Colin McRae, Britain's first World Rally Champion and an icon in millions of homes around the world, today announced a sabbatical from the FIA World Rally Championship.

After 16 years on the world scene, next week's Wales Rally GB will therefore be McRae's last outing in the series for the foreseeable future.

The 1995 World Rally Champion began hitting the headlines when he joined Subaru in 1991, his dramatically flamboyant driving style earning him admiration and a reputation for driving on the limit.

Subaru and Prodrive's faith in the young Scot paid off however, and within four years he was crowned World Champion and was instrumental in the Japanese manufacturer securing the first of its three consecutive titles.

McRae is the only household name in rallying, little wonder when no fewer than seven million 'Colin McRae Rally' games are played by gaming and rally fans around the world.

In his years in the World Rally Championship, McRae has contested 142 events and his 25 victories make him the equal most successful driver in the series. Twenty-four percent of his wins have come on tarmac, while three-quarters of them have been on his favoured loose surface.

"There are numerous reasons for not competing in the 2004 World Championship and one of the main things is the change in the specific regulation that says each team can only have two registered cars," commented McRae. "It didn't help that a definite decision wasn't made early enough in the year to give anyone a chance of securing a drive. Because of that, the only option left was to find the funds to pay for a drive and, given the short timescale, it's just almost impossible to pull that kind of money together.

"At the time Citroen made its decision, Carlos [Sainz] was in a stronger position in the Championship than me, and still is. It also has very strong links with the Spanish market so both of these factors obviously contributed. Had the driver regulations not changed, Citroen had always stated they would keep all three of us; now they can't.

"All this, coupled with the fact that it's not been my best year in the sport, have meant I've not really enjoyed it. And I've always said that when I don't enjoy it, I would seriously consider stepping back. The results haven't been there and these two things go together; if you're enjoying it, you're competitive. I'm not as competitive as I want to be and this is another reason for pulling out.

"I'm not disappointed, and in fact very positive about the future. I'm really looking forward to getting into other forms of motorsport; it's something I've always said I wanted to do. Everyone knows there are talks about me competing on The Dakar; again, that's an event I've always thought about doing. There's potential for a deal there, and also lots of others that would take me into different forms of motorsport.

"2004 has the makings of a very interesting year, and hopefully I'll be in a position to make an announcement about certain things very soon."

McRae heads to Wales Rally GB next week with three victories on his home event under his belt. Without the title fight to worry about, the Scot is focused on setting the Welsh forests alight and thrilling the crowds who flock to the final round of the FIA World Rally Championship.



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