My son Colin McRae: Jimmy McRae on the rally legend, CAR+ archive, February 2013

Published: 28 December 2015

► CAR interviews Colin McRae's dad, Jimmy
► A proud father remembers his son's talents
► 'I was more proud of his achievements than mine'

1985 - The first rally

‘Colin was 17 and had just passed his driving test when we went away for a couple of weeks and he stayed at home. Somehow he got his competition licence, borrowed a car from someone at the Coltness Car Club, changed the gearbox with Barrie Lochhead – a mechanic who went on to work with Colin and Alister – and finished his first rally in 11th.

'Colin was still into his motocross then and we knew he would have a go at rallying at some point, I just didn’t expect it then. When I got home I thought “bloody hell, think of what could have gone wrong! It was a borrowed car!” I’d have been more cautious if I’d have been around.

'I was a little bit annoyed with Colin, but it was a proud moment.’

1988 The giant-killing Nova

‘I won the Scottish Rally in a Sierra Cosworth, but Colin came eighth overall and won his class in a 1300cc Nova – I was more proud of his achievements than mine, even though I’d been trying to win that rally for ages.

'It was done on a budget – Colin was on remoulds, the others were on Pirellis – so it was a proper giant-killing performance. I remember Andrew Cowan [ex-rally driver and boss of Ralliart Europe] saying that normally you’d watch the first few cars come through and then leave to get to the next stage, but everyone was hanging on to see this Nova – and that was coming from Andrew Cowan!

'That year I won the British Championship and Colin won the Scottish Championship – there was a big party in Lanark that night! My career was winding down, and I was focusing more on Colin’s. He scored points with four or five different cars that year: his Nova, a Nissan 240RS, a Peugeot, a Sierra Cosworth…'

Out-flying-Finning the flying Finns on the '92 1000 Lakes. Battered Legacy still finished eighth in his first WRC event

1989 - Finishes fifth in New Zealand

‘I entered two Ford Sierra Cosworths on the New Zealand WRC rally with help from Ford and Shell and my friend Gary Smith – one car for me and one for Colin. I crashed out, but Colin finished fifth, the youngest guy ever to score so highly at that level.

'I was so proud of Colin that I almost forgot how badly I’d done.’

1990 - RAC drive bags Prodrive contract

‘The RAC Rally was the event where all the other drivers – Markku Alén, Hannu Mikkola – all thought, “bloody hell, who’s coming through like this?” Colin had a four-door Sierra Cosworth, which he rolled and we had to use a barn-door slip-bolt to hold the door closed, but he still managed to finish in sixth. 

'By that time it was all costing me a fortune. Buyright was supposed to be the main sponsor, and the guy was very enthusiastic, but they never paid us, so most of it was coming out of my pocket. But because of Colin’s performance on that rally, we got the drive with Dave Richards and Subaru. We were trying with Ford, and Vauxhall were interested with the Astra, so tongue-in-cheek I phoned Dave Richards and he said “we’ll go for it” because of all the interest Colin was creating.

'Colin went on to win the 1991 British Championship and a few abroad that year too, in the Legacy.’

1992 - Into the WRC

‘Colin went back in for the 1992 British Championship, but he also got to do selected WRC rounds. He won every round of the British Championship that year and he took the WRC in his stride. By that time he’d made up his mind that he wanted to be world champion, and that was his goal – there was no panic. He rolled a couple of times on the 1000 Lakes rally but still finished eighth – he won the hearts of the Finns that year with his determination. He finished the RAC in sixth, which was pretty special.’

1993 - Wins first WRC event

‘Colin did selected rounds of the 1993 world rally championship again, plus some Asia Pacific rounds. He finished third in Sweden, the youngest ever driver to do that and the only ever Brit to score so highly on snow. He went on to do New Zealand and ended up winning in the Legacy – Subaru’s first ever WRC win, as well as Colin’s.

'I wasn’t there and we didn’t have the internet back then, so it was costing me a fortune in phone calls. But my friend Gary Smith was out there and he called me and said “your son has won his first world championship rally”. There were very few mobile phones then, so I got to speak to Colin at the finish, and there were a few tears in the eye that night. The Prodrive lot were high as kites.’

1994 - Wins rally GB

‘It was the Impreza era by now. On the Monte Carlo rally Colin was going very well but the spectators shovelled snow on the road and he went off – but he still finished. Colin really liked New Zealand and he won there and in Australia, so the wins were coming. And then he had his first win on our home event. The atmosphere was electric – everybody did that rally – and it couldn’t get any better, basically. Ari Vatanen and Alén – guys there I’d competed against – they were proud for me and coming up to offer their congratulations.’

This was McRae's peak: a win on home soil to take the 1995 world title. Doesn't get any better than that

1995 - Wins world title

‘After the disappointment of Catalunya and team orders to get Colin to slow down for Carlos [Sainz], we came to our home event [the RAC Rally] with the world title still up for grabs. Colin had no doubt, even when they had a puncture and damaged the suspension. He just said “no problem”.

'He still had to try hard on that final stage and win the rally. I was thinking “he should be here by now” and then he came over the flying finish and Carlos came through over a minute later.

'Colin had to get it back to Chester on the road for the finish to win the world championship, so we were just praying there’d be no mechanical issues. It was a big relief to get it there. Standing at the finish ramp in Chester was the proudest moment of my life.’

1996 - Receives MBE

‘Colin got an MBE from the Queen in 1996 and Margaret and I went down to London – very proud when you see your son get that, and he was proud of that one, Colin was quite choked. The Queen said she’d seen him on TV.’

1999 - Wins safari rally

‘The Focus was a brand new car and we were off to the Safari rally and we thought, well, we better leave our tickets open for coming back because they’d done no testing, and Toyota used to spend three months out there beforehand. We thought that if we got it to the end it would be fantastic.

'Colin never won a stage on that rally, but he got in a rhythm of not breaking the car but keeping pegging away at the times – and he won. For [Ford M Sport boss] Malcolm Wilson, it was a dream come true; [Mitsubishi driver Tommi] Mäkinen couldn’t believe it. 

'Everyone says Colin was flamboyant and rough, but he proved he could drive with his head, and he won that one against all the odds. He was unlucky not to win the championship with Ford.’

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator