Scottish rally champion

Born: January 31, 1952;

Died: December 30, 2017

DONALD Milne, who has died in an air accident in Spain aged 65, was best-known as a former Scottish rally champion as well as a mentor to and sponsor of one of our greatest rally drivers of all time, the late world champion Colin McRae.

Mr Milne helped launch McRae’s spectacular career. But he was also a millionaire businessman, a self-made man who made his fortune providing oilrig equipment during the early years of the North Sea oil boom. He was a tough negotiator, sometimes feared by competitors, but loved by family and friends to whom he was fiercely loyal.

He took to rally driving to “relax” from his business commitments but when he felt too old for driving fast cars at full pelt over country roads he turned to something “less dangerous” – flying his own light aircraft.

It was in his bright-red-with-blue-trimmings ultra-light replica of a German Bücker Jungmann (Bü-131) bi-plane, originally a training aircraft for Second World War Luftwaffe pilots, that he met his death just before New Year at the small Mutxamel airstrip near Alicante and his Spanish retirement home at Dénia. It was one of his “home” airfields, where he kept his plane, and he knew it well.

Coming in to land, he collided only a few metres above the runway with the tail rotor of a provincial government firefighting helicopter that had been extinguishing unseasonal forest fires around the mountain village of Culla, near Castellón. Mr Milne, a qualified commercial pilot with thousands of flight hours, was rushed in critical condition to Alicante General Hospital, where he died later the same day. The helicopter pilot and six firefighters had a miraculous escape.

Mr Milne became involved in rallying in his 30s as a “relaxation” away from the hurly burly of business. (Relaxation? Driving a souped-up car flat-out on forest roads?). He bought and tuned several cars with a view to rallying and kept them in an agricultural shed by his converted and restored farmhouse on Aulton Farm, Auchattie, Banchory.

Recognising the talent of the 19-year-old Lanark lad Colin McRae in the late-1980s, Mr Milne offered the teenager cars to get his career moving. Mentored and supported by Mr Milne, McRae won the Scottish Rally Championship in 1988 and went on to win the British Rally Championship twice (1991 and ’92), later becoming World Rally Champion in 1995 in a Subaru, the first Briton to win the world title.

“Donald had money, but he also had talent [as a driver] and was prepared to commit fully to anything he did,” said his friend John Fife, one of Scotland’s leading motorsport journalists who writes at “Colin (McRae) would probably not have progressed quite so quickly without Donald’s support.

“Donald could have two, three, four rally cars sitting back at home or around the country. He spotted Colin’s potential and stepped in to say, ‘Use my Peugeot, use my Nissan’. Donald never asked for a penny. He just said, ‘Try to bring the car back in one piece’,” Mr Fife added. “It gave Colin a great boost. When he won his first championship in 1988 it was thanks to Donald lending him cars.” Colin McRae was only 39 when he died in 2007 piloting his private helicopter close to his home in his native Lanark. His son and two family friends also died in the accident.

Encouraged by McRae, Mr Milne increasingly competed himself. He started rallying in 1988 with an MG Metro 6R4, a Peugeot 205 RWD with a 2.4 litre Nissan engine, or a Nissan 240RS, scoring many top 10 finishes in the Scottish Rally. His intensive oil business kept him away from the wheel for a time but in 1991, he had a go at the Scottish Rally Championship in another MG Metro, but this time with the hot Nissan 240RS engine. To the delight of all Scottish rally enthusiasts, not least McRae, and with his friend Bob Wilson of Nairn as co-driver, he won the Scottish title.

Having sold Apex Tubulars, Mr Milne moved to the Costal del Azahar, Valencia, with his wife Fiona and two sons, not just to enjoy the sun but to indulge his other passion – flying. He bought and sold several light aircraft and was waiting for two small planes from the US at the time of his death. But the lightweight Bücker in which he died was the love of his life after his family. Rescuers at Mutxamel airfield said the Bücker, a model often used for stunt flying, skywalking and period movies, flipped over before it hit the ground cockpit-first, giving him no chance of survival.

Milne’s friend John Fife said: “Donald was very good company, kept himself fit and healthy. He was a workaholic at anything he did. He was a rally-holic then an aircraft-holic. That’s the way the man was wired. He was a very good pilot.” Other friends noted that Mr Milne gave freely to multiple charities, notably those involving horses, donkeys and dogs. His wife Fiona is an accomplished horsewoman.

Donald Stewart Milne was born and brought up in Banchory, near Aberdeen. Still only in his twenties when North Sea oil exploration turned Aberdeen into something of a “Wild West town” in the 1970s, he saw national and international companies swarm into the Granite City to cash in. He saw a gap in the market for equipment needed for the offshore rigs and set up his own company, Apex Tubulars, which turned him into a global business traveller to meet suppliers and buyers.

Apex developed a worldwide reputation by sourcing and supplying Downhole Casing and Tubing for the offshore oil market. Sold by Mr Milne in the late-1990s, the company still specialises in offshore wells, deepwater wells and onshore wells, as well as shale gas and gas storage projects.

Quintin Milne said he had recently told his father he should be taking things more easily in retirement although he continued working from Spain as an oil consultant and continued to fly.

“Dad replied, ‘I’d rather go in my beloved aeroplane than having you spoon-feed me later on.’ He was a larger-than-life character who lived life to the full. He was loved by so many people and helped so many people.”

Donald Milne is survived by his wife Fiona, 61, and their two sons Quintin and Freddie, both also in the oil business and competitive rally drivers.