It was Chester 1995 all over again. He had just won the World Rally Championship, and the crowd were cheering him on. Nothing for it, throw the car down a couple of cogs and pitch it into some donuts – flat-four roaring and Saltire flag trailing out of the passengers’ window.
For a few moments last Sunday, Max McRae got to be his uncle. He may have been at Knockhill Racing Circuit instead, and he hadn’t won the WRC – his day may come in the future. But sat there, in L555 BAT, Max got to taste what it must have been like to be Colin McRae.
There can’t be many of us who haven’t had that same dream. But given the family connection, it was rather more personal for Max. The fact that his sister, Emmie, was sitting there with him made it even more emotional.
Max was just three years old when Colin passed away. Pretty soon afterwards Max and his dad Alister moved from Lanark to Australia and settled down for their own life. But the last few weeks back in Europe have given Max the opportunity to fully embrace his family heritage.
Not that he hasn’t already been doing that.
“From Colin’s first event from 1990 I’ve watched like all of it,” he said.
“I’ve seen all of his moments like when we had to slow down in Spain and didn’t, to the Rally GB where he won. So I’ve watched a lot of it, I’ve done my homework!”
But seeing – and hearing – it all first-hand was a new experience. Max’s young career has flown under the radar to-date all the way over in Australia, but his recent exploits on the Donegal International Rally, at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, last weekend’s McRae Rally Challenge and then again this weekend on the Nicky Grist Stages have thrust him into the spotlight.
But more than that, it’s allowed him a chance to spend some proper quality time with his family and learn just what it means, both for himself and to others, to be a McRae in rallying. No event hammered that point home more than the McRae Challenge.
“It’s fantastic to see how much interest there is, people jumping in to get autographs including with me and my dad and my gramps, so it’s pretty special to see that,” Max said.
“It does get quite emotional but you try and hide it, and it is special – especially with all the cars, hundreds of people looking at the cars and the parades, everyone’s out at the barriers still watching. It’s pretty special to see how many people still love and follow the family.
“And it’s been good to be here with the whole family back together, especially with my sister,” he added.
“Unfortunately my mom couldn’t make it, she got sick, but to have my sister here at all the events has been really cool.
“Just to have all the family at all the events, it’s hard to get them all to come to events now obviously as I’m in Australia now, so it is really special to have them all at events now as a family.”
Max of course has his father Alister and gramps Jimmy to lean on in terms of advice, but much like with Ayrton and Bruno Senna in Formula 1, it’s such a shame Max never got a chance to work with his uncle.
But Colin’s legacy will clearly never disappear, and Max has first-hand access to all of the memories and tales that keep his spirit around today.
“With Nicky and Derek Ringer and those big names here [at Knockhill] you hear the stories from them,” said Max.
“Derek was telling me about how strong the wing was on the Sierra Cosworth, he said he’d be safer sitting on the wing being in a car with Colin because the car would be absolutely destroyed after a crash, and the big whale-tail wing would just be sitting perfectly.
“You do hear all the stories and it’s heart-warming to hear all the stories, especially with all the memorabilia, all of Colin’s trophies and helmets you see that back at my aunty’s house and my grandparents’ house, and I see all my gramps’ trophies from the Metro and his glory days, it’s pretty special.”
There’s always room for more in the trophy cabinet though. And that’s why it was impossible not to feel moved by the sight of Max donuting Colin’s championship-winning Impreza at the weekend.
A new generation is here. The baton had spiritually been passed.
Colin will always be irreplaceable, but Max is ready to continue the family legacy and make his uncle proud.