He was a rally driver and a world champion. He was a renegade and a chancer. And to millions around the world he was an inspiration and a hero. Colin Steele McRae died 10 years ago, but over the next few screens we celebrate his remarkable life
There are countless videos that demonstrate Colin’s profound mastery of the automobile, but in this film you witness something quite extraordinary. Perhaps it’s the location. You see Colin not on the Monte or any other famous world championship event, but on the N71 in County Kerry, Ireland. Occasionally, when tourists aren’t enjoying the panoramic drive from Kenmare to Killarney, the road is closed to become one of the most demanding rally stages on the planet. Conditions invariably switch from dry to wet as the stage climbs into the mountains, where crowds sit in the clouds to watch tarmac rallying at its finest. In 2005, they were in for a hell of a treat. Colin was driving the course car – his own highly modified Ford Escort Mk2 – and extracting every last fraction of speed.
Colin Steele McRae died alongside his son and two family friends in a helicopter accident near his home in Lanark 10 years ago. It was a paralysing shock. McRae had become rallying’s first true global superstar; the figurehead of the world’s biggest rally game, loved for his down-to-earth persona, and worshipped for his speed, commitment and acute natural talent.
It was a talent that manifested itself in anything Colin drove or rode. In the excellent book, McRae – Just Colin, there’s a fantastic picture of the Scotsman as a toddler, sitting on a tricycle and holding the bars in a typical opposite-lock position. He has a huge grin on his face. It was a smile that would follow him throughout his career – a smile that belied nothing.
Colin would go on to win schoolboy motocross championships at 13, autotest championships at 16 and make his rallying debut at 17. Six years later he was British champion, a year later he won it again, and at 27 he became the first Brit and the youngest driver to win the World Rally Championship. He still holds the record. But the magic of McRae has always been so much more than results. He epitomised the charger spirit, battling to the end and refusing to yield – often in cars that had been rolled into a ball and were held together with fence bolts. The latter actually happened.
But there’s more. Take time to study the McRae driving aesthetic. For all the flamboyant arcs he carved across tarmac, dirt and ice, his style was illusory. Inside the car, Colin’s inputs were economical to the point of mystery. While rivals such as Delecour and Auriol would puff and pant, hunched over the wheel, Colin would coax broad, expressive movements with small and relaxed movements from within.
Fans of wider motor sport may not quite ‘get’ why Colin is missed by the rally community – which is partly the reason we celebrate him here. He was, and should be remembered as, a Nuvolari, a Villeneuve or a Senna – for the manner in which he transcended his sport.