McRae's fear for Britons' future

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The Independent Online

These are changing times in the World Rally Championship, and nowhere will the new landscape be more apparent than on the moors and forest stages of South Wales next weekend.

These are changing times in the World Rally Championship, and nowhere will the new landscape be more apparent than on the moors and forest stages of South Wales next weekend.

Concerns over Rally GB, which starts in Cardiff on Thursday evening, will be not so much about revised regulations, nor the switching of the event from its traditional end-of-season slot, as about the absence of a front-line home driver for the first time in more than a decade.

Richard Burns, world champion in 2001, was struck down by a brain tumour last year and will almost certainly never drive again, while Colin McRae, Britain's first title-winner in 1995, failed to secure a seat for this season. Released by Citroën, the Scotsman was unable even to put together a deal for a one-off drive in a rally he won three times.

The McRae name will still feature, with patriarch Jimmy, five-times British champion, making his 18th appearance and younger son Alister pursuing the production title. However, they, like every Briton this year, will be part of the supporting cast rather than the main WRC contest.

McRae Snr is inevitably dismayed that Colin, Britain's most flamboyant, successful and popular driver, should have been consigned to the sidelines, yet is equally disturbed that the lack of financial support could deny the next generation an opportunity to fill the void.

"It does seem to be a ridiculous state of affairs when Colin can't get a drive in an event that is crying out for British interest,'' the 60-year-old McRae said. "If someone of Colin's stature finds it difficult to raise funds, imagine what it's like for a young driver. On the Continent they get the support our guys can't get. The whole thing is a shambles.

"I'm just out for a bit of fun. My days of serious competition are long gone. Alister's serious enough about his rallying, but the big problem for the production class is that there's no support.''

The McRaes are lending their management back-up to Kris Meeke, a 24-year-old recognised as a genuine prospect. So, too, is Guy Wilks. Both have made their mark on the Junior World Championship, and both now seek the means to graduate.

Colin McRae says of his protégé: "I wouldn't have got involved with Kris if I didn't think he had the talent, but he needs the chance to show what he can do, and even at his level it's very expensive.

"It will be a bit strange for me keeping tabs on my dad and brother and Kris rather than competing, but I was determined I would drive only if I could get a competitive car.

"It's a shame that there isn't a home driver, but that makes it all the more imperative that we give our young guys all the help we can.''

McRae's former team-mate at Citroën, the Frenchman Sebastien Loeb, enjoyed support from his national federation and is repaying that investment. He heads the WRC standings by 30 points from Norway's defending champion and winner here for the past two years, Petter Solberg. "Sebastien is an outstanding driver and the French are reaping the rewards for backing him,'' McRae said. "It's a lesson that should be taken on board over here.''

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