Saturday morning, Acropolis Rally, 2000. Colin McRae has a plan. The Mendenitsa stage, just south of Lamia, has a double jump near the finish. The approach is very, very fast. Coco’s thinking long and thinking hard.
The end result of that thought process is not one co-driver Nicky Grist was necessarily on the same page with.
“I think we can jump it,” was the McRae verdict.
Clearing both jumps would mean keeping the Ford Focus RS WRC ’00 absolutely pinned and praying the leap was long enough. If it worked, McRae and Grist would lift a whole load of seconds out of the best of the rest.
Predictably, nobody else had really thought of this. And if they had thought of it, they’d dismissed it in preference for going down the gears, rolling the two jumps and bringing the car out in one piece on the other side.
Colin always had the ability to read a road differently. But he still wasn’t absolutely sure.
To be sure, he asked his dad.
“Aye, I remember that,” Jimmy grinned when I quizzed him on the Mendenitsa moment.
“I took Colin’s recce car, an Escort Cosworth – just a pretty standard one with a cage in. Me and Campbell [Roy, Jimmy’s co-driver in the McRae gravel note car] went down there one evening just to take a look. Once we’d made sure nobody could come down the road we came down the straight and took off.
I knew it would be goodnight Irene if we didn’t make it.Nicky Grist
“We almost made it… We landed in the second jump. Aye, Malcolm [Wilson, M-Sport managing director] wasn’t too pleased when we got the Escort back there. There was a wee bit of damage at the front.”
What was the word for Colin?
“I told him he should be fine,” said Jimmy. “Don’t forget, he’d be coming down there a good bit quicker than we were and we almost made it!”
Going into the stage, Nicky asked Colin if they were going to do it.
“He said: ‘I’m not sure, I’ll see how I feel when I get there,'” Grist remembers. “I knew it would be goodnight Irene if we didn’t make it.
“We came out of a corner and I called the straight and the jumps. Just when I was expecting to feel the car braking heavily, Colin kept his foot in and I thought: ‘Oh Christ, he’s going for it!’
“The crest kicked the back of the car into the air. We made it and landed it, but I thought it was a bit dodgy. I told him and said I thought it probably best not to do it on the second run of the stage in the afternoon.
“The reply was typical Colin. ‘No, no, no, I took it a wee bit to the left. We’ll go more to the right this afternoon.'”
They did. They won.
McRae. My hero.