Motorsport: FIVE Lesser-Known Facts About Colin McRae’s 1995 World Rally Championship

FIVE Lesser-Known Facts About Colin McRae’s 1995 World Rally Championship

James Gent By James Gent
November 26, 2019
2 comments

Last week, 24 years ago, Colin McRae won the 51st RAC Rally to secure his first World Rally Championship, and the first for Great Britain full-stop. Pretty much every ‘fun fact’ regarding that year’s Rallye Catalunya, McRae’s demon drive in Wales and the driving style that begat innumerable video games, we’re all familiar with.

But what about the lesser-known bits of trivia from that 1995 season? Those tidbits of info that has since been consigned to the footnotes of the WRC’s history books? Here, we dig out a sample.

1. McRae is still the youngest World Rally Champion in series history.

Kicking off with a fact that, admittedly, the more hardcore rally fans among you may already be familiar with, but one that bears repeating nonetheless. At 27 years and 109 days old, Colin McRae became the youngest WRC champion in history at the 1995 RAC Rally in Wales, pipping ’86 champion Juha Kankkunen by 140 days (4.5 months, give or take) in the process. Oddly, despite the record for youngest winner of a WRC event dropping since then – an almost 23-year-old Jari-Matti Latvala broke 24-year-old Henri Toivonen’s record at the 2008 Swedish Rally – none of the champions to have been crowned since 1995 have come close to even equalling McRae’s record, let alone breaking it.

The closest we got this century was in 2003 when Petter Solberg, at 28 years and 356 days, fell well over a year and a half short. Compare that also with newly crowned Ott Tänak, who sealed his first WRC crown this year at 32 years and 12 days old.

Never say never in motor racing of course, but it’s looking increasingly likely that McRae’s 24-year record isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

2. At the time, McRae’s points total was the third lowest for a World Rally Champion and ’95 was the third closest title fight.

A statistic that seems scandalous on the surface but starts to make sense the further into the quagmire one delves. For starters, the 1995 WRC season featured the least number of rallies in series history at eight, the one and only time the calendar has dipped beneath 10 rounds. On top of that, McRae’s accident in Monte Carlo and engine issues in Sweden meant the Scot went into the third round in Portugal with no points on the board compared with championship-leader Tommi Mäkinen’s 25.

Two wins that season, two 2nds, one 3rd and a solitary 5th though meant the ’95 champ eventually ended his season on 90 points, the lowest points total since Markku Alén scored 52 points in the Fiat 131 Abarth to secure the ’78 title. Only Sandro Munari winning the iunaugural crown in 1977 with the legendary Lancia Stratos ‘beats’ the pair of them with 31 points scored, and bear in mind on that occasion, only the Italian’s best eight results counted towards the FIA Cup for Rally Drivers.

Low-scoring? Perhaps. McRae ironically scored two points more – 92 – en-route to 2nd in the standings in 1996. Few title chases up to that point had been closer though, with just five points separating McRae from teammate Sainz at the flag. Only Munari’s one-point advantage over Björn Waldegård in 1977, and, aptly, the Swede’s own one-point advantage over Hannu Mikkola to claim the ’79 trophy had been closer before that.

3. Upon his coronation, Colin McRae had only ever won in New Zealand and Great Britain

When he was unceremoniously dropped by Citroën after the 2003 season, Colin McRae walked away from the WRC with 25 wins to his name, a total putting him 2nd on the all-time list before Messers Loeb, Ogier and Grönholm came along to decisively rip the record books in twain.

Still, of those 25 wins, McRae cemented himself into the WRC’s hall of fame with hero-making performances on the Acropolis, the Tour de Corse, in Catalunya, and, yes, on the vaunted Safari. Odd then that, having won his fifth WRC event to secure the title in 1995, the Scot at that point had only ever triumphed on the world stage on Rally New Zealand (’93, ’94 and ’95) and the RAC Rally in Wales (’94 and ’95). Fun fact, McRae and co-driver Derek Ringer’s inaugural win on the RAC in 1994 marked the first time an all-British pairing had won the British event since Roger Clark and Tony Mason in 1972. And on the event’s 50th running too, no less.

This would all be a moot point had team orders not been such an infamous factor on the ’95 Rallye Catalunya – which we’ll come back to in a second – and McRae would soon hush all doubters with seven wins across six different countries in 1996 and 1997. Still, strange to think that the ‘world’ champion in 1995 had, by that point, only been on the top step in two countries…

4. The Subaru World Rally Team took its first 1-2 finish in 1995. And immediately followed that up with its second!

Chances are you’ll remember the 1995 Rallye Catalunya for one of two reasons. Team principal David Richard’s ruling that Carlos Sainz would take the win on home turf over Subaru teammate, and main championship rival, Colin McRae at the penultimate round of the season went down about as well as the Duke of York’s tinder profile. McRae, red mist enveloping most of his helmet, summarily overhauled his Spanish teammate to the tune of eight seconds during the final stage, but later gifted the win back to Sainz by deliberately arriving at the final time control one minute late. ‘Winner takes all’, and one of the most memorable WRC season finales in history, was set.

Across in the Toyota camp meanwhile, an illegal turbo restrictor, dubbed “the most sophisticated device [he had] ever seen in 30 years of motor sports” by then FIA president Max Mosley, led to the disqualification of Toyota and its drivers from the 1995 championship, and nine days later, a one-year ban from competition.

It’s understandable then that the grandeur of SWT’s first ever 1-2 finish sank almost lifelessly beneath the surface of such troubled waters. Ironically, the Japanese marque repeated the achievement one round later in Wales, though McRae becoming Britain’s first ever World Rally Champion means that, once again, the accomplishment tends to get overlooked.

5. 1995 is the only season the Subaru World Rally Team officially locked out the podium at a WRC event

That can’t be right, can it? Between 1993 and 2008, the Subaru Impreza took three drivers to the World Championship, secured three Constructors’ titles, and netted 47 wins. In terms of outright victories in the WRC, the most famous car to ever bear the blue paint and gold alloys is joint-first in the record books alongside the Lancia sodding Delta!

It cannot, therefore, be possible that the Subaru Impreza has only locked out the WRC podium twice. Nope. Nope. Absolutely not. Nope.

But, as it turns out, yes. And both instances took place in 1995.

The infamy of that year’s Rallye Catalunya, we’ve already been through. What many tend to forget is that Sainz and McRae were joined on the Spanish podium by Subaru teammate, Piero Liatti. One round later, and with the positions reversed, newly crowned champ McRae and runner-up Sainz this time shared the celebratory champers with future World Rally Champion, and fellow ‘555’ donner, Richard Burns. Fittingly, it was also the first time both Liatti and Burns finished in the top three of a WRC event respectively.

 

*Images courtesy of Subaru, Prodrive and Official WRC twitter

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With Toyota signing 19 years-old Kalle Rovanperä next year in their WRC program, his record might be broken sooner than expected. He has been ahead of WRC cars in a WRC-2 car several times, and with Ogier leaving at the end of 2020 he will probably be #1 in the Toyota team for 2021. It will be interesting to see how he is going against Tanak and Neuville.