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Page last updated at 09:37 GMT, Sunday, 16 September 2007 10:37 UK

Magical McRae

By Andrew Benson

Colin McRae
McRae was one of rallying's best-known figures

Colin McRae, who has died in a helicopter accident at the age of 39, will be remembered as one of Britain's greatest rally drivers.

The Scot won the world title for Subaru in 1995, was runner-up on three occasions, and for a while held the record for most wins in individual rallies with 25 - a mark that has since been passed by Spain's Carlos Sainz and Frenchman Sebastien Loeb, both former team-mates of McRae, as well as the Finn Marcus Gronholm.

But McRae will not be remembered for the statistics of his career. Instead, it was his attacking driving style that endeared him to millions of fans the world over.

His risk-taking style set him apart from his rivals, and won him his legions of admirers, but it also meant he did not win as many rallies - or world titles - as his talent deserved.

He was arguably the out-and-out quickest driver of his era, but his speed was undermined by a propensity to make mistakes - he was, it used to seem, as likely to end a rally upside down in a ditch as on the winners' rostrum.

Colin McRae and British rival Richard Burns
Along with Englishman Richard Burns he was at the head of a golden generation of British rally driving talent

But those errors did nothing to harm his popularity, which was enhanced by a successful series of computer games licensed with his name.

The reach of McRae's reputation was such that, even four years after his full-time career in the World Rally Championship was over, he was at the time of his death still probably the most famous rally driver in the world.

McRae came from a well-known Scottish motor racing family - his father, Jimmy, is a five-time British rally champion and his brother, Alister, is also a former British rally champion.

McRae won the British rally title himself in 1991 and '92 and took his first victory on the world stage in New Zealand in 1993, driving a Subaru Impreza.

He went on to help the team to three consecutive world titles - including his, which he won at the final round after a close battle with team-mate Sainz.

It gave him the honour of becoming Britain's first world rally champion and he was awarded an MBE the following year for his services to motorsport.

He was a leading figure in the world championship for a decade, driving for Ford and Citroen as well as Subaru.

Colin McRae with helicopter in 2006
McRae was an experienced helicopter pilot
Despite his reputation for being hard on cars, McRae won three times the Safari Rally in Kenya, widely regarded as rallying's most destructive event.

The last of those victories, in 2002, was the one with which he broke the record for individual rally wins. It was also the final victory of his career.

But although the wins came in a steady stream, McRae could never shake his reputation for inconsistency.

And after a typical, but also winless, season for Citroen in 2003, he was left on the sidelines in 2004, never to feature regularly again on the world stage.

McRae filled in his time with appearances on the Dakar Rally across the Sahara Desert, and at the Le Mans 24-Hour Race, as well as intermittent one-off returns to the world rally championship.

The penultimate of those was in Australia in 2005, when he finished third in an unfancied Skoda.

McRae felt that he had proved a point with that performance, but his hopes of a full-time return for 2006 fizzled out, and he made his final appearance in the WRC as a replacement for Loeb in that year's Rally of Turkey.

Nevertheless, memories of the way a great career came to an end short of its full potential will be weaker than those of a great racing driver in his pomp.

Along with Englishman Richard Burns, who won the world title for Subaru himself in 2001, he was at the head of a golden generation of British rally driving talent, and they sparked renewed interest in the sport in this country.

Both men are now gone - Burns died in 2005 after a long battle against a brain tumour - but their legacy remains.

Paying tribute to Burns after his death, McRae said: "He was a true character in the world of rallying and will be sadly missed."

Those words apply equally to McRae himself.

see also
Two children on McRae helicopter
16 Sep 07 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West
McRae's career in photos
16 Sep 07 |  Rallying
Motorsport pays tribute to McRae
16 Sep 07 |  Motorsport
McRae reckons his point is proven
13 Nov 05 |  Rallying

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