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COLIN McRAE…….The Special One On

Saturday 13th September 2007 the world of rallying lost its first “Superstar” when Colin McRae died along with his five year old son Johnny and their friends Graeme Duncan and Ben Porcelli in a tragic helicopter accident near Colin’s home in Lanark.

Ten years later and that fateful Saturday is still fresh in my memory, as indeed I am sure it is with so many people. To this day it remains so unbelievable that something like this could have happened.

Back then I penned the following tribute to the person who STILL remains the most charismatic, fastest and most naturally talented driver that the WRC has ever seen.

World Champion in 1995; Colin could and should have won at least three more titles, but because of his desire to win rallies at all costs he did have more than his share of huge accidents. Coming second and going for points was never in the plan!

I was lucky enough to have seen Colin McRae in action on many occasions. His first competitive drive in Ireland was at a round of the Northern Ireland Beginners Autotest Championship in Bangor’s Castle Park back in February 1985. We were timekeeping on the UAC event and the young fresh faced McRae, driving a Mini loaned by Ken Irwin, finished third overall. His last event in Ireland was on the 2006 Donegal Rally and I was working at the final time control on the classic Atlantic Drive stage as Colin brought his Metro 6R4 home to win the National Rally.

In between we officiated at almost all of his epic RAC/Rally GB appearances, including the hat trick of wins from 94-97. I well remember talking to him at scrutineering in Harrogate back in 1991. Colin asked how many of us had come over for the rally and what our plans were. In 1994 Victor Lyness and I were on the final corner of the last stage where 3,000 fans had gathered to see Colin and Derek Ringer bring their Subaru Impreza home as the first British winners of the RAC since Roger Clark in 1976.

Then the following year John Hughes and I watched in amazement from a junction deep in the darkening gloom of Hafren forest as Colin took 20 seconds out of a demoralised Carlos Saint to stamp his authority on the rally and go on to claim that elusive World title.

Almost overnight the Impreza became the car to have and Subaru’s image from that of a utility 4x4 vehicle provider, popular only in Australia and Japan, changed to a kind of cult status WORLDWIDE! Subaru sales rocketed and suddenly everyone was wearing the blue and yellow colours of Dave Richard’s Prodrive rally team. To think that all this was due to Jimmy McRae’s wee lad from Lanark. Rallying became headline news for the first time since the days of Hopkirk and Clark.

Colin McRae never forgot his roots and was always the same quiet unassuming lad. Until he got behind the wheel of a rally car. Then it was simply win or bust. During his four years with the Ford Focus he had some very big accidents, none more so than on Rally GB 2001 while battling with the late Richard Burns for the World Championship.

It was day one and we were marshalling on stage four Rhondda. Something was wrong, Colin was overdue. He had been fastest from the start of the rally, but just about a mile from our location the Focus cut a bend, hit a culvert, and rolled four times while flat in sixth! Both McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist were fine but their rally was over. Next car on the road was Burns and he must have seen the wreckage and briefly lost concentration because he and Robert Reid spun the Subaru at our corner, clipping a log pile with the rear end. I still have the broken tail light lens! Needless to say Richard lost very little time and of course went on to win the World title two days later in Cardiff.

After that experience we always said that we would try to marshal on the first stage of the rally in future. That way we might stand a chance of seeing “The Boy” as Victor had named McRae, in full flight! Believe me there was nothing else like it!

Of course I saw Colin win in Ireland on both the Circuit and the Ulster not forgetting seeing him finish second behind team-mate Sebastian Loeb on the Monte in his final full season in the WRC. But it will be the sight of him in flat-out action in the forests of Wales that will always have lasting memories for me and so many others. It’s so sad to know that never again will we be standing at a corner waiting for the sound of a rally car being driven to the absolute limit burst sideways into view and for a few magical seconds witness “The Boy” doing what came naturally to him, entertaining his adoring public.

Colin McRae, you were our “Special One”, the “People's Champion”. Thanks for all the memories. Rallying has lost a legendary folk hero and top bloke!

BUSHWACKER RESULT SETS UP NI SHOWDOWN

Jonny Greer is the man of the moment in the Northern Ireland Rally Championship. With one round remaining the Citroen DS3 R5 driver is on paper just three points behind seven-times winner Derek McGarrity. In fact as drivers can discount their two worst scores from the seven rounds it’s even closer! Complicated or what, hope you are still with me on this?

Even if he wins the final round McGarrity can only add a further 5 points to his current total of 47. If Greer wins he can add 12 points to his 44. In short Derek can’t score more than 52 but Jonny could score 56. It’s the first time for years that McGarrity has faced a strong challenge for the title! So the Tour of the Sperrins on November 4th will see a battle royal for the NI Championship. Will it be an eighth title for Derek McGarrity or a first for young gun Jonny Greer. May the best man win!

At the start of the year Greer didn't intend to do the full series but, out of contention on both the BRC and Irish Tarmac Championship he decided to give the mixed-surface NI series a real go. On the Bushwacker Rally last month he finished second with McGarrity back in fifth. This was the fourth time Greer, partnered as usual by Scot Kirsty Riddick, had beaten Derek this year and all the more remarkable as this was Jonny’s first ever Bushwacker, and he was first car on the road. Derek McGarrity is a four-time winner!

2016 Irish Forest Champion Desi Henry won the Bushwacker Rally. It was his second NI Championship victory this year and a dominant display from the Portglenone, Co. Antrim Skoda Fabia R5 pilot and his Cork co-driver Liam Moynihan. Henry was fastest on five of the six stages and finished 27 seconds ahead of Jonny Greer. Just four seconds behind Greer in third was another newcomer to Omagh Motor Club’s flagship event, Scottish visitor and recent Galloway Hills Rally winner Jock Armstrong in his production class Subaru Impreza. Derry man Graham Henderson was co-driving. Paul Barrett from Omagh made a rare appearance and finished fourth in a Group N Mitsubishi Evo.9. Derek McGarrity in fifth was out for the second time in his Skoda Fabia R5.

Among the retirements were top seeds and last years winners Mark Donnelly and Stephen O’Hanlon. Their rare Mitsubishi Lancer WRC suffered mechanical woes from the start and eventually stopped altogether on stage two. Former winner Martin Cairns, who had the legend that is Rory Kennedy along for the ride, bowed out even earlier. On the first corner of stage one Cairns slid wide and got his Ford Fiesta WRC “stuck in a shuck”!

Apart from being the penultimate round of the MSA Northern Ireland Championship, the Bushwacker was also the final round of the Valvoline Irish Forest Rally Championship and Monaghan’s Sam Moffett did enough to win that by finishing a steady sixth in his Fiesta WRC. Comber’s David Crossen was top 2-wheel drive finisher on the day, he also won the class in the Irish series.

A total of 109 cars started the classic very fast loose surface Bushwacker Rally also known as the “Tyrone Grand Prix”. Only 76 of those starters made it to the Omagh finish. The day was wet in places to start with but finished up dry and windy.

There were lots of us BMMC/BRMC marshals on duty that day. For example I was covering Radio and Timing at the finish of Carrickaholten the first and fourth stage at 4.55 miles in length. We also had our rescue unit out on SS2/5 Killeter, the longest at 8.92 miles. Lough Braden was the other stage and ran at 6.80 miles. There were no major incidents on the event.

As usual Omagh MC looked after us well with a huge breakfast and an evening meal at rally HQ the Silverbirch Hotel. Others motor clubs take note! Not all rally organisers appreciate marshals voluntary help the way clubs like Omagh do! It was a pleasure to help out as I have done for more years than I care to remember. Haven't missed many since the early eighties!

COOKSTOWN TARGA EVENT WELL SUPPORTED

No less than 74 competitors took part in last month’s A29 Targa Rally organised by Cookstown Motor Club. Such is the popularity of these events in Northern Ireland at the present time that this was the second Targa Rally run by that particular motor club in 2017.

I was timekeeping on three of the short farm-lane- type tests. In all four BMMC/BRMC members were on time controls. The weather did it’s worst but thankfully my wife and I had a large tree at our start control to protect us from most of the heavy rain which persisted for most of the day.

The timing equipment caused major issues. Imported from the USA the “Nook” [a type of mini i-pad] is neither rain nor dust friendly. Despite coming with a waterproof jacket the nook is not at all easy to operate. Although I managed to record all start times others weren't so lucky and apparently most had to revert to “old fashioned” stop watches.

Cookstown MC provided a brilliant BBQ-style breakfast for us all before the action began. Winners on the day were Eric Patterson and Raymond Donaldson in one of the 39 Mazda MX5’s which dominated the entry list.

RALLY DIARY

Thur. 5th - Sun. 8th Oct.
RALLY SPAIN

I am off to see the stars of the WRC as they head into this the only mixed surface event in the series. Citroen’s Kris Meeke needs a good result here and Thierry Neuville in the Hyundai i20 Coupe will need to beat the Ford Fiesta of Seb Ogier if he stands any chance in the title race. The rally is based in Salou at the PortAventura World theme park. Will post a full report next month on this the eleventh round of the WRC.

Sat. 7th Oct.
THE EQUINOX TARGA RALLY

Based at Harrisons of Greyabbey in Co.Down, the Ulster Automobile Club Equinox Targa Rally was first run in 2016 and follows the same format this year. We have been asked to provide timekeepers and marshals for the various tests. Breakfast will be provided from 07:30 at Harrisons restaurant where sign-on will take place and full instructions will be issued.

Thur. 26th - Sun.29th Oct.
DAYINSURE WALES RALLY GB

The twelfth and penultimate round of the 2017 World Rally Championship. How will Kris Meeke do in the troubled Citroen C3? Will Elfyn Evans win his home event in the on-form Ford Fiesta? What ever happens there will be a battle royal in the classic Welsh forests. I will not be going over this year but there is sure to be a large contingent of fans and some officials from Northern Ireland in attendance. Hope all goes well! If you are not going there will be lots of live coverage on the excellent WRC+ website and recorded highlights on Motorsport TV each night. Channel 5 will also have extended coverage which should include live action from the final Power Stage. [check for times]

Sat. 4th Nov.
TOUR OF THE SPERRINS

The final and deciding round of the MSA McGrady Insurance Northern Ireland Rally Championship. Had been due to take place in the forests of Davagh and Banagher but they have been irreparably damaged by torrential rain, so the rally will now probably be held at sealed surface venues near and including the Nutts Corner kart racing circuit in Co.Antrim. Magherafelt and District Motor Club are the organisers so check their website for details. No more details of the route were available as I write. We as BMMC/BRMC members will be active in various marshalling roles. Good luck Derek and Jonny!