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When in doubt, flat out

Colin McRae was the fastest, most committed and most spectacular rally driver of his generation. A helicopter accident cut short his adrenaline-filled life in 2007, but what a life it was.

When in doubt, flat out

Colin McRae was born on 5 August 1968 in Lanark, Scotland. The son of five-time British Rally Champion Jimmy, racing was in young Colin’s blood.

Although initially competing on bikes, the young McRae traded two wheels for four at the age of sixteen when he started club-level rallying in a Mini. He continued honing his skills against faster and more fancy machinery in the Scottish Rally Championship between 1986 and 1988 (which he won in the latter year).

He started competing in the single World Rally Championship (WRC) from 1987, but McRae’s big break came in 1991 when he was signed by the Prodrive team, then campaigning Subaru Legacies in the British Rally Championship. Success followed immediately as Colin claimed the national title in 1991 and 1992.

One-off appearances characterised his career in the WRC in 1993 and 1994, but 1995 making Colin McRae making history. Between McRae and teammate Carlos Sainz, the pair won five of the season’s eight rallies in the now-iconic GC8-generation of blue and yellow State Express 555-branded Subaru Impreza WRX STIs. McRae became the first British and the youngest ever WRC champion – the latter a record that still stands today.

While McRae earned the WRC crown in 1995, the Prodrive Subaru team continued its meteoric success by going on to claim the WRC constructor’s titles in 1996 and 1997 as well. McRae finished as runner-up in the 1996 and 1997 WRC drivers’ championships and third in 1998.

After parting ways with Subaru, between 1999 and 2006 McRae drove for Ford, Citroën and Skoda. His final victory was attained at the 2002 Rally of Kenya. But his ever-competitive spirit saw him venture into participating in the Dakar rallies of 2004 and 2005 and even the 24 hours of Le Mans in 2004, where he finished third in class in a Ferrari 550.

How will McRae be remembered? His motto – “when in doubt, flat out” – ties in with his fast but inconsistent style. He often stayed flat out where others dared not – an unrelenting approach which cost him another two WRC titles.

It is precisely never-say-die nature of the revered Scotsman – always fearless, always sideways, always on the limit (YouTube is your friend) – that made him mesmerising to watch. Little wonder his middle name was “Steele”.

The trademark flat-four engine burble of the most famous Subaru in the world with its L555 BAT registration plate – with McRae behind the wheel – has been silenced forever, but those whose hearts he touched can leave a personal tribute at colinmcrae.com/memories.

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