Colin McRae at Play

What do you do for kicks when your name's Colin McRae and your job is driving a 300bhp rally car over a variety of non-stick surfaces at 130mph? Simple, buy a bike. And not just any bike, a £35,500 British Superbike replica Suzuki GSX-R1000...

Colin McRae loves bikes. Plain and simple. When he's not doing three figure silly speeds on tarmac, sand, gravel or even snow and ice, he can normally be found having fun on two wheels. It's reassuring for all bikers to know that one of the world's best car drivers is one of us, someone who gets his serious enjoyment from riding a motorcycle.

"At the end of the day, driving the Ford Focus WRC car is fun," says Colin, "but a lot of the enjoyment only comes from the results. If you win, you're over the moon, if you don't you're not. The simple fact is that driving the car is my job and in my spare time I get a massive kick out of riding bikes." And when your 9 to 5 job is such an adrenaline rush anyway, your average road iron is not going to be up to the job of getting the McRae adrenal glands pumping. Hence this machine. It's an exact copy of John Crawford's ETI Suzuki GSX-R1000 machine which he's been racing in British Superbikes this season.

"It all snowballed a bit, to be honest," admits McRae, 1995 World Rally Champ who is currently lying second in this year's series. "I've got a standard GSX-R1000 and I was going to just get a few choice modifications done. I've known Ian Simpson, ex-British Superbike Champion and now ETI Suzuki team-manager, for a while and we had a talk about what we should do with the bike and by the time we'd stopped talking, the whole thing had become a full-blown superbike!" With British Superbike rules going to 1,000cc, it would be easier to build a superbike-spec machine for Colin, as current regulations allow for Supersports-style tuning, rather than the anything-goes Superbike regs which the 750 fours run to.

Cheaper to build, too, by about £50,000. This is important when you're a Scotsman and you're paying, even if you're rumoured to be the highest paid rally driver in the World with a £5-6 million pay packet from Ford every year! Simpson takes up the story. "Colin had helped us out a bit during the early part of the year, by letting us use his street GSX-R1000 as a donor bike for the frame and engine when we were starting out and waiting for parts. By the time we were up and running and we began building his bike we decided to base it on our machine. Our bikes are pretty trick and we know what works and what doesn't work on them by now, so it was going to be easy to build something that would work really well."

So what goes into the McRae missile? As it was to be a faithful reproduction copy of John Crawford's bike,
first the engine was worked on. Colin's bike got a full compliment of Yoshimura internals including gearbox and cams along with uprated ignition and fuel-injection. Breathing was improved with a modified airbox and a Promotive full exhaust system was also put on, replacing the more restrictive and heavier standard exhaust. Nikki Kennedy then tuned the engine to provide an output of around 175bhp. Getting all that power to the track is the job of the gorgeously sculpted replacement Harris swingarm and Öhlins rear shock.

At the front are the latest Öhlins multi-adjustable racing forks. Weight is pared off the road bike by using a Hiatco rear subframe, while all the road-going paraphenalia such as lights, indicators and clocks were removed and road-going heavy plastics are swopped for thinner, lighter, carbon-fibre race bodywork, again identical to JC's machine. Road yokes and footrests are replaced by Pro-Mach yokes, footrests hangers.

Light weight race wheels are also used. All in all, the parts come to around £22,000, which when you add to the original cost of the bike at £8,500 and labour at £5,000 make a titanic £35,500! Not cheap, but still a cheaper way than most of winning British Superbike races, as it's not that far off John Reynolds' race-winning Crescent machine, according to Simmo. "Aye, there's nothing that you could point at Colin's bike and say JR has got better. No expense has been spared on Colin's bike. The only difference is the fact that JC's ETI race bike has telemetry. That's what Colin wanted."

Colin McRae's BSB GSX-R!000

This isn't the first race-spec machine that McRae has ridden. "I've had a go on a full-blown 750 Superbike last year. It was at the Brands Hatch GSX-R Festival and it was John Crawford's Crescent Suzuki GSX-R750. Kevin Schwantz was out on track at the same time and I did ask him to go easy on me! The bike itself surprised me. Saying it was easy to ride is the wrong thing, but I was surprised that it was easier than I thought it would be to ride, and that it wasn't a bit of a pig! I think it's stuff like modern electronics that help make the engines of these things more usable than in the past. I think the difficulty is in making it go fast. Not my pace, but proper fast. That last second of a good lap time must be the hardest to get."

So with that experience of an £80,000 750 in mind, does his half-price 1,000 hit the mark? He took it round the Knockhill race circuit near Fife, in Scotland to find out. "It's unbelievable," he says. "Compared to a road bike, it's like the jump in performance from a fairly powerful road car to my rally car. It's all about how that power is used. This bike does things for you, it's so positive."

A few more laps with former double British Supersport champ Crawford leading him round and even the rally-fit McRae was beginning to feel the heat. "When you compare yourself to people who race these things properly, like John, you soon find that you're wide of the mark! It's such a physical thing muscling the bike around Knockhill, you have to really man-handle the big 1,000 around. It was a bit of a surprise really, as I've ridden bikes around here previously. I know I'm going to be stiff and aching for days after this. I have never been so physically tired riding bikes as this before! Compared to the 750, the 1,000 gives you so much torque as well as top-end power. So much so, I found it almost impossible to keep the front wheel off the ground. JC is a fair bit smaller than me and I just don't know how he keeps the front tyre in contact with the tarmac, I really don't!"

But surely driving a rally car must be tiring? "It's different, really, and not quite so physical as in a rally car you have aids like power steering and a semi-automatic gearbox. But, as you can be in the car for 12 hours a day the real test in a rally car is one of stamina." One thing that Colin will change on the bike is the brakes. He wants to swop over to the latest Brembo Radial brakes - the sort seen on the latest BSB and WSB Superbikes - rather than the fiercesome AP Lockheeds that are identical to the ones on John Crawford's race bike. Also, he wants to get plain, black bodywork on the bike, to make it look a little more sinister. Either way, he's happy with the bike and it's another bike to add to his collection. He's got a Ducati 996, an original Honda FireBlade, a standard Suzuki GSX-R1000 road bike, a couple of KTM dirt bikes that he and brother Alistair (Mitsubishi's factory driver in World Rally) enjoy playing on, as well as a 1996-vintage GSX-R750WT.

"I once went for a ride with ex-British 600 champ and road-racer Jim Moodie. We went along with Alistair and Ian and we were all on the 750WT when it first came out back in 1996. Afterwards Jim was telling people I was mad, which for him to say that is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black." Simmo also remembers the ride. "About the best thing I can say about that day without incriminating us too much is that I can remember us all doing wheelies and stoppies as we went through Glasgow city centre. It was a bit mad..."

It could have turned out that Colin was heading towards a motocross career, rather than a rally one. "As well as rallying my dad, Jimmy, used to ride motocross, so bikes were always part of growing up. When you're young and a boy you're always interested in anything with an engine in it. From the age of five I've been riding and I even raced motocross at one point." So what does Colin think of World MotoGP champ Valentino Rossi taking part in the RAC Rally this November? "He's got the ability," says Colin, "that was clear in the Michelin Race of Champions last year when he did a bit of rallying. But I think he will struggle with the pace notes and getting the confidence in his co-driver. These things are all important, you have to rely on them 100%. I think that going from what he's done before in a car to doing an event like the RAC is like me doing what I've done around here at Knockhill and then going to Brands Hatch to race in World Superbikes.

There are some similarities to racing bikes to racing cars. It's still all about co-ordination and concentration and you're still trying to get the best lines through a corner. It also means I keep my mind active when I'm away from the car, which is good. Bikes are a kick for me. There's not the pressure to go so very fast, like I have to in the car, I can go just as quick as I want to go. Mind you, the reason I wanted to have this bike is because I wanted something that could scare me silly out on track!"