When Grist helped McRae answer a different call

When you've got to go, you've got to go. As Nicky Grist found out on the 1997 Safari Rally

Safari Rally Nairobi (EAK) 01-03 03 1997

Martijn Wydaeghe’s story of steering a rally car from the wrong seat is nothing new. His fellow co-driver Nicky Grist has a very similar story of directing operations from the right-hand seat. But for a very different reason.

Wydaeghe was called upon because Thierry Neuville got his hand stuck in his seat while adjusting his belts on Friday’s first full day of competition in Africa. The reason Grist downed the notes was for Colin McRae to answer the call of nature.

We’re going back to the 1997 Safari and the start of the second day. Grist and McRae are leading overnight and roll into a pre-dawn service on the shores of Lake Naivasha. The Subaru Impreza WRC97 is fettled while the pair of them are fed fluids.

“We had a new fitness coach,” said Grist, “and his big thing was hydration. He told us it was going to be hot and we had to get plenty of fluid in.”

Safari Rally Nairobi (EAK) 01-03 03 1997

Subaru's history-making winners were well and truly hydrated throughout the 1997 Safari Rally

Arriving at the start of the first section and Grist is preparing himself for the 100 miles which lay ahead. Colin had a question.

“How much time have we got?”

“None. We’ve got to go now.”

And in they went. Into the stage they’d nicknamed “The Road to Hell.”

Over to you, Nick.

“That stage was so bad,” he said. “The first section, we must have averaged around 50kph (30mph) along a destroyed railway line. After that, we came onto a fast and wide section that led to Elmentita crossroads. We were doing about 160kph (100mph) when Colin leaned across and said: “I need a p***.”

Colin McRae Story
Take the wheel! I can't hold it any longer. Colin McRae

“We couldn’t stop, so I just reassured him he’d be fine. We turned and went onto a short, but flat asphalt section. Colin accelerated through the gears until we were flat in sixth.

“Then he shouted: “Take the wheel! I can’t hold it any longer…” He undid his belts, jammed his foot on the throttle and turned himself to his side so he could pee out of the door. What he hadn’t realized is that if you try to open a car door at 160kph, you’ve got no chance. So he ended up having a pee against the inside door panel!

“And there we were, flat out with my left hand on the wheel passing donkeys at the side of the road. I was conscious we were coming up to the end of the asphalt with a series of big potholes before a village… and Colin was still peeing. At the last possible moment he fell into the seat, grabbed the wheel and we went broadside through the village and continued on to the end of the stage.”

They won the stage by three minutes. And the event by seven.

There are plenty more stories like this one in McKlein’s brilliant book: McRae, just Colin.