Back in 1990, world-renowned rally writer David Williams interviewed McRae for Motoring News, the respected British weekly motorsport newspaper, highlights of which appear below.
Few rally drivers have made a name for themselves by the time they are 22, fewer still have become figures of controversy. Colin McRae has managed both, leaving a trail of stupefying results and bent and battered cars in his wake.
Whatever he does, he seems to be one of those people destined to make headlines. Rallying opinion divides into those who feel he is being given too much too soon, and those who recognise an extraordinary natural talent that needs every encouragement. Whichever view one takes, his sheer speed is beyond dispute.
Colin has a gift for controlling cars and bikes, and a single-minded fascination for anything with an engine that encompasses water skiing as well as cars and motorcycles.
He has wanted to be a rally driver since he was a boy, and scrambling and motocross were simply a means to an end: he wasn’t old enough to rally a car, so bikes would have to do instead. His skill was soon apparent: he was Scottish Junior Scrambles champion when he was 13, and followed that with the Intermediate Trials title.
By the time he was 14 or 15, Colin and his friends were buying cars from scrapyards, welding in roll cages, and racing one another on waste ground. He started autotesting when he was 16, winning the West of Scotland championship in a 1275 Mini, and changed to rallying as soon as he was old enough.
Colin isn’t arrogant. He has a good deal of faith in his own ability, with good reason, but he says so in a quiet, matter-of-fact tone. There is no trace of boasting, and he isn’t the sort of driver who dismisses advice. Yet he is headstrong, and he tends to learn things the hard way. “I like listening to advice off different people, but I always tend to think I know a bit better than them...Once you’re there and doing the job, it’s easily forgotten. Your own mind takes over and you forget about all the advice people have given you,” he explains, smiling.
It is probably true to say that little allowance was made for his youth and inexperience. He had to cope not simply with a powerful car with an engine some way ahead of its chassis, but the pressure of a works drive and the uncomfortable glare of a good deal of publicity. To an extent, he has lived with this from the moment he sat in his own rally car: Jim McRae’s son was always a story. He acknowledges that the publicity has often been good and that he has never had to struggle for recognition, but he also feels that he gets more criticism than another driver would when things go wrong.
Even at the age of 22, he has already reached the stage where the next move is no longer obvious. He has had a good season in the Open championship, and in trying circumstances. Driving a full Gp A Sierra Cosworth with RED service may not sound too trying, but he has never had a full budget, and he has continued on a precarious, rally-by-rally basis, needing a finish each time to stand a chance of entering the next event. It has probably been good discipline, and Colin feels he has learned a great deal this year, but he confesses that it has been hard going: “You’re always thinking about things and being too careful all the time, and it doesn’t do you any good. If somebody says to you ‘Do these four events,’ and you go and do them, then you just gear yourself up for it and get on with it. But if you’re always worrying about things... I just can’t relax and get on with the job.”
Rallying doesn’t offer a well-structured path to stardom, but McRae Junior has already decided that the Open championship offers no future. Naturally, he will take a drive if it is offered, but he points out that the winner rarely progresses to anything better. He has already decided that his target for 1991 is to contest around four major European or world championship rallies abroad.
He believes that he needs more experience of pace notes, and that the intensive, high-speed practising that Mediterranean drivers carry out partially accounts for their current success. His trip to Ypres this year gave him an idea of what to expect, and a taste for it. “There was one stage of the rally that we actually tested the rally car on... and on the rally we were quickest on that stage - and that’s the only stage we were quickest on, just because I knew when I was coming to certain bits that I could take them in fifth gear or fourth gear.”
Colin realises that he needs something apart from a few overseas drives to attain his ambition of a works drive at world championship level. He is thinking of going on a public speaking course and learning a foreign language, realising that both would be an asset to sponsors and manufacturers. Equally, dealing with the press has become easier with time. Impishly, he suggests that he used to avoid “people like you”.
His career has been an exercise in moulding a complete driver. So far, Colin McRae has managed to telescope the process of gaining experience and recognition that takes some British drivers 10 years into five, and there are signs that he is acquiring the judgement to match his speed. He has yet to encounter a major setback, and his ability should ensure that he gets the factory drive he seeks. However, he has reached the point where he needs a manufacturer to throw its full weight behind him, which will not be straightforward; the years ahead are likely to be harder than those behind.
Click here to find out how to buy McRae: Rallying’s most spectacular icon.