Articles

Go onboard with Colin McRae in a throwback to 2001

by Cameron Neveu
23 June 2023 2 min read
Go onboard with Colin McRae in a throwback to 2001
(Ross Land/Getty Images)

I should be doing so many other things right now. Instead, here I sit, my face glued to my screen watching some of the best onboard rally footage known to man. Thank you, Nicky Grist.

During a career that spanned three decades, the Welsh navigator captured 21 overall rally wins, 417 stage wins, and a sole championship in 1993, all from the passenger seat of rally racing’s most formidable cars—like the all-wheel-drive Ford Focus in the video below.

After starting out in amateur rallying, during which he moonlit as a car salesman, in the early 1990s Grist made it to the World Rally Championship.

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Juha Kankkunen drives his Toyota through a large puddle
Juha Kankkunen drives his Toyota through a large puddle. (PA Images via Getty Images)

In 1993, copiloting for Finnish marvel Juha Kankkunen in a Castrol-liveried Toyota Celica, Grist and his teammate earned the WRC championship title. He stayed with Kankkunen until 1997, when he joined rising star Colin McRae on the 555 Subaru World Rally team. The duo was a flash of blue-and-yellow brilliance and delivered the Japanese team multiple manufacturer titles.

Colin McRae (left) and Nicky Grist of the Subura Impreza Team
25 Nov 1997: Colin McRae (at right) and Nicky Grist celebrate on the winners podium after their victory in the RAC Rally in England. Getty/Michael Cooper/Allsport

Then, in 1999 they packed their bags and split for the Blue Oval, joining the M-sport Ford team in a shiny new Ford Focus.

McRae never captured a WRC title in the Focus, though he came awfully close in 2001 and showcased some truly brilliant drives throughout the season. One of those epic drives is on display here. In a recently uploaded video by Nicky Grist Motorsports, the hall-of-fame codriver breaks down a stage from the 2001 Rally Great Britain in Wales.

1998 Network Q RAC Rally winners Colin McRae (right) and Nicky Grist (left)
Colin McRae and Nicky Grist pose for the media with their new Ford Focus in 1998. (Tom Honan/EMPICS via Getty Images)

Grist opens the eight-minute video by providing some context for the 2001 campaign. He then pulls up some of the actual pace notes he used to direct McRae through the St. Gwynno stage of the rally.

Grist provides an interpretation of his complex instructions: “’Slow,’ which is heavy brake; ‘minus,’ which is a bit of a dab of the brake, and ‘plus,’ [which] means flat-out in that gear.”

Colin McRae of Great Britain in action in his Ford Focus
Colin McRae goes airborne in his Ford Focus during round eight of the World Rally Championship in Auckland, New Zealand, circa 2000. (Getty/Grazia Neri/Allsport

“In typical McRae fashion, he’s very committed, very broadsided,” Grist says during the viewing, noting that the Scot’s aggression and commitment to pace is a gradual crescendo throughout the stage.

At 6:49 we encounter a rather tense moment: When McRae flicks the Focus through an uphill chicane and comes dangerously close to clipping a roadside post. Grist’s insight and commentary is amazing, and the onboard footage feels like it was directed by some art house guru—morning sun flickering through trees, spectators lining the road, and McRae furiously sawing on the wheel.

The two stars won the stage but lost the battle in Great Britain, missing the season-long war by two points. McRae passed away in 2007 after his helicopter crashed just north of his home in Lanark. His legacy lives on in videos like this spectacular onboard footage from Wales.

Colin McRae puts his Ford Focus RS to the test
Colin McRae puts his Ford Focus RS to the test during the 2001 Rally of Great Britain in Wales. (Getty/Clive Mason/Allsport)

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