R4
Colin McRae chose the 2006 Goodwood Festival of Speed to unveil the McRae R4, which had been conceived at the beginning of 2005. The intention was to make a cheaper alternative to WRCs (World Rally Cars) with significantly lower running costs. The McRae R4 was designed for use in rallying, rally cross, circuit racing and ice racing events, with the possibility of a one-make race series.
Designed by Colin McRae and Dave Plant and built by DJM Race Preparation, the McRae R4's chassis is based on a steel safety cage with carbon panelling front and rear, and a steel-covered cockpit area. Suspension consists of twin wishbones with Proflex dampers. The body styling has been done by Keith Burden and Tom Webster. It appears that some components of the vehicle have been taken from existing production cars, the doorline in particular appears very close to that of the Ford Ka.
The engine is a naturally aspirated, 4-cylinder, 2.5-litre Millington Diamond Engine producing 350 BHP. Transmission is via a six-speed gearbox, manual or semi-automatic, and by mechanical front and rear differentials with the option of mechanical or active central differential. The car can be produced in either 2 or 4 wheel drive formats.
Alison McRae has said that she would like production of the car to continue following Colin's death.
The R4 appears in Codemasters titles Colin McRae: DiRT, Colin McRae: DiRT 2 and Dirt 3.