By Rosie Ogden
TWO of Cyprus’ older rally fan favourite drivers have recently been in the news: both former winners of the Cyprus Rally. Scotland’s five-time British Rally Champion Jimmy McRae and his son Colin, who became World Rally Champion in 1995, and holds the record as the youngest driver to win the title, and who died in a helicopter crash in 2007.
It’s 20 years since Colin McRae became Britain’s first FIA World Rally Champion, and a raft of activities took place to commemorate the anniversary, including several special features on last weekend’s Wales Rally GB.
It was on the 1995 Network Q RAC Rally – the final round of the season – that McRae lifted the world championship laurels, defeating Subaru team-mate Carlos Sainz in a straight fight to become the youngest-ever title-winner.
The Scot was met by a rapturous reception when he reached the finishing ramp in Chester that year. Two decades on, and just down the road in Deeside, his success was feted once more as rallying fans and the WRC community united to remember one of the most popular and spectacular drivers in the history of the sport.
Central to the celebrations was an impressive two-tier structure in the Service Park, which houses four of McRae’s most legendary rally cars, two of which he piloted to victory on home turf – his 1995 and 1997 Subaru Imprezas, as well as a brace of Ford Focus RS WRCs.
Other attractions included original race suits, pace notes, trophies and posters – some of which have never previously been seen in public – that have been supplied by Jimmy McRae, M-Sport, Prodrive, Derek Ringer and Nicky Grist amongst others.
The pièce de résistance, however, was a bespoke multimedia show, utilising video footage, still photography and personal tributes to depict Colin’s remarkable career and his sensational achievements in all their glory.
Two of Colin’s former co-drivers, Derek Ringer (who co-drove McRae to his world title triumph back in 1995 in the iconic Subaru Impreza BAT 555) and Nicky Grist (who enjoyed 17 WRC victories alongside the Scot) were in attendance all weekend, while Colin’s mother Margaret, wife Alison and daughter Hollie also joined in the celebrations.
Colin’s father Jimmy, himself a five-time British Rally Champion, contested the Network Q WRGB National Rally in a mighty V8 Vauxhall Firenza Can-Am, but he also flagged away the first car from the official Ceremonial Start in Llandudno. That car was a Group N Subaru WRX STI, driven by seven-time Rally America Champion David Higgins and featuring an evocative throwback blue-and-yellow livery with classic gold wheels.
“It does not seem 20 years ago that Margaret and I were at the finish in Chester celebrating Colin’s achievement,” reflected 72-year-old Jimmy. “The McRae family are humbled by the celebrations organised in tribute to his memory.
“Colin was very popular in America, and I am very pleased that Subaru America made the trip to this year’s Wales Rally GB. It was an emotional time but I stayed focused on my own rally, driving those classic Welsh stages in the noisy V8 Firenza.”
Higgins said: “It is also really important to remember how important Colin and Derek winning the World Championship was for British rallying. It put us on the map and helped give younger drivers an opportunity; I benefitted from their success and I’m sure British drivers are still benefitting now.”