/ 16 September 2007

Colin McRae, born to drive, dies alongside son

Colin McRae, who died in a tragic helicopter crash alongside his five-year-old son Johnny on September 15, was born with his foot firmly on the accelerator.

Rallying, and indeed daredevil pursuits, was in the blood for McRae, who was born in Lanark in southern Scotland on August 5 1968. His father Jimmy was a five-time British rally champion. His brother Alister is also former British rally champion.

Colin McRae competed in his first rally on the World Rally Championship (WRC) circuit in Sweden in 1987, earning his first win in New Zealand in 1993.

Having freely admitted his enjoyment of risk-taking, McRae celebrated that first WRC win with a bungee-jump over a ravine.

Two years later, McRae landed the championship behind the wheel of a Subaru Impreza 555, fending off Spanish driving ace and teammate Carlos Sainz on home soil in the final leg of the season in 1995.

The pair went into the decider level on 70 points with McRae’s local knowledge proving vital as he came in 26 seconds ahead of runner-up Sainz to claim the title.

The following year, in recognition of becoming the first British winner of the World Rally Championship, he was made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, being given his MBE gong by Queen Elizabeth II.

He finished as championship runner-up in 1996 and 1997 with Subaru, and again in 2001 in a Ford Focus.

A broken cheekbone following a bad crash in Corsica in 2000 was one of many brushes with danger.

McRae, who made a one-off comeback in the Rally of Turkey last year — his first rally since 2003 when he was ditched by Citroen — won 25 of his 146 rallies, placing him third in the all-time list behind French champion Sebastien Loeb and Sainz. He also had 42 podium finishes.

His last full season in 2003 was as Loeb’s teammate, helping the French rallying icon to their first constructor’s title.

He was renowned for his aggressive, swashbuckling driving style which drew comparisons with that of one of his rally idols, Finnish great Ari Vatanen.

After leaving the World Rally Championship, McRae’s racing spirit drew him to the Paris-Dakar rally.

He made it to the sixth stage at his second attempt in the 2005 edition, coming to grief when he rolled his Nissan in the North African desert.

McRae suffered light injuries and had to be airlifted to safety.

The accident came 24 hours after he’d left his mark on the inhospitable event by winning the fifth stage.

McRae’s competitive spirit also led him to the Le Mans 24 Hour race, where he took ninth overall in a Ferrari in 2004. At the end of 2004 he featured with the likes of Formula One champion Michael Schumacher in the Race of Champions at the Stade de France in Paris.

He won the 1998 race, in which the world’s top racers compete in rally cars over a specially-built course inside football stadia.

Off the track, McRae’s astute business sense helped make a huge success of his own series of video games, which have sold over eight million copies. A multi-millionaire who drove a Lamborghini and high-powered motorcycles, he also started his own line in fashion clothing.

For someone who made serious money from computers he claimed the electronic age had all but passed him by.

“When it comes to computers and electronics, give me 300 brake horsepower, a winding road and no brakes, and then you’ve got my attention — that’s easy compared to working a computer,” he once remarked.

His friendship with Formula One veteran and fellow Scot David Coulthard was behind his taking up residence in Monaco but of late, McRae had spent more of his time at home in Lanarkshire, the scene of Saturday’s fatal helicopter crash.

McRae (39), at the time of the crash, was married to Alison and the couple had two children, Hollie and Johnny.

Scottish police confirmed on September 16 that McRae and Johnny were killed in the crash on Saturday in the grounds of the rally driver’s home in Lanark. Two family friends, including a six-year-old boy, also died in the horrific incident. — AFP