McRae can become the greatest

Britain's first world rally champion has awesome potential, says Derick Allsop
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The Independent Online
In the euphoria of triumph, especially a triumph of this magnitude, it is easy to make exaggerated claims and rash predictions. Colin McRae is, after all, not only Britain's first rally world champion but also the youngest.

However, David Richards is not usually given to wild fancies or jingoistic tendencies. This, be reminded, is the dispassionate businessman who told McRae to concede the Catalunya rally to his team-mate, Carlos Sainz, for "sound commercial reasons".

So Richards' assertion following McRae's awesome victory in the Network Q RAC Rally this week, that his charge has the talent to become the greatest rally driver of them all, may have rather more substance than the regulation post-event eulogy.

Richards, boss of the Banbury-based Prodrive team that runs Subaru's rallying operation, said: "For anyone to be champion now, he has to be special. Colin is so focused that he really could surpass any of the previous champions.

"Some drivers have to work at their driving, but some are naturals. Colin is a natural and he knows he is way quicker than anyone out there at the moment."

Richards stresses that McRae has had the ambition and diligence to harness his skill, but is patently challenging the 27-year-old Scot to go on and fulfil his prophecy.

"You have to set new goals and keep striving to improve," Richards said. "He's worked hard on his fitness and commitment. Now he's won the world championship it would be all too easy to settle for that, to have an easy life now."

The businessman in Richards also recognises the rewards now beckoning for McRae. A first prize of pounds 3,000 in the RAC Rally, Richards points out, "is irrelevant". The championship is worth a bonus to the team of pounds 2m and to McRae more than pounds 1m. He could, suggests Richards, treble that figure annually from now on.

"If Colin wants to hibernate in Monaco, or with his mother in Lanarkshire, he can, but if he wants to develop the sponsorship market, anything is possible," Richards said. "Carlos has been the best at it in rallying. He's been getting $5m (pounds 3.2m) a year from it."

McRae, described by Richards as "genuinely shy", has been made aware that PR, like fitness and commitment, is part of the deal. He maintains, however, that sporting achievement remains the driving force.

"Now is the time to take advantage of the financial possibilities, but the money is not the motivation," McRae said. "This is just the beginning. I want to be quick and consistent in all events. I'm still very new. I want to be there for a long time."

His co-driver, Derek Ringer, who has had to endure the scares and mishaps of McRae's formative years, testifies to the assiduity of his partner. Ringer said: "No one's an overnight sensation in this sport. Colin's been getting there for many years."

The journey will soon be resumed. McRae said: "We are starting again almost straight away, testing for next year, in Kenya."

Richards can be assured, hibernation does not figure in McRae's immediate plans.

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