Colin McRae, Britain's first World Rally Champion and still the youngest driver ever to win the title, was killed on Saturday (15 September) in a helicopter accident close to his home in Lanark, Scotland. He was 39 years old. The accident also claimed the lives of his son, Johnny, and two family friends.
McRae was part of Scotland's rallying dynasty; his father Jimmy is a five-times British champion and younger brother Alister lifted the domestic title himself. But Colin enjoyed the greatest success of the trio; he won back-to-back British crowns for Prodrive's fledgling Subaru team in 1991 and '92, then graduated to the full world championship.
His breakthrough victory at the top level came in New Zealand in 1993 and he became the first Briton in 18 years to win the RAC Rally the following year. Then in 1995, a gritty display on his home event earned him the world championship crown after a tense end-of-season battle with his Subaru team-mate Carlos Sainz. Spells with Ford and Citroen and Skoda followed, taking McRae to 25 world rally victories and three runners-up places in the WRC; he is still third in the sport's all-time winners list.
Mere statistics do little to illustrate McRae's influence and reputation, however; he had a dogged competitive spirit and an utterly spectacular driving style, so his fan base stretched way beyond the United Kingdom. Furthermore, his computer game series took the sport into millions of previously uninterested homes worldwide.
Colin could genuinely claim to be one of the world's greatest all-round competition drivers. He won on fast gravel roads in New Zealand but paced himself beautifully to win world rallying's roughest event, the Safari, on three occasions; he could challenge on the snows of Sweden, yet give the French specialists a bloody nose on Corsican asphalt.