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Colin McRae, 39; flamboyant rally driver raised sport's profile

September 17, 2007|From the Associated Press

Colin McRae, whose fascination with cars grew into an obsession that led him to 25 wins in a World Rally Championship career, was killed in a helicopter crash along with his 5-year-old son and two others, police said Sunday. He was 39.

McRae was piloting the helicopter, which he owned and was licensed to fly, when it crashed Saturday in a wooded area near his home in Lanarkshire, Scotland.

McRae raced in the World Rally Championship from 1987 until 2004 and was the champion in 1995. He also took part in the Paris-to-Dakar rally, the Le Mans 24-hour race, the Race of Champions and the X Games.

McRae also lent his name to a bestselling computer game, but it was his flamboyant racing style that earned him fans in all types of motor sports and lifted the profile of rallying in Britain.

"He was really daring, always pushing it further," Formula One driver Heikki Kovalainen said. "I always liked his attitude. It was maximum attack always, and he had some big rolls sometimes. Every time he had one, though, it was like: 'Oh well, it's just a roll,' and he just carried on."

In addition to McRae's son Johnny Gavin, two other people died in the crash -- 6-year-old Ben Porcelli and 37-year-old Graeme Duncan.

The son of five-time British rally champion Jimmy McRae, Colin McRae was born in Lanark, Scotland, and was competing on motorbikes by age 7. He competed in his first rally in 1985 and worked as a plumber while building his racing career, which kicked off when he became the British rally champion in 1991 and 1992.

"There was never a minute when he didn't try 100%, and of course we had lots of accidents," said David Richards, who owned the Prodrive team that McRae raced with when he won his world title. "And it is with great irony that, with all the accidents he had in rally cars that he walked away from unscathed, this happens in a helicopter."

He won the world title in 1995 -- the first Briton to do so -- and was runner-up in 1996, 1997 and 2001. He won 25 races in his World Rally Championship career.

"I didn't set goals as I went along," McRae told Autosport Magazine in January. "I just wanted to be quick as possible and win as much as possible."

McRae spent 2006 working on an auto camp in Are, Sweden, which he wanted to become the world's premier driving center.

He also took part in a rally contest at the X Games each of the last two years, including last month's event in Carson.

In the 2006 event, McRae flipped his Subaru, tearing a wheel off the car, but still finished second.

McRae's success on the rally circuit led to a computer game, "Colin McRae Rally," first released in 1998 and now found on PlayStation, Game Boy, Xbox and PSP platforms.

McRae was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1996 by Queen Elizabeth II.

In addition to his father, survivors include his wife, Allison, and his daughter, Hollie.

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