Sun 10 Dec 2023

ERC @ 70: How the McRae legacy is being preserved

It’s been more than 40 years since Jimmy McRae challenged for the FIA European Rally Championship title, settling for the runner-up spot in 1982 behind fellow Opel Ascona 400 driver Antonio Fassina.

Now aged 80, the famous Scot is rediscovering the championship but in a significantly different guise and in an entirely different capacity.  

His grandson Max, who turned 19 in June, chose the ERC for his first step on the international rallying ladder in 2023 and impressed during his maiden Hankook-equipped Junior championship bid, which coincided with the ERC's 70th-anniversary celebrations.  

While Max’s father Alister, Jimmy’s youngest son, did the bulk of the guiding and advising, McRae Sr was on duty as unofficial team manager on Barum Czech Rally Zlín in August.  

“It was unfortunate Max didn’t have the best of years with problems but when it was going well, he was right there with the top guys,” Jimmy McRae said. “It was only one event, in Czech Republic, when he put it off on the second to last stage, where he retired due to it being his fault. I was team manager on that event, so I didn’t go too well, but it’s easy to forget that Max hasn’t been driving for long and it’s good what he’s been doing [in the ERC].”

McRae continued: “We’ve got to get him in the championship next year somehow. There are six events next year [in Junior ERC] and only one that was in the championship in 2023. So, for Max to go there again, is great experience with five new rallies to learn. There’s nothing definite yet but we’re trying to get him in the championship next season.”  

McRae Sr took part on 81 ERC events during his career, claimed 25 podiums and won 17 times.   

“Doing the ERC improved me as a driver,” McRae said, looking back. “Going to places like Cyprus for a gravel event, then to a Tarmac rally in France, you just gained so much more experience. You were going to these places and competing against guys who had done these rallies before. You had to concentrate very hard on your recce in places you’d never been to before because you didn’t know what the weather would be like, what the roads would be like. And it was free recce on most events, so it took a lot of your time.

“In those days there were events in Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man where you could get points for the British championship as well as the European championship. I was contracted to do the British championship with Opel and Rothmans [in 1982], so I had to get sponsorship deals to go to the ERC rallies. The organisers would give you a free entry and hotels and it was up to me to put the deals together for the rest of the budget. I got sponsorship from a watch company once.  

“You put a lot of effort in and when Rothmans saw there was a possible chance I could win [the 1982 title] they put some extra money in for some extra events, just a pity they hadn’t put it in a couple of months earlier! It was a good championship.”

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