Analysts spend thousands of hours trying to mathematically determine what will trigger the next rally and how long it will last. Technical analysis is especially prevalent in this effort, although less sophisticated indicators such as hemline fashions or the NFL division of the latest Super Bowl winner also provide fodder for such predictions. This in turn can sometimes lead to speculation that a rally is just around the corner, which can then become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In the Paris–Madrid race of May 1903, the Mors of Fernand Gabriel [fr] took just under five and a quarter hours for the 550 km (340 mi) to Bordeaux, an average of 105 km/h (65.3 mph). Speeds had now far outstripped the safe limits of dusty highways thronged with spectators and open to other traffic, people and animals; there were numerous crashes, many injuries and eight deaths. The French government stopped the race and banned this style of event. From then on, racing in Europe (apart from Italy) would be on closed circuits, initially on long loops of public highway and then, in 1907, on the first purpose-built track, England's Brooklands. Racing was going its own separate way.
We take rally cars based off front-wheel-drive subcompacts for granted now, but the Mini Cooper was the first of the breed. The humble Mini was originally designed to be an affordable city car, but others saw different possibilities. Race car engineer John Cooper took a 997cc engine out of one of his Formula Junior racers and fitted disc brakes to the Mini to create the Mini Cooper. In hotter Cooper S form, the Mini won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, 1965 and 1967, setting the template for so many rally cars to come.
“Ask anyone to name a rally driver and the first name that comes to mind is invariably Colin McRae,” said Silverstone’s Adam Rutter. “He was always a favourite among rally fans but his incredible success also made him a household name.” The auction house expects this very Focus to sell for between £120,000 and £140,000, or about $170-200k when the gavel drops on February 23.
In Germany, the Herkomer Trophy was first held in 1905, and again in 1906. This challenging five-day event attracted over 100 entrants to tackle its 1,000 km (620 mi) road section, a hillclimb and a speed trial, but sadly it was marred by poor organisation and confusing regulations. One participant had been Prince Henry of Austria, who was inspired to do better, so he enlisted the aid of the Imperial Automobile Club of Germany to create the first Prinz Heinrich Fahrt (Prince Henry Trial) in 1908. Another trial was held in 1910. These were very successful, attracting top drivers and works cars from major teams – several manufacturers added "Prince Henry" models to their ranges. The first Alpine Trial was held in 1909, in Austria; by 1914, this was the toughest event of its kind, producing a star performance from Britain's James Radley in his Rolls-Royce Alpine Eagle.
However, if you are heading for a spin around your favourite backcountry twister, then there are few cars better suited. Independent suspension all-round, a turbocharged 230hp 2.0-litre engine and all-wheel drive, mixed with the early signs of Ford’s newfound commitment to handling, meant the Cosworth would devour pretty much any flavour of road in its path.
The Liège continued as uncompromisingly an open road event run to an impossible time schedule, and remained Europe's toughest rally until 1964, by which time it had turned to the wilds of Yugoslavia and Bulgaria to find traffic-free roads; but in the end the pressures were irresistible. The Coupe des Alpes struggled on until 1973 until it too succumbed, its demise no doubt hastened by the decision of the French motor sporting authorities to select the Tour de Corse as its representative event in international rally championships.
In the wake of the ever more advanced rally cars of the 21st century is a trend towards historic rallying (also known as classic rallying), in which older cars compete under older rules. This is a popular sport and even attracts some previous drivers back into the sport. Many who enter, however, have started their competition careers in historic rallying.
In countries where there was no shortage of demanding roads across remote terrain, other events sprang up. In South America, the biggest of these took the form of long distance city to city races, each of around 5,000 to 6,000 miles (8,000–9,500 km), divided into daily legs. The first was the Gran Premio del Norte of 1940, run from Buenos Aires to Lima and back; it was won by Juan Manuel Fangio in a much modified Chevrolet coupé. This event was repeated in 1947, and in 1948 an even more ambitious one was held, the Gran Premio de la América del Sur from Buenos Aires to Caracas, Venezuela—Fangio had an accident in which his co-driver was killed. Then in 1950 came the fast and dangerous Carrera Panamericana, a 1,911-mile (3,075 km) road race in stages across Mexico to celebrate the opening of the asphalt highway between the Guatemala and United States borders, which ran until 1954. All these events fell victim to the cost – financial, social and environmental – of putting them on in an increasingly complex and developed world, although smaller road races continued long after, and a few still do in countries like Bolivia.
To limit power, all forced induction cars were fitted with a 34 mm diameter air restrictor before the turbocharger inlet, limiting the air flow to about 10 cubic meters per minute. The restriction was intended to limit power output to 300 hp although some WRC engines were believed to produce around 330–340 hp. Engine development did not focus on peak power output but towards producing a very wide powerband (or power curve). Typically, power output in excess of 300 hp was available from 3000 rpm to the 7500 rpm maximum, with a peak of 330–340 hp at around 5500 rpm. At 2000 rpm (the engine idle speed in "stage" mode) power output was slightly above 200 hp.
In 1986, driving a Talbot Sunbeam, McRae entered the Scottish Rally Championship and soon made a name for himself with his speed and exciting style of driving. His driving style drew many comparisons to Finnish ex-World Rally Champion Ari Vatanen, whom McRae had always idolised. In 1988 he performed a giant-killing act when he took the Scottish Rally Championship series crown in a humble Vauxhall Nova. Craving more power, his next car was a Ford Sierra XR 4x4.
Most of the works drivers of the 1950s were amateurs, paid little or nothing, reimbursed their expenses and given bonuses for winning (although there were certainly exceptions, such as the Grand Prix drivers who were brought in for some events). Then in 1960 came arguably the first rallying superstar (and one of the first to be paid to rally full-time), Sweden's Erik Carlsson, driving for Saab.