1995: McRae wins world rally title

There was never any doubt who was going to be this year's World Rally Champion. A sticky gearbox on day one? Pah! A puncture on the longest stage of the championship? A mere hiccup and one which served only to keep the title race interesting

1995: McRae wins world rally title

Colin McRae's only rival for the crown, once Toyota had been kicked out of the championship for cheating in Spain, was team mate Carlos Sainz.

The Spaniard predicted McRae would come to understand pressure like never before but, in the end, it was Sainz who came under the cosh. McRae was simply in a class of his own, he and Sainz two horses in a one-horse race.

The only question mark came as the crews lined up in Chester: if McRae and Sainz became embroiled in their own personal battle where it was winner-take-all, regardless of their overall placing, then the door might be open for a different outright victor.

Should that have been the case, the only likely contenders were the Mitsubishi duo of Kenneth Eriksson and Tommi Makinen. The Mitsubishi is a match for the Subaru in terms of power and traction and with the teams' prize also at slake last week, the Ralliart Europe squad from Rugby would at least keep its Banbury rival honest.

Team orders were not being issued by Subaru this time, but would that change if the title race demanded? A lot was at stake in Chester - and a McRae win would reap untold rewards.

Sainz and Makinen got on the scoresheet first, sharing the lead out of the opening stage. But McRae hit back at Chatsworth, as he did last year, to take the lead. Twelve months ago that was it for McRae. This time it wasn't so cut-and-dried. Then Makinen came out of Donington with pole position and held it to the end of the day.

Mitsubishi also held second place with Eriksson passing McRae at the Leicestershire race track. So what had gone wrong? "The day before the event the surface was extremely slippery," explained McRae. "But the sun and the wind have dried the roads and we simply had the wrong tyres."

McRae later found his gearbox playing up, fluctuating pressure to the centre differential a minor worry, so the team switched the unit at the end of the day. He was ahead of Sainz on points and the two were not getting any help from Richard Burns at the moment, the Reading lad battling back after breaking the steering on a log at Tatton.

But day one is not rallying as we know it: the stages lack the forest ingredient or the excitement of a superspecial. This rally is won and lost in the forests. That means it starts in earnest on day two. And that meant Kielder...

Makinen barely had a chance to find out how good the Mitsubishis would be against the Subarus. He smacked the car into a rock while ditch hooking, and by the end of the stage his rally was run.

"It was a typical Makinen accident," growled a furious Mitsubishi team boss Andrew Cowan. "He broke the driveshaft and there's a big hole in the gearbox." Exit one Mitsubishi.

McRae, by contrast, blasted through Hamsterley fastest by 28s in a demonstration of driving more akin to his performance on the Motu stage in New Zealand. He led by 27s, with Sainz third (a position good enough to give Subaru the makes title) and Eriksson the meat in the sandwich.

But if McRae was planning an easy run to the finish he reckoned without Pundershaw. At more than 36 miles, it is the longest stage in the championship and Colin reckoned he could take 15s here. Instead, the times went bananas. Sainz and Burns had taken two minutes off their rivals. Surely some mistake?
No mistake. McRae and Eriksson suffered punctures 12 miles into the stage, both on the same slab of rock. Eriksson stopped three miles later and McRae debated the issue for a further two.

In the end both crews had to swap tyres, something of a rarity in these days of puncture-proof mousse inserts. McRae's car was lifted bodily by spectators while the crew swapped wheels and were on heir way again in two minutes. Eriksson's time loss at the spot was less than McRae's, but the Scot raced through the rest of the stage to maintain second place to Sainz.

Elsewhere the drama continued with both the remaining factory Fords hitting trouble. Francois Delecour had departed the day before with transmission failure, so Bruno Thiry was leading the attack with Malcolm Wilson behind, and new boy Alister McRae next.

Thiry lost his rear brakes after 20 miles and, by the time he reached the finish, fire extinguishers were needed to douse the flaming calipers. Wilson didn't get that far, rolling the car into retirement after a somewhat ambitious pace note.

McRae Jr found himself third fastest, a bizarre situation given that he also rolled in the first half mile of the stage... And so Sainz led the RAC Rally with McRae second, 1m14s adrift. Perhaps Sainz's prediction was right after all. Would McRae crack under pressure?

"Colin is taking big risks now,' insisted Thiry as McRae began to fight back. ":His lines are not normal and he is cutting everything, throwing big rocks into the road, which we have to drive round. He will hit one rock too many."

The Scot denied the charge: "I'm not taking any risks. I'm driving fast, yes, but not pushing too hard."

Eriksson knew the battle was lost as far as he was concerned. "There is nothing I can do about Colin if he drives like this. All I can hope is to still be there if he has a problem."

However, McRae's epic charge continued, and the gap to Sainz came down to 1m 03s, then 59s, but was cut to only 57s in Kershope, when he punctured another tyre. This one was self-inflicted, a rock claimed the front strut and the tyre rubbed on the wheel arch before going flat. But unbelievably the Scot was still faster than Sainz.

McRae and co-driver Derek Ringer had to straighten the strut with a log, then coax the car 45 miles to service at Penrith. If there was any real danger to McRae's title, this was the moment.

Happily the car arrived in one piece, the mechanics got it back together, and McRae was off to Grizedale where the destruction of Sainz's lead continued. He returned to Chester 39s behind Sainz and well on course for success.

Behind the title contenders Eriksson was holding station, but Burns had used his careful run through Pundershaw and the rest of Kielder to move into fourth place. That gave Subaru the breathing space it needed for the makes title and Burns was told to hold station.

Thiry held fifth, with McRae sixth, Gregoire de Mevius seventh with the Mike Little Escort and the Grifone Toyota of Italian Andrea Navarra eighth and going steadily.
But neither de Mevius nor Navarra would make the finish, the Belgian sidelined with fuel pressure problems three stages into Wales, and the Italian destined for electrical failure two stages from the finish when an impressive sixth overall.

McRae set off into Wales with every intention of wresting the lead from Sainz in the shortest possible time. From 39s the gap fell again: 29s after Dyfnant, 21s after Hafren.

Sainz clawed a couple of seconds back in Brechfa when it was foggy, but that was his last realistic chance. McRae halved the deficit in Trawscoed and cut it to 5s before the second run at Hafren. Sainz sat in his car, his dark eyes reflecting his mood.

"There is nothing I can do," he confessed. "Unless there is more fog or a mechanical problem then I cannot stop Colin." McRae should have been on an adrenalin high at this point, eager to get into the final stage of Tuesday and another chance to take the lead. Instead he was asleep.

The World Championship was at stake and the favourite was spark-out in the driver's seat. If this is how he reacts to pressure, then God help his rivals next year...

When sleeping beauty finally got his helmet back on, Sainz never stood a chance. McRae hammered him into submission with one more grand attack. From five seconds behind, McRae emerged from Hafren with a 17s lead and the title, barring a cruel twist of fate, was his for the asking.

Sainz was beaten and so was Mitsubishi. Eriksson departed the fray in the middle of the third day, his Lancer abandoned in a stream along with the team's title hopes. Madeira was comfortably leading Group N as he has done for most of the season, but this time it would not be enough.

Subaru held one-two-three and Burns was free to drive as fast as necessary to ensure Thiry didn't get close enough to spoil the party. The final moment of drama in Ford's desperate season came when the Belgian clobbered a rock in Gartheiniog, flattened the exhaust and damaged the rear axle.

More seriously he appeared to have loosened a wire to the fuel pumps and the Escort stopped on the road section to Dolgellau, where the cavalry had to be sent to his aid. He managed to get the car back to service but the time lost (21 minutes late brought 3m30s road penalty) dropped him to fifth.

Colin's younger brother fulfilled Ford team manager John Taylor's prediction that he would be the top Ford driver at the end of the event. Only the presence of Sainz was denying Britain an unheard-of one-two-three podium.

And so the masses piled into Chester Racecourse to wave their flags, sound their klaxons and hail their hero. This was the moment they wanted, the result that Colin had promised 12 months earlier and the title he delivered in style.

Sainz had given it his best shot but, as co-driver Luis Moya pointed out: "We had just one problem throughout this rally. That problem was Colin McRae and Derek Ringer..."

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