Rallying is a very popular sport at the "grass roots" of motorsport—that is, motor clubs. Individuals interested in becoming involved in rallying are encouraged to join their local automotive clubs. Club rallies (e.g. road rallies or regularity rallies) are usually run on public roads with an emphasis on navigation and teamwork. These skills are important fundamentals required for anyone who wishes to progress to higher-level events. (See Categories of rallies.) Short special stage practice events on public roads are in some countries organized by the local clubs, with a permission of the local police, the community normally using the road, and the road authority. The public road is closed during these by the organisers or the police.
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The 1974 London-Sahara-Munich World Cup Rally followed four years later. The rally travelled southwards into Africa but a navigational error saw most of the rally become lost in Algerian desert. Eventually only seven teams reached the southernmost point of the rally in Nigeria with five teams making it back to West Germany having driven all legs and only the winning team completing the full distance. This, coupled with the economic climate of the 1970s the heat went out of intercontinental rallying after a second London–Sydney Marathon in 1977. The concept though was revived in 1979 for the original Paris-Dakar Rally. The success of the Dakar would eventually see intercontinental rallying recognised as its own discipline; the Rally Raid.
With victory in the Safari Rally in 2002, McRae made the record books as the driver with most event wins in the World Rally Championship. His record has since been broken by Carlos Sainz, Sébastien Loeb and Marcus Grönholm. McRae's contract with Ford came to an end following the 2002 season, and after reportedly asking for wages of five million pounds a year, Ford decided against renewing the contract, reluctant to commit such a high amount of their budget to a driver's salary. The two parties split on amicable terms, with Ford's European director of motorsport Martin Whitaker stating "On behalf of all of us at Ford Motor Company I would like to publicly thank Colin and Nicky for their efforts during the past four years with the Ford team. I wish them both well in the future." McRae said of his time with Ford "It's been a very successful four years, we've achieved a lot of very good results and I'm quite happy that myself and Ford have had a very successful partnership."
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.
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.
Many early rallies were called trials, and a few still are, although this term is now mainly applied to the specialist form of motor sport of climbing as far as you can up steep and slippery hills. And many meets or assemblies of car enthusiasts and their vehicles are still called rallies, even if they involve merely the task of getting there (often on a trailer).
His first WRC event was the 1987 Swedish Rally behind the wheel of his Nova, and again two years later, driving the Sierra and finishing 15th overall. Later that year, he finished 5th overall at Rally New Zealand in a rear wheel drive Sierra Cosworth. By 1990 McRae was driving a Sierra Cosworth 4x4 and achieved sixth place in that year's RAC Rally, despite several accidents. 1991 saw McRae turn professional as he was signed by Prodrive boss David Richards to his Subaru team in the British Rally Championship for an annual wage of approximately £10,000. McRae was British Rally Champion in both 1991 and 1992, soon graduating to the Subaru factory team at World Rally Championship level. 1992 also saw Colin McRae make his début in the British Touring Car Championship, with a one-off appearance for the Prodrive-run BMW factory team at the Knockhill round. In the second of the two races of the event, McRae collided with Matt Neal. Race officials found McRae to have caused an avoidable collision and subsequently disqualified him.
When rallying really took off in the ’80s and ’90s it spawned a new type of performance car. These cars were built for tarmac and mud stages, so their road-going cousins were naturally well-suited to real world conditions. What’s more, they often had four doors, plenty of legroom and a boot (trunk) in the back. And the best bit? Pretty much anyone could buy one and, depending on how deep your pockets were, become Blomqvist, McRae, or Mäkinen.
1968 brought the first of a series of British-organised intercontinental rallies, the Daily Express London-Sydney Marathon, which attracted over 100 crews including a number of works teams and top drivers; it was won by the Hillman Hunter of Andrew Cowan/Brian Coyle/Colin Malkin. Not to be outdone, the rival Daily Mirror sponsored in 1970 the London-Mexico World Cup Rally, linking the stadia of two successive football World Cups, on a route that crossed Europe to Bulgaria and back before shipping out from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, after looping around South America, and a run through some of the most frightening sections of Peru's road race, the Caminos del Inca, they wrap it up being shipped to Panama and a final run up Central America. The Ford Escort of Hannu Mikkola and Gunnar Palm won. These were followed in 1974 by the London-Sahara-Munich World Cup Rally, and in 1977 by the Singapore Airlines London-Sydney Rally.