Mac Kierans was in his element. You don’t get Greggs back in Australia, so the woft of a bacon roll had his name all over it.
So much so that, in his excitement, he dropped it.
“Three second rule,” he smiled, before taking another bite.
“It’s so good,” added Max McRae, opting for fruit as well as his roll.
But glee over breakfast aside, the atmosphere had changed. There was an air of determination within the EDSL Sport service camp that housed McRae’s Ford Fiesta Rally4 for the weekend.
Each of the past three weekends had been special in their own right. Straight into the deep end for the Donegal International Rally over his 18th birthday weekend, McRae took on a gruelling three-day rally – his first in Europe – and came away with a podium in class.
Then it was on to the Goodwood Festival of Speed, where he got to try out several of his family’s famous cars as well as Steve Rimmer’s gorgeous Audi Quattro.
And last time out at the McRae Rally Challenge, McRae sampled a Fiesta Rally2 for the first time alongside celebrations of what his uncle Colin managed to achieve in world rallying.
But in Builth Wells for the Nicky Grist Stages, McRae’s sights were set higher. The next four words that left his lips said it all.
“I want to win.”
That wouldn’t be as easy as it sounded. The Junior British Rally Championship is a seriously competitive arena and McRae was up against drivers who’d been on these stages before and slugged it out for glory.
And yet, it was the McRae and Kierans combo that topped the very first stage – Llyn Login – to show the rest how it was done.
Unfortunately a small mistake on SS2 pegged them back and McRae arrived back to Builth Wells for service down in third place.
“It was good to go out straight away and see a stage win, it shows our notes are good and we can commit to them on the first run,” he surmised.
“We had a little mistake on the second run – we were just a bit hot into a corner on the loose stuff so we had to go into a little open way and turn around, but that cost us maybe 10 seconds.
“We’ll have a push on the last four stages and see if we can make up some time and try and get to the top, but if not we’ll try to get to second and get to the end of the rally.”
Alister McRae doesn’t enjoy his son heading out onto the stages – it’s a nerve-wracking experience. But his advice is still as sound as ever.
“Dad was just saying keep on the swept line and the clean line, there’ll be grip there, and if you go off then it’ll be slippery which is what happened to us when we were a bit ambitious into the late braking on stage two,” said Max, sheepishly.
But there was nothing sheepish about McRae’s driving in the afternoon. The 18-year-old picked up another stage win and was right in the hunt for victory before ultimately having to settle for third when he spun on the final test.
“Yeah we were coming here with the mindset of winning,” McRae began. “As we do on every rally I guess, but I knew it was going to be tricky and I was ready for whatever it threw at us.
“But two stage wins and third in the Junior British championship is really good.”
It was more than that, it was special. Not just because it highlighted McRae’s raw pace and progression since coming over to Europe for the last four weeks, but he followed in the footsteps of all of his rallying relatives in proving his potential in the BRC.
“We’ve ticked the box with the first British round I’ve done, and given my gramps, my dad and uncle Colin all competed here it’s good to see where we’re at and that we can be fighting and be quicker in some stages than the top guys who are, I’d say, pretty close to Junior WRC pace at the minute,” McRae added.
“There’s some quick boys and it’s good to see we’re on the pace, and sometimes quicker than them.”
Alister’s smile told its own story.
“Yeah it’s great. Obviously that’s the third generation of McRae to tackle the British championship and to come here when we’ve had a really busy month – the experience he gained in Donegal was awesome and translated into what he’s done here.
“To come to Wales for the first time, to make notes and commit, he’s done that. He’s had two quickest times, a couple of spins which for me means he’s trying, which is what he wanted, but he’s third Junior in his first time in Britain, that’s pretty impressive.
“I said to him at the start if you’re close to them that’s awesome, because they have got more experience, they’ve done the events. To be quickest on the first stage out is really good, and he’s driven with his brain.
“He actually texted me to see what he should do on the last one, and I said have a go, don’t lose the good result you’ve already got a great result.
“And he said the tires were pretty bad by that point and he got caught in the loose and spun, and by that point he decided he’d get it out of the stage. So he’s driving with his head as well.
“At 18 years old with not a lot of experience, that’s pretty impressive.”
By the time you read this, Max, Alister and Mac will likely already have landed back home in Australia. It’s been one of the most intense periods of the youngest McRae’s career, but one of the most important.
He of course had plenty to gain from the trip, but McRae had plenty to lose too. If he’d struggled, questions may have been raised as to whether he could cut it. Now the only question that lingers is when, not if, the McRae name returns to the World Rally Championship.
A Greggs breakfast may be out the window when that day comes. Not that Kierans was buying DirtFish’s theory that it was one of the UK’s most famous bakeries that powered this podium performance.
“It was just pure talent,” grinned Kierans.
While light-hearted in nature, his quip was abundantly true. We’ve only just seen the start of McRae and Kierans’ journey.