Skip advert
Advertisement

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.

Advertisement - Article continues below

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.

Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

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.

Advertisement - Article continues below

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.

Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

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...

Skip advert
Advertisement
Continue Reading
Editor-at-large

John started journalism reporting on motorsport – specifically rallying, which he had followed avidly since he was a boy. After a stint as editor of weekly motorsport bible Autosport, he moved across to testing road cars. He’s now been reviewing cars and writing news stories about them for almost 20 years.

Skip advert
Advertisement

Recommended

Extreme new Ford Mustang GTD is here, has 800bhp and costs £315,000
Ford Mustang GTD front 3/4
News

Extreme new Ford Mustang GTD is here, has 800bhp and costs £315,000

Ford’s most extreme Mustang yet features tech banned from international motorsport
18 Jun 2024
Le Mans 2024 preview: hypercar teams gun for glory at La Sarthe
Le Mans racing cars on the Dunlop Chicane
Features

Le Mans 2024 preview: hypercar teams gun for glory at La Sarthe

Here are 5 reasons to get excited about the 2024 Le Mans 24 Hours
10 Jun 2024
New Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport hot hatch reveal just days away
New Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport prototype
News

New Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport hot hatch reveal just days away

The updated GTI Clubsport be unveiled at the Nürburgring 24 Hours as part of 50th anniversary for the VW Golf
24 May 2024
Caterham Seven 485 Final Edition marks the end of an era
Caterham Seven 485 Final Edition
News

Caterham Seven 485 Final Edition marks the end of an era

The 485 is the fastest car Caterham has built for Europe
10 May 2024

Most Popular

Best small SUVs to buy 2024
Best small SUVs - header image
Best cars & vans

Best small SUVs to buy 2024

There's a huge range of small SUVs out there, so we’ve picked out the very best
22 Jul 2024
Car Deal of the Day: brand-new VW ID.7 EV with 381-mile range for less than you’d expect
Volkswagen ID.7 - front cornering
News

Car Deal of the Day: brand-new VW ID.7 EV with 381-mile range for less than you’d expect

If you want an electric car that can go the distance, then maybe you should consider our Deal of the Day for 23 July
23 Jul 2024
New Skoda Enyaq 50 brings £2,000 price cut to popular electric family SUV
Skoda Enyaq 50 - front tracking
News

New Skoda Enyaq 50 brings £2,000 price cut to popular electric family SUV

The new Enyaq 50 and Enyaq 50 Edition are available to order now, with prices starting from £36,970
22 Jul 2024