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Evidence rules McRae at fault for crash

9/12/2011
Colin McRae slides it under the powerlines at X Games 12. ESPN Images/Shazamm/Morgan J Segal Photography

X Games silver medalist and WRC rally champion Colin McRae may be gone, but four years after the fatal crash, charities drive on in the spirit of McRae's favored quote, "When in doubt, flat out."

UK Investigators now say McRae flew his helicopter dangerously low on the day he lost control and crashed into the trees near his home in Lanark, Scotland. In spite of the tragedy, peers and fans alike understand that the same willingness to take calculated risks can also end in disaster. Though the rally world mourned the sudden loss, family and friends have taken up McRae's name for charity events to carry on his legacy.

The 16-day inquiry by the Lanark Sheriff Court concluded on Tuesday. It examined evidence about the 2007 crash that killed McRae, his 5-year-old son, Johnny, and family friends Graeme Duncan, 37, and 6-year-old Ben Porcelli. Key evidence came from Duncan's camcorder which recorded much of the fatal flight. According to the inquiry, McRae, an experienced pilot, deviated from his usual "slow, controlled descent" return path home. Instead, McRae took a "rapid descent into a heavily wooded valley."

The Sheriff blamed McRae in the written determination for "low level flying when it was unnecessary and unsafe for him to do so and whilst carrying passengers on board." The inquiry found that everyone on board was wearing seat belts, and the helicopter was running smoothly. As McRae maneuvered the helicopter, Duncan is heard on the video, "Ah yes -- feel the G force!"

"What looks like "too much" to the average person looks very different to the athletes doing them. From my own experience, I've watched video of myself racing wheel-to-wheel with another car and it scares me," said Ross Bentley, endurance race champion and president of DirtFish Rally School. "But when I was in the car I felt 100 percent in control, and it was no big deal."

The willingness to chug risk and trample the edge is what makes athletes like McRae and Travis Pastrana champions. Bentley added, "While very unfortunate, the crash probably even adds to his reputation in the eyes of the very hard-core rally and McRae fans. But things do go wrong, no matter whether one is driving a rally car, flying a helicopter, or walking across the street." Still, not every fan condones the glorification of risk.

"He was the master of modern-day rally, and one of the few drivers I ever really looked up to. But that doesn't mean I can approve of this bald-faced bravado, this macho 'bro' crap that's permeating the culture I grew up with," said Vincent Balestriere, a rally and McRae fan. There is a tension between attracting American rally audience through marketing and preserving the culture McRae was part of. This is a point of contention for fans like Balestriere, who said, "I don't care what you do on an Air Force base with cones. Go be competitive in WRC events."

In the four years since the crash, the void left by the sudden loss of McRae has birthed numerous charities in his name. Bentley's DirtFish Rally School supports The Colin McRae Vision, which raises money for underprivileged children's health and youth motorsport education. Vision organized a two hour endurance karting race to benefit a children's hospice. In promo material, Vision says it donated over $100,000 in 2010. Another charity event was the Colin McRae Subaru Weekender, which gathered 100 McRae Subaru fans together for a driving tour of Scotland, which included stages where McRae won his 1995 championship. Everyone takes their own lessons from the accident, but there's never the doubt whether the champ always went flat out.