Colin (steering) and Alister start young
It all began at the age of two…a wee Colin McRae begging to be allowed to sit on the lap of an adult in the driving seat. It would be natural to assume that his passion for all things mechanical was fired by his father's exploits in a rally car, but nothing could be further from the truth.

"I can't remember a time when I wasn't interested in cars," says Colin, son of five-times British Rally Champion, Jimmy. "Apart from practical things like woodwork and metalwork, school was a necessary evil and I spent the rest of my time watching my grandfather work in 'the dook', or the workshop".

Despite a loathing for two-wheeled machinery, Margaret McRae could do little to curb her eldest son's passion for speed and, by the time he was seven, Colin was riding motorbikes. Barely able to reach the handlebars and unable to stop unless he fell off, Colin remained undeterred and was building his own partially assembled kits and competing in trials less than five years later.

He had won the Scottish Junior Scrambling and Intermediate Trials Championships by the time he was 14, satisfying a thirst for speed until he could turn his attention to four wheels. Driving welded-up scrapyard cars with friends on a patch of private land near home in Lanark, the trials bike then became a fair swap for an autotest car - an old mini - and, after winning the West of Scotland Autotest title, the young Scot was ready for his first rally in 1985. It was a reasonable deal with a friend - fit a new gearbox and you can borrow the car! Colin made his rally debut in an Avenger on the Kames Stages, a single-venue event in Scotland, and was running well until he dropped off the side of the road, almost an inevitability. Even so, Colin and co-driver Gordon Gracie finished 14th overall and first in class, proving a point.
Trial biking at an early age

"For sure we were going to go off somewhere, it was just a matter of time, but it was good fun!" Colin recollects. "There were no hand-outs from the old man and the result was all the more satisfying because I'd done it all myself through the boys at the car club." In support of their son's initiative, the McRae's acquired a Talbot Sunbeam but there were still no free rides. Unable to secure an apprenticeship in a local garage, Colin joined the family heating and plumbing business and, although more time was spent in the garage under the house helping to maintain the company vans and preparing the Sunbeam, Colin still knows enough to earn a living as a plumber.

An assault on the Esso Scottish Championship in 1986 reaped rewards and seasoned observers began to suspect that Colin McRae had something special. Third Challenger in the series and 18th overall earned him the Jaggy Bunnett Flying Brick award for the hardest trier, and he was ready for something a little more ambitious. A new season brought a new car, a new championship and a new co-driver. While the Vauxhall Nova Sport was a much less powerful car, with it came the prospect of manufacturer support and, as importantly it was homologated, allowing Colin to tackle bigger and more notable rallies. Derek Ringer also joined the partnership and was to play a significant role in Colin's future success.

The plumbing van became the service vehicle and quite often two single-venue events would be crammed into the weekend - even if they were at opposite ends of the country. "I can remember spending more time repairing the van than servicing the rally car!" jokes Colin.

The Scot's 'pedal-to-the-metal' attitude brought mixed results, a host of accidents in different cars and his first World Rally Championship event - the Swedish - in 1987. Co-driver Mike Broad lost count of the times they cannoned into snowbanks on the only true winter event in the series, but 36th overall and third in class was not such a bad result on what has become Colin's favourite event. Ironically his first outright rally victory came when childhood friend, sweetheart and wife to be, Alison Hamilton, co-drove the duo in the Tweedies rally in July 1988!

From his own experience however, Jimmy knew the trappings of the British rut. One overseas event was worth two at home and he clinched a drive in Sweden in a Group A Sierra XR4x4 in 1989. Colin was a sensation, climbing as high as 10th, outpacing Swedish legend Stig Blomqvist on some of the snow-strewn stages. His early promise was thwarted by gearbox problems, but 15th overall underlined his potential to compete against the world's greatest. Fifth overall in New Zealand in a works supported Cosworth, and two wins at national level was however enough to impress Ford, who offered him a works Sapphire Cosworth run by RED the following year.

By now, Colin was accustomed to criticism; seemingly endless crashes, albeit mixed with some fine drives, brought about a reputation that took years to dispel. Despite the works support and clinching his first international victory on the Cartel in 1990, it was a hand-to-mouth year, each event hanging in the balance and dependent on his previous result. Second in the British Championship was enough for Ford to consider running a full programme the following year, but European and World Championship events beckoned.

The 1990 RAC Rally ended in disaster
Not without budget though, and even Jimmy's pocket wasn't deep enough to fund six-figure support for his son's promising career. "It was a vicious circle and the age factor didn't help," says Colin. "Twenty-two was still pretty young to get a works drive and team managers wanted more experience. But how do you get that without money? I feel for those guys who are trying to make the break these days, it's tough." Frustrated by such 'mundane' matters as money, the lifeline was eventually thrown by David Richards, the man who brought Subaru to rallying and steered Colin McRae to meteoric success.

It was a golden opportunity; in addition to the British Championship Colin had real prospects of a drive at World Championship level and no pressure to produce immediate results. The British Rally Championship crown was just reward for the new Prodrive/Subaru team, Colin producing fine performances and the additional accolade of becoming the youngest driver to win the title. Mixing his British drives with chase car duties on World Championship events, Colin was unfazed by the enormity of the world stage when he finally entered the foray with Subaru in 1992. He and the Rothmans Legacy had again grabbed the headlines in Britain with a clean sweep of victories on each of the six events, but the spotlight was firmly and unexpectedly on him in his first World Championship rally with Subaru when lead driver Ari Vatanen crashed on the opening test. The pundits were confounded; against all odds and formidable competition in a rally historically dominated by Nordic drivers, Colin McRae had victory in his sights before a puncture on the last day. Even so, he beat the likes of Stig Blomqvist and Markku Alen fair and square to finish an astounding second overall.

Stepping up the campaign in 1993 with title sponsorship from 555, the programme now encompassed World and Asia-Pacific events. It was a year of exceptional highs and incredible lows, and an exasperating period for Richards as he saw results disappear up in smoke with both his drivers. Nevertheless Colin won his and Subaru's first-ever World Championship rally in New Zealand. Even today, his utter command and demolition of the opposition on the famous Motu stage live in the minds of all.

1994 brought a new two-year contract that, for the first time, included every round of the World Championship, a new team-mate in Carlos Sainz, the new Subaru Impreza 555, money and a lifestyle that justified leaving the family home and taking up residence in Monaco. Again, Colin's unfailing quiet determination was rewarded with victories in New Zealand and on home turf in Great Britain, but similarly accidents in Corsica and Argentina brought about yet more of Richards' wrath and he was dropped from the squad for the 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland. The old 'Colin McCrash' jokes were reborn and his future hung in the balance.

The team's wildest dreams were however realised in 1995 when he won the World Championship and became Britain's first and only World Rally Champion. The season was nothing outstanding from the outset, little more than a third-place finish after four events, but the tables turned when Sainz fell by the wayside after a mountain bike fall - the spotlight was on but the Scot rose to the challenge. The week after the RAC was an unforgettable one…after all, the Scots do know how to party! Briefly, rallying was on a par with football, vying for space on the back pages, civic receptions, black-tie affairs and even a visit to Buckingham Palace to receive his MBE from the Queen followed, but nothing could have been sweeter than Subaru's gift of his Championship-winning Impreza 555, which today takes pride of place in Lanark's museum.

Celebrating victory and his first World title after the 1995 RAC Rally

Colin and Derek Ringer,
a team victory in 1995
Airborne through Clumber Park on
Britain's round of the 1995 Championship

Back-to-back titles were never going to be easy but the following two years proved to be Colin's most character-building. He was second in the Championship both years, missing out on the title by just one point in 1997 with new co-driver Nicky Grist, despite winning more events than any of his rivals. Controversy was mixed with significant and repetitive mechanical failures, which added to the his desire to seek a fresh challenge in 1999.

The all-new Ford Focus WRC beckoned. 1999 was never likely to be a fight for the title but Colin launched the new car with a fine drive to third position on the season-opener in Monte Carlo, before Ford was excluded for a technical infringement. Inevitably expectations rose, especially after Colin's resounding victories in Kenya and Portugal, but a string of mechanical problems - albeit expected with a new car - peppered with a couple of accidents, left Colin in the desperate position of failing to finish no fewer than eight consecutive events.

But, all this has done nothing to diminish the determination of a quietly confident Scot whose love of the sport would keep him there for £100 - assuming everyone was being paid the same! Now, teamed with Carlos Sainz for the second time in his career, the duo form the most formidable line-up in the World Rally Championship.

The 1000 lakes rally
deserves respect
Colin takes his first victory
on asphalt in Sanremo 1996

Spain 2000 victory for Colin and Nicky