McRae in control of his destiny

Derick Allsop reflects on an ability to tame his wilder streak that made all the difference for the world rally champion

They will tell you Colin McRae was born to rally, but no one is born to win and in rallying, especially, Britain has spawned worthy competitors rather than champions. Until Colin McRae.

He has elevated himself above the rest, not only because of his natural devastating pace but because he had the nous to channel that talent. The wayside is littered with the broken ambitions of the mercurial. Winners are made of sterner, more consistent stuff.

McRae's father, Jimmy, was an outstanding rally driver. He won the British championship five times and he recognised in Colin, at a very early age, the extra dimension of a potential champion. Others, like Malcolm Wilson, were less convinced.

Wilson had served his time as Britain's "latest hope", only to stumble in the wake of the Scandinavians and Finns, and then the charismatic Spaniard Carlos Sainz. Wilson, according to seasoned observers, lacked the added commitment and concentration required to harness his gifts. Mistakes at critical moments cost rallys and championships.

McRae, according to Wilson, also lacked the consistency to beat the best over the marathon course of a world championship season. He, too, made mistakes at critical moments.

"But I think Colin has matured and found that difference," Wilson now says. "He's learned how to judge a rally and judge a championship. No one doubted his speed. That's always been obvious. But the real champions know when to use their speed and when to settle for points rather than take unnecessary risks."

McRae's pace these past four days has been too much for Sainz and the rest, and after losing almost two minutes with a puncture in Kielder he had to draw on that most fundamental of qualities. But it was always controlled, always assured, and, to Sainz's dismay, always irresistible.

Sainz had to accept that and ultimately his heart was broken. The Scot extended his lead on the final day with the flourish of a champion. He is not only Britain's first world rally champion, but at 27, the youngest.

Around the time of the inaugural world rally championship, in 1979, Colin McRae began satisfying his curiosity in motor sport on a motor bike. He began winning motocross races and the seeds of an obsession were sewn.

He moved to four wheels in 1986 and his progress was again swift. Come his third season he was enjoying major success in British and Scottish competitions. In 1990 he was runner-up in the British Open championship and in each of the following two years he was British champion.

His advance remained a family affair. Mother and father were usually out there in the forests, proffering advice and support. A younger brother, Alister, would also build a rallying career, and another son, Stuart, played his part as caterer.

By now, however, Colin was making his presence felt on the world scene. He led the RAC rally in 1992 and 1993, but each time had to retire after crashes. Another worthy Brit, another nearly man, or so it seemed.

At last year's Network Q RAC rally, McRae took the lead again and stayed the course. He was the first British winner of the event since Roger Clark in 1976. His next objective was the world championship. Despite problems early in the season, victory in New Zealand revived his aspirations.

Wilson believes the significant rally in McRae's season was the Australian, where he resisted any urge to reach out for an improbable win and settled for second place. "That was the turning point," Wilson suggests. It certainly convinced me he was ready for the championship. He is now not only the quickest out there, he is the complete driver."

McRae acknowledges that transformation. "I've even calmed down away from rallying" said McRae, who has long sought recreation in adventurous and even wild pursuits such as extreme skiing and water skiing. "I'm not as crazy as I was."

He already has a pad in Monte Carlo and further wealth will doubtless come his way. Some things, though, do not change. Like his taste for "a good bash". Last night he abandoned his Subaru Impreza with only one intention: to have the biggest party of all time.

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