Having spent the last week in 1995, I can confirm the Network Q RAC Rally was as good second time around as it was 25 years ago.
The last quarter of a century has served that event as well as it might a Macallan single malt emerging from a sherry cask after the same period.
It’s a classic. Arguably the finest World Rally Championship round ever run. I might be biased. But I don’t think so.
In writing his Motoring News report 25 years ago tonight (Sunday), David Williams offered the following in his introduction.
“McRae and co-driver Derek Ringer had not only become the first British World Rally Champions, but they had seized the crown after a performance that will pass into rallying legend.”
As you’ll have seen if you’re a regular in this corner of cyberspace, we’re big fans of the 1995 season – #95Live has been a significant event for DirtFish – and the last week has delivered worrying levels of fever. In the very best of ways.
Talking to those people at the very heart of McRae and Ringer’s success meant reliving exceptional memories with then Subaru team principal David Richards, technical director David Lapworth, chief engineer Alan McGuinness and technician Charlie Dodd. The memories shared from the business end of 1995 were fabulous and formed part of our 1995 RAC video and podcast tributes to what was an unforgettable week.
On top of a trip to Prodrive, Colin Clark, Gary Osbourne and I headed back to the woods, returning to some of the iconic locations from that season.
I’ll be honest, standing outside the Braich Goch in developing drizzle, waiting for the number 34 to Aberllefenni to depart both the bus stop and our shot, it didn’t feel especially iconic. Bus gone. Stories told and the magic was back.
The stop line on SS28 was a different matter altogether. It had taken RAC co-ordinator Andrew Kellitt’s brilliance (and a wee while on Google earth) to find the right place, but we reckoned we had it sorted.
We were bound for the end of Ringer’s favourite sentence.
“Two hundred, six crest, 400, six crest and six crest, 50 to stop.”
I’d been in this exact same place 25 years earlier with my father, but hadn’t been back for a few years. I was entirely confident I would remember it. How could I forget it?
I’d completely forgotten it. The rise – and fall – of trees can complicate things.
The end of that stage is a little bit in the middle of nowhere and, when the wind whistled through the trees to deliver dogs howling and screaming of some sort, we were back in the car quicker than we were out of it. Genuinely apprehensive, courtesy of Clark watching too many ridiculous murder documentaries, we gave it another go.
In the absence of any mad axemen – or women – we walked up the incline towards the finish of Clocaenog East.
Beyond the slight hill, right before us, it all made sense. This was the last of Derek’s six crests.
It was here. Here. This very spot was where Scotland ruled the world.
At that moment, there really was something special. Having watched the onboard over and over again, to be standing at the stop line was incredibly poignant. I thought it was just me, but Colin and Gary were just the same. Realization had stopped us all in our tracks. Recognition of this place and that time demanded its own moment.
And in that moment, it must have been very hard for Clark not to come over all William Wallace.
“They can take our times. But they’ll never take our title…”
1995 was all about Braveheart. And nothing to do with Mel Gibson. Colin McRae was Scotland the Brave.
From Clocaenog, there was only one direction: Chester.
In 1995, cars were literally dumped everywhere during the RAC Rally. A parking ticket and being towed away by the authorities was a price well worth paying just to see history being made, to see Colin light those Pirellis up in a series of unforgettable donuts.
To stand before the grandstand where Colin and Derek were crowned was almost a moment from another world. I could almost hear my voice and that of my father joining the cheering of one word. One name.
These emotions are, of course, heightened by the fact that the 1995 drivers’ champion is no longer with us.
Over the last week, we’ve reached for period commentary, with plenty of it coming from McRae’s friend and biographer David Williams, who died two years before the champ. How we’d have loved to listen in to DKW and the flying Scot recalling the magic of the moment. Together. One last time.
What Colin McRae did on this day 25 years ago has passed into legend. What was a seminal moment for British rallying is now recognized as a genuinely game-changing performance. Like I said, I’m biased, but this is the rally that will be remembered forever.
When I talk about watching the #4 Subaru Impreza 555 on the 1995 RAC Rally, there’s always that bit more verve. The car’s just that bit more sideways. That bit more spectacular. That bit more special.
And it’s the comprehension of that achievement that surely has to bring comfort to the family where tragedy struck, 12 years on from that triumph.
Over the last two-and-a-bit decades in this job, I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know the McRaes well. Jimmy and Margaret are warm, lovely, funny people. Colin’s brothers, Alister and Stuart, just the same. Then there’s Alison and Hollie, two of the strongest and most together women I’ve ever met. When she was young, my daughter met Colin and Alison’s first born and has been forever struck by the force that was and is Hollie McRae.
A few years ago, I helped put together a magazine about Colin. Part of that magazine meant sitting around the kitchen table and talking about every aspect of the lives of Colin and Johnny. That’s another story for another day, but as we let the curtain fall on this epoch-making moment, let’s listen to Hollie.
“My Dad has left a legacy not just for me, but for the world of rallying. He told me to never give up and stand up for what you believe in. He also said that you only live once, so do what you want to do and don’t let others rule your life.
“And, in the words of the legendary band Queen, ‘One by one, only the good die young’.”
At 27 years and 109 days, Colin McRae remains the youngest ever World Rally Champion. Crowned today, 1995.
And he was good. So, very, very good.