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17 October 2014

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Rallying

Colin McRae's first World Rally title 1995

Not many Scottish sports stars find themselves as the eponymous star of a million-selling video game, but a Lanarkshire-born driver did just that, in the late Nineties.

Lanark native Colin McRae was born in 1968 and from an early age was destined to be a race driver. His father Jimmy was an established rally star by the time Colin had reached his teens, winning 5 British Rally Championships between 1981 and 1988, under the Opel and Ford marques.

This family grounding in the sport led Colin to gain experience before he even had a driving license; his youth was spent on motorbikes, and a first championship victory was gained in 1981 at the Scottish Schoolboy Motocross trials.

Three years later he won a bike slalom championship and two years later, when legally able to drive, he bit the bullet and followed his father's footsteps into the British Junior Rally team. A first venture with the team, driving a Vauxhall Nova in a Swedish World Rally Championship event, saw him finish 36th overall, but 3rd in his age group.

McRae's progress continued in Sweden as he approached 20, this time in a Sierra XR4x4, raising his game high enough to take 15th place in 1989. A fifth-placed finish at the wheel of the new Sierra Cosworth in New Zealand that same year, followed by a super runners-up spot in the British Championship, led top outfit Subaru ProDrive to offer the Scot a place in their British Championship team for 1991.

Their faith was well placed. After being pipped by David Llewellyn, top man for the previous two years, McRae won four rallies to claim his first major title in some style - but he didn't stop there. His second year with Subaru saw him whitewash his rivals in 1992's championship, completing a clean sweep of every race, leading from start to finish.

McRae's talent had been firmly established and only one further route lay open for him, the World Rally Championship. Britain had been starved of success in the global standings since 1976 and Roger Clark's Lombard RAC win, but McRae changed all that with a win in New Zealand during 1993, followed by neighbouring Australia a matter of months later. A superb 93-94 season climaxed with first place in his home event, and the British crowds went wild for McRae's RAC win.

But the crowds didn't just take to McRae over his nationality. His swashbuckling style, reminiscent of James Hunt's Formula One, had become something of an 'all or nothing' mentality - he pushed his cars to the absolute limit, wowing the crowds but taxing his mechanics.

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