Colin McRae

For his first on-track race event, ‘McCrash’ chose the BTCC, at Knockhill in 1992. He was focused on rallying, but when the lights turned to green… Words: Anthony Peacock. Photography: LAT

At the time of the British Touring Car Championship’s first visit to Knockhill, Scotland in July 1992, the most famous McRae was Colin’s father Jimmy – thanks to his five British Rally Championship titles. Colin was more spectacular but less consistent, frequently living up to his nickname of ‘McCrash’.

The raw speed was undeniable, though, which persuaded Prodrive to groom him for future stardom in the World Rally Championship with Subaru. At the same time, Prodrive was running BMW’s BTCC effort with drivers Tim Sugden and Alain Menu – plus an occasional third car. It didn’t take long for Prodrive boss David Richards to suggest putting McRae in the guest car for his home event.

“I didn’t really pay it a great deal of attention, as at the time I was totally focused on rallying,” says McRae. “We were just starting to do some World Rally Championship events with Subaru, and that’s what I was excited about.”

Such was McRae’s insouciance that he didn’t even test the BMW 318is until the day before qualifying. It was the first time he had sampled any sort of racing car.

BMW’s race team manager at the time was Tom Hunt, who would go on to become Subaru’s test team manager. Hunt remembers: “Colin was really quite blasé about the whole thing. At the time we were running ABS, and Sugden and Menu were saying during the test that they couldn’t brake over the bump. Colin told them ‘if you want to brake there, just brake there’. He maintained that he’d be better off without the ABS so we removed it for one of the sessions. Within three laps he’d put it into the gravel.”

McRae had one big advantage: he had lapped Knockhill several times in cars and on bikes, whereas for most of the regular drivers it was a new experience. McRae qualified in 15th place, and worked his way up to eighth.

Race two held a lot more potential from the outset. A rain shower meant that it was declared a wet race, but this didn’t worry McRae. For most of the race he followed Matt Neal’s older-shape BMW M3, which was faster on the straights but slower through the corners.

“Over the course of a lap I was definitely faster than him, so I was determined to try and find a way past,” remembers McRae. “Then, at the hairpin, he seemed to brake harder than usual, and there was absolutely nowhere for me to go. I couldn’t help giving him a tap. I kept going and he didn’t. I thought that’s what touring cars were all about anyway!”

However, that was not what Matt Neal thought. Nor his 6ft 7in father Steve, who was threatening to: “find McRae, rip his head off, and shit down his neck.”

The object of his wrath remembers: “Matt was none too pleased, but Steve was definitely the spokesman. The quickest I went all weekend was probably the run back to the motorhome after the race…”