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.[20]
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.[7] 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.[8] Racing was going its own separate way.
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.[12] 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.[13] The upturn towards the end of the season resulted in him deciding to renew his contract with Ford for a further two years.[14] 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.
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.
Rallying is also unique in its choice of where and when to race. Rallies take place on all surfaces and in all conditions: asphalt (tarmac), gravel, or snow and ice, sometimes more than one in a single rally, depending on the course and event. Rallies are also run every month of the year, in every climate from bitter cold to monsoonal rain. As a result of the drivers not knowing exactly what lies ahead, the lower traction available on dirt roads, and the driving characteristics of small cars, the drivers are much less visibly smooth than circuit racers, regularly sending the car literally flying over bumps, and sliding the cars out of corners.
Rising investor confidence also indicates a rally, and it is perhaps more powerful than any economic indicator because when investors believe something is going to happen (a rally, for example), they tend to take action (purchasing shares in order to profit from expected price increases) that actually turn expectations into reality. Although it is an objective concept, investor sentiment shows through in mathematical measurements such as the put/call ratio, the advance/decline line, IPO activity, and the amount of outstanding margin debt.
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