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Colin McRae is dead, the victim of a helicopter crash that took his life, that of his son, and two others.

In a way, it was the way that McRae would have wanted to go, living the high life, taking a risk and living outside the square. It was probably the way the Scot would have scripted his demise, because he was always into extreme sports, and flying his own helicopter was an extreme sport. The only thing that may have been more dangerous than flying a helicopter would have been driving a rally car, another extreme sport that he excelled at.

Those of us old enough remember the rise of McRae still have visions in our mind’s eye of the lanky Scot, fresh from school, tearing around the route of some of Britain’s best-known rallies in a Vauxhall Astra driven, as always and as only he knew how, flat out. Or even earlier, contesting the Scottish Championship in a Talbot Sunbeam.

There was always an even chance that McRae would somehow either drag whatever remained of his rally car across the line, or crash heavily while leading. Colin McRae was that sort of competitor – win at all costs and worry about who was going to pay for the repairs later. But this was all part of learning, and if crashes were part of the curriculum for winning, or if finding your limits was something that you could include in your CV, then McRae was the consummate student.

Who can forget a slightly older Colin McRae, then signed for a drive in a Prodrive Subaru Liberty in the British Championship, wringing his car’s neck as he battled for supremacy? Or performing almost impossible antics in a Sierra Cosworth on the lanes of England, Scotland and Wales? On a good day McRae was equal to any driver almost anywhere in the world, committing himself 110% to the task at hand. When he was at his best he was poetry in motion and uncatchable on the stages.

Yet on a bad day there was every chance that his car would finish up looking like the proverbial shed. It didn’t seem to matter whether there were vital bits missing that would impede his progress, McRae still found ways of crossing the line for a result. While others were content with just finishing in one piece, McRae explored the limits and beyond in his quest for supremacy.

It took some years for the lad from Lanarkshire to become recognized, but his extrovert driving style and his uncanny ability behind the wheel ensured that he was one of Britain’s favourite sons. Eventually the name McRae became a household word, not just in his home country but right around the world.

From driving real rally cars to giving his name to a host of computer games, Colin McRae was always in the limelight. His passion for rallying took him into other areas – cross-country rallies, circuit racing and even car building, his recently-built R4 rally car a project that he had only just got to the driving stage and which had huge potential.

His finest season ever was in 1995 when he became the first Briton to win a World Rally Championship, following this up with two more oh-so-close second places in the 1996 and 1997 Championships. He was the consummate professional, sometimes arrogant, sometimes aloof, but always giving his absolute best.

I count myself lucky to have seen McRae in action in several World Championship events over the years. My overriding impression is of a man who was always driving right on (and more often) right over the edge. That he got away with it on so many occasions is a tribute to his skill and application.

It would only be a poorly-performing car or the result of an earlier altercation that could take the edge off his performance. It took a brave man to sit beside the Scot. Many did, and for extended lengths of time despite a frequency of visiting the scenery.

Colin McRae’s life was taken away tragically when his job sheet of things to do had barely even started. The world has lost a one-of-a-kind superstar who put rallying on the map for far too brief a period like nobody before or since. We may soon forget his achievements but we should never forget what the name Colin McRae has done for rallying. It’s immeasureable.

Vale Colin Steele McRae.

* RallySport Magazine is currently preparing more tributes to Colin McRae, and will soon have a photographic tribute to Britain's first World Rally Champion.

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