McRae rejoined Prodrive for the 2004 24 Hours of Le Mans where he took third place in the GTS class, and ninth position overall in a Ferrari 550-GTS Maranello partnering Darren Turner and Rickard Rydell. Fellow countryman, and Le Mans winner Allan McNish commented that "Colin has adapted far better than people expected" to endurance sportscar racing.
After several years of varying success, McRae switched to the M-Sport-run Ford factory team for 1999, driving the new Ford Focus rally car. The deal saw McRae earning six million pounds over two years, which at the time made him the highest earning rally driver in history. This move was immediately rewarded with two consecutive wins at the Safari Rally and Rally Portugal. A number of shunts and reliability issues for the new car for much of the rest of that season, however, resulted in only sixth place in the championship standings overall. Moreover, a rare personal pointless run had begun for McRae that year which was only to be halted with a podium on the following February's Swedish Rally, the beginning of a recovery which saw McRae victorious on the asphalt turns of Catalunya and the gravel of Greece, and post 4th in the 2000 overall standings. Midway through the 2000 season, the lacking reliability of the Focus had led to McRae threatening to leave the team if the problems continued. The upturn towards the end of the season resulted in him deciding to renew his contract with Ford for a further two years. McRae's intermittent success with Ford continued into 2001, where after failing to score in any of the first four rounds, including having momentarily led defending winner Tommi Mäkinen on the stages of the season opening Monte Carlo Rally prior to being forced into retirement, he then went on to score three consecutive victories in Argentina, Cyprus and Greece to tie with Mäkinen at the top of the points table. However, having again led the championship outright entering the final round in Great Britain, McRae once more missed out on a possible second title, crashing out and finishing second in the drivers championship, two points behind Subaru's Richard Burns.
These events were road races in all but name, but in Italy such races were still allowed, and the Mille Miglia continued until a serious accident in 1957 caused it to be banned. Meanwhile, in 1981, the Tour de France was revived by the Automobile-Club de Nice as a different kind of rally, based primarily on a series of races at circuits and hillclimbs around the country. It was successful for a while and continued until 1986. It spawned similar events in a few other countries, but none survive.
This particular era was not to last. On the 1986 Rallye de Portugal, four spectators were killed; then in May, on the Tour de Corse, Henri Toivonen went over the edge of a mountain road and was incinerated in the fireball that followed. FISA immediately changed the rules again: rallying after 1987 would be in Group A cars, closer to the production model. One notably successful car during this period was the Lancia Delta Integrale, dominating world rallying during 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992 – winning six consecutive world rally championships, a feat yet unbeaten.
McRae's outstanding performance with the Subaru World Rally Team enabled the team to win the World Rally Championship Constructors' title three times in succession in 1995, 1996 and 1997. After a four-year spell with the Ford Motor Co. team, which saw McRae win nine events, he moved to Citroën World Rally Team in 2003 where, despite not winning an event, he helped them win the first of their three consecutive manufacturers' titles. He was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to motorsport in 1996.
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.
After the crash, an investigative team from the UK Department for Transport Air Accidents Investigation Branch attended the scene in co-operation with Strathclyde Police. The wreckage of the helicopter was removed to Farnborough for further forensic investigation. A report into the accident was published on 12 February 2009. In it, the AAIB did not reach a definite conclusion as to the cause of the accident, stating instead that "the helicopter crashed in a wooded valley while manoeuvering at high speed and low height. It was intact prior to impact, and the available evidence indicated that the engine was delivering power. The cause of the accident was not positively determined. Although no technical reason was found to explain the accident, a technical fault could not be ruled out entirely. However, it is more likely that the pilot attempted a turning manoeuvre at low height, during which the helicopter deviated from its intended flight path; whether due to the pilot encountering handling difficulties, misjudgement, spatial disorientation, distraction or a combination of such events. There were indications that the pilot had started a recovery but, with insufficient height in which to complete it, the helicopter struck trees in the valley and crashed, killing all four occupants."
In an attempt to cut costs, since 2006 new regulations required mechanical front and rear differentials, while the central differential remained active. Active suspension and water injections were also prohibited. Cars entered by a manufacturer had to be equipped with the same engine for two rallies; further limitations were imposed on the changing of some parts, including suspension, steering, turbochargers and gearboxes.
All-Wheel Drive cars have more traction (naturally) and can therefore attain higher speeds in a shorter space, but require very precise driving to extract the most from them. Rear-Wheel Drive is quite challenging, requiring a lot of throttle control and very smooth inputs. It’s incredibly fun and sideways, and the ability to successfully handle a Rear-Wheel Drive car through slippery rally conditions is quite rewarding. Both are incredibly fun, and will increase your driving ability and car control beyond what’s possible on a track.
Colin McRae began his competitive career in motorsport riding trial bikes at an early age, despite being more interested in four wheeled machines rather than two wheel bikes. At the age of sixteen, through the Coltness Car Club, McRae discovered autotesting, he soon traded his bike for a Mini Cooper and started competing. A year later, he began to negotiate with another club member to use his Hillman Avenger for the Kames Stages, a single-staged rally venue not far from McRae's home. McRae finished the event fourteenth; first in his class although he had run most of the event in a higher position.
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.
Other manufacturers were not content with modifying their 'bread-and-butter' cars. Renault bankrolled the small volume sports-car maker Alpine to transform their little A110 Berlinette coupé into a world-beating rally car, and hired a skilled team of drivers too; then in 1974 came the Lancia Stratos, the first car designed from scratch to win rallies, and the dominant asphalt rally car of its time. These makers overcame the rules of FISA (as the FIA was called at the time) by building the requisite number of these models for the road.
In many rallies, including those of the World Rally Championship (WRC), drivers are allowed to run on the stages of the course before competition and create their own pacenotes. This process is called reconnaissance or recce. During reconnaissance, the co-driver writes down shorthand notes (the pacenotes) on how to best drive the stage. Usually the drivers call out the turns and road conditions for the co-drivers to write down. These pacenotes are read aloud through an internal intercom system during the actual race, allowing the driver to anticipate the upcoming terrain and thus take the course as fast as possible.
While nowadays we are used to rally cars being visually close relatives to hot hatchbacks and saloons, it wasn’t always this way. The Lancia Stratos was the first car purpose built for the World Rally Championship; however, its rakish supercar looks and Ferrari-sourced V6 suggested it was better suited to the car park outside Monte Carlo’s casino than the world’s toughest rally stages.