Colin McRae wins the World Rally Championship - Motorsport Moments

The 1995 Network Q RAC Rally was a landmark moment in the history of the World Rally Championship, and cemented Colin McRae’s place as one of the sport’s all-time greats

If you’re a rally fan – in particular a British one – then the 1995 Network Q RAC Rally has to be cemented into your top motorsport moments. Colin McRae was a bit of a superstar long before he sprayed the champagne at Chester Racecourse that year – but that crisp November afternoon was the moment he became a legend.

McRae was the son of five-times British Rally champ Jimmy. He’d come up through the sport at a prodigious rate, scoring back-to-back British titles in 1991 and 1992, and then claiming a win on the UK’s WRC round in 1994, the first Brit to do so in 18 years. 

For 1995, Colin had a full-time drive with Subaru, alongside Carlos Sainz. A double world champion already, the Spaniard had a professional approach that was a world away from McRae’s. Carlos would frequently spend a day testing, playing with settings to explore every way to make the car faster. Colin would turn up, do a couple of runs and proclaim in a slow Lanarkshire drawl, “Aye, it’ll do.”

For the bulk of the season, Sainz held the upper hand, thanks to wins in Monte Carlo and Portugal. But then he fell off a mountain bike during the summer and was forced to miss Rally New Zealand – where McRae won.

On the penultimate round in Catalunya the situation became toxic. With the Subarus out in front, Prodrive team boss David Richards’ attempt to enforce team orders was very publicly ignored, then reluctantly obeyed, by McRae. Sainz duly won his home round, so the team-mates arrived at the season-ending RAC rally tied on 70 points.

The Mitsubishis of Tommi Makinen and Kenneth Eriksson set the pace on the opening stages of ‘spectator Sunday’. But reality soon cut in on the first forest stage; over the 17 miles of Hamsterly at dawn on the Monday, McRae scalped an astonishing 28 seconds out of the next-best competitor to storm from third into a lead of almost half a minute.

The behemoth test of Pundershaw was next – all 37 miles of it. And McRae picked up a puncture, losing all of his Hamsterly gains and more besides; he emerged more than a minute behind Sainz, the new leader. 

The game was on, and with four Pirellis under him again, McRae wasted no time in clawing back the deficit. Stage by stage that Monday afternoon, Sainz could only watch as he bled valuable seconds to his team-mate. Even bent suspension couldn’t halt the charge, as McRae still managed a fastest time with the issue, then bodged a repair while fans lifted the car at the end of the stage. By the end of the day, Carlos was still in front, but now by just 39 seconds.

Tuesday took crews into Wales, starting two days of classic RAC forest tests, such as Dyfnant, Clocaenog and Hafren. McRae’s progress was relentless, and the normally imperious Sainz looked increasingly desperate. He managed one fastest stage time that day; McRae topped the charts on the other six, and by the end of them, he was leading again.

UK productivity must have had a bit of a blip on the closing day, judging from the walls of spectators lining the Welsh forest tracks. By this point victory seemed inevitable – although a string of fastest times on Wednesday morning sealed the deal. McRae returned to Chester Racecourse a World Champion, and images from that afternoon define an entire era of rallying for a generation.

As for me, the 1995 RAC Rally was the first WRC event that I reported on. A junior hack with rally bible Motoring News, I’d been tasked with a few class reports, yet I somehow managed to end up in the same Chester nightclub as the victors. The first time I spoke to McRae, he was very merry indeed. And neither of us would remember a word of it.

Colin McRae became synonymous with Subaru Imprezas, but what is your favourite rally car? Let us know in the comments below...

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