Max McRae couldn’t have been clearer. Forget the fact this was his first ever rally in a Rally2 car, the 18-year-old had his sights set.
“I want to win!”
And he did. No, he didn’t win the second-ever McRae Rally Challenge – postponed by COVID-19 to 2022 to celebrate 25 years since his uncle Colin won the World Rally Championship – but he was the fastest McRae.
And make no mistake, that’s what mattered.
The McRae Rally Challenge first ran back in 2015 and was won by Max’s dad, Alister. But this year, for the first time ever, three generations of the McRae dynasty were out on the same special stages against the very same clock.
Max perhaps had an equipment advantage, strapped into the very latest Rally2 technology from Cockermouth. But Alister’s machine wasn’t far off – a Hyundai Accent WRC that the 1995 British champion drove in the WRC two decades ago.
Jimmy was theoretically on the back foot, competing with one fewer driveshaft and far-older technology. The man that started it all was at the controls of a Ford Escort Mk2.
“I think they’re more worried than me,” Jimmy said ahead of battle.
“They don’t want to get beaten by a 78-year-old in a 40-year-old car!”
Ultimately, Max and Alister didn’t. But Jimmy, ever the competitor, was tactical with his wording.
“I think I was third,” he smiled.
Not last, third.
But there was a rather symbolic and poignant moment when Max was catching Jimmy up down the straight and Jimmy, without hesitation, pulled over at the chicane and almost came to a standstill to ensure that Max got a clear run through the stage.
A legend passing over the baton, a new era has been ushered in.
So what of Jimmy’s son and grandson?
It was a tricky Rally2 bow for Max. A slipping clutch on the second stage pegged back his pace, but more fundamentally he struggled with a faulty handbrake – a big problem on the tight and twisty ‘rally school’ section of Knockhill – and then its power-steering on the final stage of Saturday.
Little wonder then that McRae described the first day as “one of the trickiest of my program so far in 2022”.
Max continued: “The conditions were really tricky and slippery with a lot of people cutting the corners, dragging mud onto the stages.”
Who was that down to?
“I think everyone knows who it was,” Max grinned. “It was that boy over there in the Hyundai…”
“Well, you get old and mature and get to run first on the road, you’ve got to f*** the rest of them!” he laughed.
“I did my best.”
Saturday was a trying day for Alister too though, running well before his Accent WRC encountered cooling-pack issues and restricted him to a crawl through the last stage of the day.
The dawning of a new day didn’t immediately switch around fortunes either. Alister ran into boost problems on Sunday’s opener and Max was still struggling without a properly functioning handbrake on his Fiesta.
Alister unfortunately wouldn’t make the finish as his Hyundai ran into fuel pump issues within the sight of the final time control, but the potential from his boy was clear – Max going fastest of all on the last stage of the event.
“We were definitely pushing,” Max said.
“We had a bit of a moment over a bump but we just kept it flat and it was OK, but we were having a good push and it definitely means a lot to win that stage, it shows us where we against the boys in the Rally2 cars.
“I was dreaming about driving this car all season and it’s definitely been more than what I expected, it’s just so pointy at the front and so good around the corners, it’s definitely the best car I’ve driven.
“We’ve learned a heap, so there’s not much more we could take away from the weekend.”
Except there is more he could takeaway. He’s now officially the fastest McRae.
“I beat my gramps but dad will make the excuse that the fuel pump went,” Max countered.
“I’d say he’ll use that as an excuse but I’ll take it as a win.”
Alister however was pragmatic: “If I wanted somebody to beat me he’s the one to beat me, so I’m quite happy,” he said. And he had plenty to be proud of his son for.
“It’s the first time in Rally2 and he’s been quick, quickest on the last stage was really good. We’re here to learn, he’s only 18, so he’s getting plenty of experience driving different cars and driving them quickly which is the main thing.”
Gramps Jimmy was just as impressed: “With what he did in Donegal as well, he’s proving to be very successful and just driving to his ability,” Jimmy assessed.
“He’s had one or two wee problems and sometimes when you have a problem you can get overexcited and try too much on the next stage but he seems to just drive at his speed, so I’m very, very proud of him.”
Garry Pearson, who won four national titles in the UK last season, led the rally from start to finish in his Fiesta Rally2 to defeat rallycross legend Andy Scott by 25 seconds.
It was an impressive feat from Pearson given he was competing alongside one of his sponsors, a novice co-driver, and was therefore driving without pacenotes and doing the timing himself.
Joe Cunningham rounded out the podium in a Fiesta R5.