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Colin McRae returns to top-line rallying at next week’s Rally of Turkey when he substitutes for the injured Sebastien Loeb. Peter Whitten looks at the Scotsman rally return.

And while it’s a devastating blow for the World Champion, who broke his arm in an accident last week, McRae’s return is one of the best things to happen to the sport this year – particularly in the English speaking countries where the Scotsman is still regarded as (perhaps) the best known rally driver.

McRae’s last WRC entry was at Telstra Rally Australia last year, where he drove a works Skoda Fabia and was on target for a podium finish until a final day clutch problem. It proved, that without doubt, McRae still has what it takes.

After factory drives with Subaru, Ford and Citroen, McRae was dropped from the French squad at the conclusion of the 2003 World Championship season. In that season McRae was part of the three-car Citroen team with Loeb and Carlos Sainz, but struggled to make an impression.

Many believed that McRae dropped off as a force in the WRC when active differentials came to the fore. His aggressive driving style was no longer suited to the current World Rally Cars, and his results suffered accordingly

Now, however, the current cars have passive transmission, and McRae believes he has more of a chance of doing well – even finishing on the podium in Turkey.

“I drove the Skoda and Subaru at Goodwood this year with passive transmissions, but that doesn't really count. I think, in many ways, it will be easier to jump in the car and adjust to it. The transmission will be simpler than previously and more straightforward, as well as more consistent, I would imagine. But I'm under no illusions that it will be easy,” he said.

Depending on Loeb’s recovery rate, McRae’s Citroen rebirth may be for only one event, but he’s determined to make the most of it, and his role is a simple one.

“Get as many points as possible,” he says. “Of course, a finish is the main priority and a solid one at that. So no time to feed into it; straight in and a good points haul for the manufacturers' championship. No pressure then!”

He’s only done the Turkish event once before, in 2003, but doesn’t expect to be too disadvantaged. He expects Gronholm, Hirvonen and Solberg to be his main rivals, but knows that anything can happen in rallying.

On their part, Citroen are relying heavily on McRae. They hold a slender lead in the manufacturers’ championship, and with Citroen number 2 driver, Dani Sordo, performing poorly of late, the French outfit are desperate to retain their lead. Whether that’s putting too much pressure on McRae – given his lack of match practice – remains to be seen.

Rally fans down under are obviously in a quandary with Rally Australia only weeks away. One the one hand, they’re hoping for a quick recovery for Loeb so that they can see him wrap up the World Championship in Perth, but on the other hand McRae has always had tremendous support in Australia, and seeing the Scotsman at the wheel of the Xsara on WA’s ball-bearing gravel one last time would be a sight to behold.

Whatever the outcome, it’s great to have McRae back.

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