Colin McRae is a motorsport legend. During the height of his career he carved out a reputation for spectacular, on-the-limit driving in the World Rally Championship. However, at the time of his one-off BTCC debut in 1992, Colin was probably best known as the son of rally legend, Jimmy McRae.
In fact, Jimmy himself nearly ended up in the BTCC himself in 1991, with Prodrive looking for the relevant funding to place him in an M3, but it never materialised.
Back to 1992 and Prodrive were again running a manufacturer backed programme for BMW, with the new model 3 series, driven by Tim Sugden and Alain Menu. They were also running the Subaru World Rally Championship program and Colin was a protege of the program. He was taking part in the British Rally Championship for Subaru in 1992, with the odd WRC appearance.
With the inaugural Knockhill round of the BTCC season approaching, David Richards suggested to Colin that he could enter his home round of the BTCC with Prodrive, in the guest car, alongside Menu and Sugden. It was the first BTCC meeting to be held at Knockhill and Colin’s presence was sure to add to the spectacle for the fans.
Initially, Colin wasn’t too focused on the event. Speaking in 2006, he said, “I didn’t really pay it a great deal of attention, as at the time I was totally focused on rallying. We were just starting to do some World Rally Championship events with Subaru, and that’s what I was excited about.”
This would be the first time that Colin had ever raced a track racing car in anger, yet he didn’t test the BMW until the Friday before the event.
Prodrive and BMW were running with ABS during the 1992 season, but during testing, Colin was adamant that he would be quicker running without the assist on his car. The team duly took it off his car and within 3 laps, he was beached in the gravel.
However, come qualifying – Colin had got a grip of the car and had qualified 15th for the opening race. Disaster struck the team after qualifying though, as Alain Menu fell off a paddock quad bike and broke his leg. His season was over and BMW were down to two cars for the rest of the weekend. Kris Nissen would later replace Menu for the remainder of the season.
Race one started well for Colin, rising from 15th place to 8th. McRae’s big advantage being that to most BTCC stars, Knockhill was a new circuit, whilst he had driven around the track in various bikes and cars numerous times over in his career.
Colin’s team mate Tim Sugdgen was an early retiree, leaving Colin as the team’s only point scorer – scoring a solitary point.
Shortly before the second race started, there was a downpour and the track was soaked. With the grid for the second race being set by the finishing positions of the first, Colin was set to line up in 8th place – just behing the older 1991 M3 of independent racer, Matt Neal. Colin ended up spending the entire race trying to get past him.
“Over the course of a lap I was definitely faster than him,” remembered McRae, again speaking in 2006. “So, I was determined to try and find a way past,”
Colin found that whilst he was quicker through the corners, Matt had much more straight line speed, making it very difficult to get past him.
“Then, at the hairpin, he seemed to brake harder than usual, and there was absolutely nowhere for me to go. I couldn’t help giving him a tap. I kept going and he didn’t. I thought that’s what touring cars were all about anyway?!”
Matt Neal’s race was over, stuck in the gravel and his 7th place gone. Colin was called up to see the stewards after the races and was subsequently handed a disqualification for the move. That didn’t stop Rimstock Racing team boss, Steve Neal, wanting to have a chat with Colin too, who infamously wanted to “find McRae, rip his head off, and shit down his neck!”
Years later, Colin remembered it well, “Matt was none too pleased, but Steve was definitely the spokesman. The quickest I went all weekend was probably that run back to the motorhome after the race……”
Whilst Colin went on to become a rallying superstar, the impression he made on the touring car fraternity and Knockhill that season won’t be forgotten quickly.