The atmosphere was thick with anticipation, trepidation and deep, deep frustration. Subaru drivers Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae - running first and second on the eve of the rally’s final day - had been told to stay where they were. No fighting. Sainz was to win; McRae second, Subaru champions.
And yet, here they were, Sunday service, the end of the event and McRae was leading by nine seconds. “I felt, the night before [the final day], we had an agreement between the drivers to hold station - albeit reluctantly,” team principal David Richards recalled for Autosport’s McRae bookazine recently.
Talk to those present at that meeting of the crews the previous evening and everybody has a different recollection. Certainly, McRae and Sainz had a different interpretation - which is why the Scot went racing.
Such was Subaru’s desire to maintain some privacy in its decision making, senior team members Nigel Riddle and John Spiller were dispatched to the middle of the final stage in an effort to remind McRae and co-driver Derek Ringer of the previous evening’s discussion. It’s a good job Riddle and Spiller were light on their feet. McRae lifted for a nanosecond before sweeping past the blue shirts.
Back in Lloret, after a lengthy debate in the back of the truck with Richards and his father Jimmy, Colin realised his best option was to take a time penalty and finish second to Sainz.
As McRae made his way to the ramp a riled runner-up, another Subaru team member was dispatched the pick up the bin the Scot had hoofed as he got back into his Impreza 555.
That rally was about much more than just a rally. Fortunately for McRae, he dominated the final round of the season and partied hard after his RAC Rally victory won him his first world title.
There was relief for Richards, too: “It would have been terribly unjust if they hadn’t got the result they did on the following [RAC] rally - and I would probably have lived to regret that decision [in Catalunya] for a long time. But, as fortune would have it, I didn’t have to.”