Colin McRae is resting at home in Lanark today after retiring his Nissan Rally Raid Team Pickup in spectacular style from the lead of the Telefonica Dakar Rally.
Having started motorsport’s most gruelling event from Barcelona on New Year’s Eve, McRae set a stunning pace when the desert competition begun in Africa two days later. In the first three stages in Morocco, the 1995 World Rally Champion - taking part in only his second Dakar Rally – was fastest on two of them. The highlight for the team was Colin leading home Nissan’s first ever one-two Dakar Rally stage win with team-mate Giniel de Villiers on the Agadir to Smara section (stage five).
Despite a puncture on stage four, which cost McRae over three minutes on the section from Rabat to Agadir which denied the 36-year old Scott a clean-sweep of stage wins in Morocco, Colin and his Swedish co-driver Tina Thorner had established a solid 5 min 28 sec lead over de Villiers as they entered Mauritania.
At 492kms in length, the sixth stage between Smara and Zouerat was the longest of the event so far, yet McRae’s Nissan Pickup had run faultlessly and with a carefully prepared route, he and Tina were making exceptionally good progress until disaster struck 410kms into the section.
A strong wind made visibility very bad and holes in the ground were being filled in by the powdery sand which continuously swept across the surface. Such a hole was right in the middle of the section of road that Colin was racing down and, impossible to see, his Nissan hit it at high speed. The rear of the Pickup kicked up, the front dug into the soft sand and it rolled end-over-end several times. Colin immediately telephoned his wife Alison to say he was shaken but okay and was then taken to the bivouac by a television helicopter – after they had interviewed him at the scene, naturally! – for a medical check-up.
The following day Colin was driven to Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, where he returned home on an overnight flight.
Colin said: "The roads in Morocco are more like normal gravel rally stages, so it was easier to press on with a good pace and we were really pleased to have opened up a good lead. We knew the stages in Mauritania were more desert and would suit the drivers with more Dakar desert experience, so entering Mauritania with a five minute lead was as good as we could have hoped for. In fact, the stage from Smara to Zouerat was going really well. Tina had done a lot of work on the maps the night before and we had kept away from the big dunes and found a really nice section of road and were making good time.
"We were only six kilometres from the CP3 time control and we knew that from that point on it was plain sailing. Then a bump in the road just caught us out. We probably had already passed 50 holes exactly the same on either side of the car that day and had not noticed them, but this one was right in the middle of the road. There was a strong wind - it was like driving in fog at times and as the wind was moving the sand along the surface the hole was filled in with soft powdery sand, so it was impossible to see the hole until you were in it. The back of the car flipped up and the front dug into the soft sand and over we went. I don’t know how many times we rolled, but there were a few big bangs and we came to rest about 150 metres from where the accident has started. Tina and I are a little stiff, but otherwise we are both fine. The Pickup stood up extremely well - the cockpit never moved and the Nissan team did a very good job designing and building a strong car."
The Dakar Rally continues, with Colin’s Nissan Rally Raid Team team-mates Giniel de Villiers and Ari Vatanen racing towards a well earned rest day in Atar, Mauritania, on Sunday, before crossing Mali and finishing in the Senegalese capital of Dakar on 16 January.Published 8 January 2005