There are few names in the world of motorsport that are as instantly recognizable as that of the late rally legend Colin McRae. Celebrated throughout the world for his intensely uninhibited, on-the-edge driving, those who have witnessed the 1995 World Rally Champion behind the wheel can easily agree that no one came close to matching his passionate ferocity and fearless commitment to the sport. Colin was not one to do things half-heartedly in the least. Drifting hard, driving fast and landing the highest, furthest jumps, a car under his control was expected to be pushed to its limits, much to the delight of spectators. So admired was the Scotsman’s “if in doubt, flat out” attitude that even his famous habit of crashing was appreciated as only further demonstrating his deep sincerity to pushing oneself, as man and machine, to the highest potential possible.
Rally racing could not be what it has evolved into today without Colin McRae. To this day he continues to instill awe within new drivers and enthusiasts, young and old. In his honor, Rally Innovations received a 2013 Focus ST from Ford Motor Company to build this remarkable tribute vehicle. Five years after his passing the team recreated their Rally Focus ST to the likeness of McRae’s Focus WRC from 2001. The entire process began in the last week of August 2012 to October 23, just a day before the SEMA show in Las Vegas where the finished car made its debut showing as an official tribute. The livery was blessed by the McRae family and Colin’s former co-driver, Nicky Grist.
With only so much time available, the project was a feat for the build team at Rally Innovations, which consisted of a small but skilled handful of students and fresh college graduates. Jameson Lee, a film and media student hailing from UC Irvine, joined the team as a freshman; he documented every aspect of the car’s transformation and was given the initial task of stripping the vehicle of its insides. Founder John Peñano recruited those who were eager to get involved in the automotive industry and always has an eye out for the prospective engineering students, as they often (or at least, should!) possess the essential discipline of both character and technical knowledge that makes successful workers for the field.
Of the four members within the build team, three are mechanical engineers. Wesley Chan came to the company in his second year at UC Irvine and was responsible for the striking vinyl work reminiscent of the design on McRae’s Focus. Rafael Trias joined as a fresh graduate, also from UC Irvine, and designed and prototyped many of the car’s parts such as the hood vent shroud, hidden light bar, wing and skid plate. Raymond Shum of UC Riverside joined Rally Innovations during his third year and used computer-aided design (CAD) to create mud flaps for water jet cutting, prototyping hood cut-out pieces, as well as designing and installing harness bars and belts.
The very moment of the Focus’ arrival at the shop turned Rally Innovations into a feeding frenzy. Every angle of the car was photographed, the interior was immediately stripped, and countless measurements of every possible kind were recorded. A very wise move considering the fact that the students were able to design, sketch, or prototype parts at any time whether or not the car was even present. In the meantime, it was juggled to and from other shops for suspension installation, engine tuning, exhaust system prototyping, and painting. In between shops, the car would come back, the team would assess the fittings and installation, make more documentation, and move on to the next step. Sounds simple and easy enough, but no worthy build is without its obstacles. The team came across a problem regarding the car’s wing: the original idea was to have it as close in design to the one on McRae’s Focus, but the options they had in mounting it to their car didn’t seem to allow it. It was either change the wing’s appearance entirely or improvise a special mount on the spot. Rally Innovations being who they are, chose to do the latter, of course. After various test fitments, the team was able to stick to their original vision and made a wing that both mounted properly and looked just like McRae’s.
An interesting feature of the car that was incorporated in its finishing stage was the signatures seen on the number plate. Our good friend Rex Tokeshi-Torres was able to get the number plate signed by various drivers from the 2012 Global Rallycross Championship, including Tanner Foust, Travis Pastrana, Bucky Lasek, and WRC Champion Sebastian Loeb.
Everyone involved displayed excellent teamwork and leadership skills that otherwise absent would have made the project impossible to finish in time, especially with such quality of work. Reflected in the work ethic and approach of the Rally Innovations team was the focused determination and passion of Colin McRae himself. Much like the rapport between driver and co-pilot, communication and consistency were key elements in creating a smoothly operating environment. Attention to detail was kept up at all times. When problems arose and the only option was to improvise on the spot, the team’s resourcefulness and creativity shone. Time management, of course, kept the project from getting out of hand. All the while up until completion, the team never strayed from their original vision: to build a car in honor of a legend, who inspired them each in different ways, up to their own high standards independent from what other companies would have done. It was a personal project for each intern, done together as a team, and presented to the motorsport community as a thankful celebration for one of the greatest drivers in the world.