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Books For Christmas: How rallying's fast master turned tradition on its head

Who is Britain's best driver in motor sport? Damon Hill? David Coulthard? Johnny Herbert? There is a powerful case for arguing he is none of these, but instead Colin McRae.

It is difficult enough to compare grand prix drivers across the generations let alone exponents of racing with rally men. However, while the Britons in F1 cannot be considered the equal of Michael Schumacher, McRae is widely recognised as the most gifted driver in rallying.

And although you can debate forever the relative merits of racing and rally drivers, the latter fraternity have generally had the better of recorded dual-discipline challenges. McRae's counsel rests his case.

McRae, having evicted the gremlins from the engine of his Subaru, won the last three rounds of this year's world championship and missed out on his second title by one point. Just a few years ago, such a scenario for a British rally driver would have been unthinkable.

The Scot's defiance of tradition and anti-British prejudice is captured in "Colin McRae - Rallying's Fast Master" by David Williams (Haynes Publishing, pounds 12.99). "His awesome capabilities have become impossible to overlook," the author says.

McRae fits perfectly the mould of the reluctant superstar. He is enduringly and endearingly unpretentious, yet has made concessions to the demands of sport at the highest level. He has given up his bacon butties (it is alleged) for a healthier diet and adheres to a strict training regime.

The book leaves you craving more from the man, about himself, about others. But then he is not the most expressive character in motor sport, not with words anyway. When he is in the car it is a different matter: eloquence on wheels.

Who is Britain's best driver never to have won a world championship? That is easier. Indeed, there are those who would suggest Stirling Moss was the greatest British driver of them all.

Moss has left almost as many books as despairing opponents in his wake and even now, 35 years since his retirement, he is inspiring literary and photographic tributes. "Stirling Moss - Racing With the Maestro" by Karl Ludvigsen (Haynes Publishing, pounds 24.99) is a worthy addition to the list.

The words recall Moss's extraordinary versatility - he competed in rallies and sprints as well as races of many kinds - and his search for perfection in the face of sneering from within a predominantly amateur environment, and - above all - his sportsmanship.

The book's real appeal, however, as Ludvigsen acknowledges, is its picture content. Mainly black and white, they transport us to an age before rampant commercialism, crash barriers, run-off areas and, in Moss's case, seat- belts.

Moss's most treasured win was in the 1955 Mille Miglia, while his finest grand prix success was probably his single-handed defeat of Ferrari at Monaco in 1961. Little wonder Enzo Ferrari endeavoured to lure the Englishman to Maranello and ultimately the offer of a car built to Moss's specification proved irresistible to the hitherto stubborn patriot. Alas, he was seriously injured at Goodwood three weeks after the deal with Ferrari was agreed and did not compete in grand prix racing again.

The Italian marque's fortunes have fluctuated ever since and "Fifty Years of Ferrari" by Alan Henry (Haynes Publishing, pounds 24.99) records the unfolding drama. Aficionados will be drooling over the pictures here, although the same cannot be said of the photography in "Ferrari - The Passion and the Pain" by Jane Nottage (Collins Willow, pounds 29.99).

The author's portrayal of life inside the stable of the Prancing Horse is compromised also by political expediencies and sloppy editing, and at pounds 30 you might need a budget of Ferrari's proportions to afford it. But at least some of the technical insight gleaned from two years' dogged investigation should be appreciated by the anoraks.