25 years on: Colin McRae's title triumph at the 1995 RAC Rally

Rally

British rallying witnessed its crowning moment 25 years ago when Colin McRae became the first British World Rally champion. We remember the moment - and the talent - with the Motor Sport Archive

Colin McRae and Derek Ringer celebrate winning the 1995 RAC RAlly and the World Rally Championship

Nick Hewitt/Alamy

It was 25 years ago today that the champagne flowed on Chester racecourse and tyre smoke filled the air as Colin McRae and co-driver Derek Ringer celebrated victory in the RAC Rally, confirming McRae as the first British World Rally Champion.

This crowning moment of an all too-short career, confirmed the prodigious talent of a driver admired by rivals and idolised by fans.

From the archive

It put rallying in the spotlight with a level of popularity and prominence that has not been seen since.

We look back at that victory a quarter of a century ago and the talent of McRae in a series of articles from the Motor Sport Archive.

November 1995 could have ended very differently. Our report of those autumn stages begins with the controversy that had spilled over from the previous round where McRae had been forced to gift team-mate Carlos Sainz victory in his native Spain, bringing both to Britain level on championship points: one rally to resolve the title.

Tommi Makinen led initially, followed by Sainz and then McRae. Damage to the Mitsubishi put Makinen out of contention, but then McRae hit trouble with a puncture that cost him two minutes.

Related article

The final two days saw McRae on an unbeatable charge to overhaul Sainz and extend his lead to the finish, where he was greeted by an ecstatic crowd at Chester racecourse, and delighted them with victory donuts after celebrating on the ramp.

It was a high point of Rally GB that will never be surpassed, wrote Anthony Peacock in 2016, as he looked back at the triumph which gained added poignancy following McRae’s death.

“Quite simply, nothing could stop him. His progress was not merely mesmerising it was something that had never been seen before. Through the dank forests the blue and yellow Impreza was a dazzling beacon of fluidly imperious brilliance.”

From the archive

McRae seemed destined to win the title from the moment that he arrived on the world rallying scene. “Colin McRae is a phenomenon,” wrote Paul Fearnley in 1993, in a profile of the youthful talent as he began his first top-level season.

David Richards, whose Prodrive outfit ran the Subarus, was already tipping McRae for championship glory and the descriptions of his innate car control will be familiar to anyone who subsequently saw McRae in action on the WRC stage.

“Watching him on the stages is a joy, and he possesses the ability to take the breath away even from the most cynical hack,” reads the ’93 article. “His lines are more flamboyant than the likes of Sainz, Kankkunen and Biasion, but they are usually totally accurate. This is achieved with an apparent minimum of effort.”

From the archive

Contemporaries admired his charisma, but also praised the unseen side to McRae. Petter Solberg told how McRae helped him “massively” as a young driver, while Sebastian Loeb praised his car development skills at a celebration of the Scot’s career in 2017.

Stig Blomqvist and Sébastien Ogier are also among those to share their memories in the article, as is Nicky Grist:  He’d always be the highest and furthest over the jumps, he’d always be the most sideways and in modern terms the way Colin drove was very uneconomical against the clock,” said McRae’s former co-driver. “But even in the middle of a rally, if Colin saw a crowd there would be a big slide.”

Kris Meeke was one of the drivers mentored by McRae and he described learning from the legend in an article for the magazine.

From the archive

“Everybody took a step back when they heard Colin driving,” wrote Meeke. “He was just using the road as a rough guide. His style and approach were something to watch. At one time he held the record for the most rally victories. His ‘never say die’ attitude, always flat out… it really sat with people and endeared him to them.

“I was lucky enough to sit with him a few times but even watching him you could tell that he was using lines other people wouldn’t dare to try. He was second to none. Often it bit him and he ended up in the trees, but he was something else. You’re standing watching this bit of road moments before the cars arrive and you imagine what they’re going to do; then Colin arrives and does something you’d never imagine was possible. He was in a league of his own in that way.”

Absent, of course, from the celebrations is the man himself.

“Like very often with shooting stars in life, they remain with us just because humanly speaking they leave too early,” says Ari Vatanen. “You don’t measure the value of life by its length.”

A hero lost in 2007, his life is summarised in a Motor Sport obituary published all too soon.