How the McRaes dominated the British championship

As Max McRae looks to make his mark in British rallying, we look back at the McRae family's BRC history

McRae 91 Manx

In the 14 years between 1981 and 1995, one family dominated the British Rally Championship. Clan McRae. Jimmy still delights in the fact he has more than double the number of British titles either of his sons – Colin and Alister – managed. But now it’s time for the next generation.

Max McRae was announced aboard an M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally2 for four rounds of this year’s BRC on Friday. Gramps won two titles with the Blue Oval while uncle Colin and the old boy both took individual BRC event wins with Fords. It’s time for McRae MkIII.

But how did Lanark’s finest dominate for almost a decade and a half? Here’s a look back at those eight titles.

1981 – Jimmy McRae

Lombard RAC Rally Chester (GBR) 22-25 11 1981

Look at those cool customers in their swish Simpson lids... Jimmy McRae and Ian Grindrod aboard their Opel Ascona 400 in 1981

In 1973, Jimmy McRae was working for a heating company in Glasgow. While on a job in Lanark, he spotted a plumbing business for sale. Ten days later he owned it. Why is this important? Because he was a sensible business owner and sensible business owners don’t do motocross. They do rallying.

Eight years on from his decision to jump from two wheels to four, he became British Rally Champion. The works Opel Ascona 400 he used to lift that maiden title was a long way from the £300 Ford Cortina he’d started out in.

A second successive Circuit of Ireland win was a big boost for McRae’s maiden title-winning campaign, but it was the consistency he and Ian Grindrod found that sealed the deal. The pair were never off the podium all year as they showed Tony Pond’s Vauxhall Chevette HSR the way home.

1982 – Jimmy McRae

Rally Costa Smeralda 01-03 04 1982 Porto Cervo

The duo defended their title in 1982, once again making the most of the Ascona's durability and speed

Every one of Jim’s five British titles are impressive, but the second was especially so. By the end of the 1982 campaign the top six included the names Henri Toivonen, Hannu Mikkola, Russell Brookes, Björn Waldegård and Ari Vatanen – but above them all was the name McRae. Just months after dominating the 1981 RAC Rally, Audi’s quattro made its first big impression on the British series as Mikkola dominated the 1982 season-opening Mintex. McRae, fourth, made his feelings about four-wheel drive and Finns perfectly clear…

But got his own back with another Circuit win, where Mikkola manhandled the Audi to sixth. Second on the Scottish was one place down on where he wanted to be – but he made up for that with a stunning Manx win and back-to-back titles.

1984 – Jimmy McRae

Lombard Rac Rally, Chester (GB) 25-29 11 1984

There was a third British title in 1984, this time in the stunning AC Delco Opel Manta 400. Who doesn't love a Manta shot? (Pictured here on the RAC)

Hat-trick hopes were dashed by Stig Blomqvist and an Audi, but McRae put a winless 1983 behind him to cast Mikkola’s seemingly all-conquering quattro into the shade in 1984. The defending world champion took an Audi UK-backed A2 to victory in Yorkshire, Wales and Scotland. Two rounds out and all bets were off. Seventeen points in the clear, Mikkola was looking good for a repeat of his 1978 crown.

McRae had other ideas. This was the first year he and Brookes were running the same car – the Manta 400 – and both had designs on being number one. It wasn’t all plain sailing for Jimmy, even his usual metronomic Circuit of Ireland win went south when his AC Delco-backed car suffered a head gasket failure.

Walter Röhrl demonstrated four-wheel drive could win on British asphalt with an Ulster success for Audi’s unwieldy Sport quattro. But an utterly dominant Manx win over Bertie Fisher was enough for three titles in four years.

1987 – Jimmy McRae

Lombard Rac Rally Chester (GBR) 22-25 11 1987

After a brief dalliance with a Lancia in Yorkshire, McRae Sr (Sr) switched to an RED Sierra RS Cosworth for 1987 (pictured here on the RAC)

The end of Group B left Jimmy in limbo ahead of 1987. With the Prodrive-run Metro 6R4 now illegal, was there anything four-wheel drive available? Widnes-based team RED Motorsport started talking to Lancia about running a Delta HF 4WD. A stop-gap car was provided for a disastrous National Breakdown outing – 11th wasn’t the start McRae had been hoping for.

It soon became clear that Turin wasn’t going to be able to supply parts for McRae’s campaign, so RED ditched its Italian job and went route one… to Boreham.

Ford was persuaded to supply a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth. McRae’s first outing? The Circuit… back to winning ways. Sadly, a home win in Scotland still eluded him. He led for much of the event, but went off near the finish and ended up second – by 11 seconds – to David Llewellin’s Coupé quattro.

Third in an all-new Sierra on the Ulster put him in pole position for a title he signed and sealed with a season-closing Manx win.

1988 – Jimmy McRae

Rally 24 Hours of Ypres (BEL) 24-26 06 1988

Same car, same result, Jimmy took a fifth British win with the Ford in 1988. And you're right, this is indeed the Scot in the Sierra in Belgium that season

Back behind the wheel of the Sierra for another title defence, the year started badly for Jimmy. Chasing Pentti Airikkala’s unexpectedly rapid Mitsubishi Starion through Yorkshire, McRae went off in Dalby. Winning the Circuit brought business as usual while second place in Wales kept him in sight of the title race. Now, to Scotland…

And, finally, the victory he’d been waiting for! Having finished second for the for the sixth time in 1987, nothing would get in the way of a McRae Scottish win. Not even one-off Ford team-mate Didier Auriol stood a chance as the home hero blew everybody away on the Glasgow-based event. Airikkala was still out front but his campaign faded as McRae’s came on strong. First and second in Ulster and the Manx respectively were enough for the high five.

By the end of that 1988 season there was, however, a second McRae being talked about. Delighted with his own Scottish Rally success, Jim was the proudest of parents as he saw Colin storm the top 10 overall in a 1300cc Nova. The second generation was coming…

1991 – Colin McRae


Having watched his father take forever to win the Scottish, Colin managed it in no time at all. His 1991 home win was a cracker

Weeks before the start of the 1991 season, Colin looked to be high and dry. Ironically after more than the odd bent panel, he’d turned in a sensational end to the 1990 season – second on the Audi Sport on his debut aboard an RED-run Ford Sierra RS Cosworth 4×4, he topped that with an awesome sixth overall on the RAC Rally in the same car.

But then nothing. Until David Richards called. He had an idea. And a Subaru Legacy RS.

Just five years after his dad had driven a Banbury-built, Rothmans-liveried rally car, Colin was doing the same.

McRae Jr was straight into the game, winning on his debut aboard the Legacy and backing that up with more success at round two, the Circuit of Ireland. Crashing off the road in Wales wasn’t ideal, but Colin was straight back on it with a much celebrated Scottish win at the next round. Transmission failure on the Ulster gave Brookes the sniff of another British title for himself, but a Manx win and second to David Llewellin’s Nissan Sunny GTi-R on the Audi Sport was enough for the younger McRae to wear the British crown.

1992 – Colin McRae


Fully sideways on fat slicks, that tells you everything you need to know about Mr 100% in 1992. McRae and the Subaru dominated

Six rallies and six wins. McRae and co-driver Derek Ringer simply destroyed the opposition in their title defence. Nobody came close. Such was McRae’s dominance that he was trying to persuade Prodrive to give him a Group N Subaru by the middle of the season – he fancied engaging in a far more entertaining Showroom title scrap that involved his younger brother Alister and a certain Richard Burns.

1995 – Alister McRae

slh_95-1000lacs143 2

Alister is the most recent McRae to win the British title. Max is looking to spoil his dad's stat...

This was the year the organisers of the British Rally Championship took the plunge and went Formula 2. There was a considerable hullabaloo around the banning of A8 cars, but Alister McRae was on hand to demonstrate the full potential of A7. Yes, his Nissan might have been lacking a turbocharger and a rear diff, but the Scot put the Sunny GTi on its doorhandles in Wales in March and left it there until the Manx in September.

At the mid-point of the year, McRae, his Nissan team-mate Grégoire de Mevius and Finnish Opel driver Jarmo Kytolehto were tied on points. An Ulster win and a podium third in Douglas were enough for a third McRae name to be added to the silverware.