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How a WRC legend first took centre stage 30 years ago

The 1993 World Rally Championship jumps out in the history books, as Colin McRae marked himself as one to watch with his first top-class victory, while Juha Kankkunen cemented his status as a record-breaking superstar. Here’s how the season unfolded 30 years ago

Colin McRae, Derek Ringer, 555 World Rally Team Subaru Legacy RS

McKlein Publishing

Thirty years have now passed but the 1993 World Rally Championship season will always be remembered as a year of firsts. It witnessed the rise of the WRC’s most popular figure amid the crowning of a bona fide record-breaking rally legend.

It was Toyota’s Juha Kankkunen who ultimately emerged with the spoils, becoming the first four-time world champion and record rally winner to boot after seeing off the factory Ford challenge from Francois Delecour and Miki Biasion driving the new potent Escort RS Cosworth.

But it was another first that captured the imagination of British rally fans as a certain Colin McRae burst onto the world stage. The then two-time British rally champion had already been signed up by the Prodrive Subaru team but this was his big moment after earning a promotion to the WRC team. And so began an iconic collaboration between the Scot and the famous blue and yellow Japanese favourites that would go onto yield 16 WRC wins and a world title in 1995.

A third in Sweden proved McRae, wheeling an ageing Legacy, belonged on the world stage, but it was in New Zealand where he beat the WRC’s best to score a maiden win – the first of 25 career victories.

McRae had built up a reputation for his wild and spectacular driving style that, while endearing him to fans, wasn’t always conducive to securing results. But in New Zealand, he was able to use the speed and temper that with control to defeat the likes of Delecour (Ford), Didier Auriol (Toyota), reigning champion Carlos Sainz (Lancia) and Kankkunen.

“I wasn’t driving faster than before, but remember when I have gone quicker I haven’t always stayed on the road,” McRae, who celebrated his 25th birthday during the rally weekend, explained to Autosport at the time.

McRae was quick from the outset but inherited the lead from team-mate Ari Vatanen, who retired after damaging his Legacy’s suspension on a boulder in stage 12. McRae became embroiled in a battle with Auriol with the lead changing hands as Auriol ended the second leg with a two-second advantage.

McRae introduced himself to the WRC with Rally New Zealand victory

Photo by: Motorsport Images

McRae introduced himself to the WRC with Rally New Zealand victory

Auriol’s challenge began to wilt and it was charging Delecour who applied pressure on McRae in the latter stages. The Scot refused to buckle as he took victory by 27 seconds, claiming Subaru’s first WRC win - which would provide the platform for 46 more as the marque, led by the new Impreza from 1994, developed into a rally powerhouse. It also marked the first British WRC success since Roger Clark’s RAC Rally victory in 1976.

“It is a bit difficult to describe - I don’t think it has totally sunk in, I think it will be later on before we realise what we have done,” McRae added. “I called back home and it sounds like they are having a real good party.”

When asked what he felt was the turning point in the rally, he added: “It was really the second last stage today. We had a really good time but, at that point, Francois was only seven seconds behind us and it was looking a bit doubtful.

“I think this morning [Sunday] when I went out I was maybe a bit too relaxed and I didn’t try quite hard enough. After that, once it got a bit closer, I picked the pace up again and at the second last stage we really made a decision to try as hard as we could and get a nice cushion.”

“It is a bit difficult to describe I don’t think it has totally sunk in, I think it will be later on before we realise what we have done. I called back home and it sounds like they are having a real good party” Colin McRae

It was a victory that also sparked Subaru to launch its Impreza, which arrived in Finland and would become a rally Hall of Fame great. McRae also became somewhat of a New Zealand specialist after completing a three-peat by winning the next two editions of the gravel rally in 1994 and 1995.

“The deal was they [Subaru] wanted the Legacy to win one rally before we can bring the Impreza out so we have managed to do that,” said McRae, who would become synonymous with the Impreza.

This was the platform for McRae to achieve the ultimate prize when he wrestled an Impreza to the world title by defeating team-mate Sainz in 1995, aged 27. At the time he was the youngest-ever world champion, a record only surpassed by Kalle Rovanpera last year.

OPINION: What Rovanpera’s decision to go part-time means for the WRC

Kankkunen took the 1993 WRC title after a thrilling battle against Delecour

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Kankkunen took the 1993 WRC title after a thrilling battle against Delecour

McRae’s breakthrough moment was just one chapter of a thrilling 1993 campaign that was entering a crucial phase in New Zealand. Only a point separated Kankkunen and Delecour in the championship while Toyota and Ford were tied on 111 points apiece.

Kankkunen had rejoined Toyota for a third spell [1983-85, 1988-89] for the 1993 campaign as part of a significant driver market shake-up triggered by oil companies.

Toyota, feeling the pinch of escalating costs, welcomed title sponsorship from oil giant Castrol on its Celica Turbo ST185s, but it prompted the departure of its reigning champion Sainz from the squad due to the Spaniard’s personal sponsorship deal with rival oil firm Repsol. Sainz found himself behind the wheel of Jolly Club-run Lancia Delta Integrale – not as competitive compared to its title-winning past - after the Italian works squad also left the scene. Lancia’s factory exit resulted in its drivers Kankkunen and Auriol winding up at Toyota.

Kankkunen had taken his Celica to Kenya and Argentina and Toyota scored a 1-2-3-4 in Africa with Ford and Lancia absent. But in Argentina Kankkunen won alongside Nicky Grist, who was drafted in at short notice after his regular navigator Juha Piironen suffered a brain haemorrhage – the Finn would make a full recovery. Kankkunen would also call on the services of Frenchman Denis Giraudet to guide him in Finland.

Meanwhile, the Ford challenge was strong as Delecour took wins in Portugal and Corsica after coming so close to giving the Escort a debut win in Monte Carlo. The all-new Ford came flying out of the box before a late charge from Auriol denied the Escort RS Cosworth a victory on WRC debut, as Delecour and Biasion filled the podium spots, with Kankkunen in fifth.

With the factory cars of Delecour and Biasion absent at the following round in Sweden in preparation for Portugal, Kankkunen moved to the championship lead after following home local favourite and one-round team-mate Mats Jonsson.

Ford didn’t have to wait long to be able to call its Escort a WRC rally winner as Delecour headed a 1-2 in Portugal while Toyota elected not to enter. The title race swung back to Delecour before Kankkunen responded with his first win of the season at Safari Rally Kenya.

Delecour took his first win of the season in Portugal but it was without Kankkunen and Toyota to compete against

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Delecour took his first win of the season in Portugal but it was without Kankkunen and Toyota to compete against

A second win for Delecour arrived in Corsica giving the Frenchman the championship lead at an event Kankkunen chose not to enter. Delecour held onto that advantage after the Acropolis following Kankkunen’s only retirement of the season. At the time Toyota and Ford were tied on 77 points in the championship.

But back-to-back wins in Finland [1000 Lakes] and Australia made Kankkunen the favourite to add to his 1986 [Peugeot], 1987 and 1991 [Lancia] WRC crowns. His success in Australia also sealed Toyota its first WRC manufacturers' title.

The icing on Kankkunen’s proverbial cake was applied by recording a fifth win of the season and a then record-breaking 20th career victory at the GB finale

With Kankkunen and Toyota not contesting Sanremo, Delecour had to strike but a crash in appalling weather conditions gave Kankkunen match point, which he duly took in Spain. Delecour won the rally but, only needing to finish third to wrap up the title, Kankkunen inherited the place after Biasion’s turbo issue, to win the war. The icing on Kankkunen’s proverbial cake was applied by recording a fifth win of the season and a then record-breaking 20th career victory at the GB finale.

This was the likeable Kankkunen’s last WRC title. The iconic Finn scored three more WRC rally wins, enjoying spells with Ford, Subaru and Hyundai before retiring at the end of 2002. In the following 30 years, the feat has since been repeated by Tommi Makinen, Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier, but Kankkunen will forever remain as the WRC’s first four-time champion.

Kankkunen became an all-time WRC great with his fourth title

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Kankkunen became an all-time WRC great with his fourth title

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