Twenty-three years on from when it happened, DirtFish can reveal Colin McRae tested a Ford Escort with a view to leaving Subaru to move to Ford for the 1998 World Rally Championship season – a year earlier than it actually happened.
It’s no secret that the Scot had discussions with Malcolm Wilson about joining the Ford team a year ahead of his actual start date with the Focus RS WRC – but the news that he actually tested a car is only now being revealed on DirtFish by Wilson and Colin’s father Jimmy.
While McRae had won his world title with Subaru two years earlier, he had become frustrated with engine problems aboard the Impreza WRC97. Despite winning the final three rounds of the 1997 season – in Sanremo, Australia and Great Britain – McRae went ahead with testing the Escort.
“There were some things with the car [Subaru] around that time,” Jimmy McRae told DirtFish. “Things like the cambelt problem or the problem with the turbo.
“Colin wanted to test the Ford, he wanted to see what it was like.
“He knew the Escort [Cosworth] was maybe a bit long in the tooth, but he wanted to drive one to see what it was like.
“It was a secret test with Ford, nobody knew and we had to keep it quiet.”
Wilson remembers the test well.
“It was in Ennerdale Forest,” said M-Sport’s managing director. “I was there, I went to that test – as you could imagine, I was keen to know what Colin thought. I remember the car he drove, everything, the test went well.”
McRae’s response differed depending on which of the two British champions you ask.
Wilson: “Ah, you remember what Colin was like. He didn’t give too much away: ‘Aye, not so bad…'”
To his father, praise for the Escort was more fulsome.
Jimmy: “He came out of it and he said to me: ‘I could win with that car.’”
Wilson’s efforts to prise McRae from Subaru’s grasp went unrewarded in 1997, but he did make the jump a year later.
McRae spent four years with Wilson’s team, winning nine rallies and coming within two points of the 2001 WRC title in a Focus.
The Scot did, of course, drive a Ford in public in the 1997 season, running his father’s British Rally Championshipt-winning Sierra RS Cosworth as course car on the Colin McRae Forest Stages in the August of that year.
To mark the 25th anniversary of Colin McRae’s dramatic 1995 WRC title, DirtFish is reliving that year’s RAC Rally this week. Watch out for our #95Live as-it-happened tweets and daily reports on DirtFish