Twenty-five years ago today, Britain was waking up to its first drivers’ world rally champion. Colin McRae and Derek Ringer had emerged victorious from a see-saw battle with team-mates Carlos Sainz and Louis Moya on the RAC Rally and a set of icons was forever forged in the public consciousness.
Who can forget those celebratory donuts at Chester racecourse, the 555 sponsorship on the Subaru Impreza, the gold wheels, McRae’s fresh-faced appearance as he sprayed the bubbly on top of his car? Hundreds of thousands of people turned out to watch the rally as it criss-crossed the country, with the sort of wall-to-wall media coverage that would be unheard of today. Life for the WRC’s youngest champion, and its most spectacular driver, was about to be changed forever.
Tribes were created. I was only at school at the time and yet I remain a Subaru-phile all these years later. I’m lucky enough to have driven a selection of both Imprezas and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo cars over the years, but it was always the Subaru that I would have had as my own car.
McRae made double maths bearable for me. I used to sneak a copy of that week’s Autosport magazine into lessons, which was one of the few ways I could keep track of the stages in those pre-internet days. My parents had given me a small radio that year and I obsessively tuned in whenever I could to snatch a BBC 5Live update. It’s not being over-dramatic to say that this moment played a large part in defining my childhood. McRae was that important to me.
And here’s where all this has relevance today: could 2020 be another era-defining moment? The omens are looking good. We’ve got another Brit perched at the top of the championship with one round left: Elfyn Evans is a healthy, albeit not out-of-the-woods, 14 points ahead of his team-mate Sébastian Ogier. Toyota, just like Subaru did, has a brilliant road car to make the most of any rallying ‘bounce’ in the shape of the GR Yaris. Here’s hoping the stars align again.
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