Italy had been running road competitions since 1895, when a reliability trial was run from Turin to Asti and back. The country's first true motor race was held in 1897 along the shore of Lake Maggiore, from Arona to Stresa and back. This led to a long tradition of road racing, including events like Sicily's Targa Florio (from 1906) and Giro di Sicilia (Tour of Sicily, 1914), which went right round the island, both of which continued on and off until after World War II. The first Alpine event was held in 1898, the Austrian Touring Club's three-day Automobile Run through South Tyrol, which included the infamous Stelvio Pass.
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.
Although there had been exceptions like the outlandish Ford V8 specials created by the Romanians for the 1936 Monte Carlo Rally, rallies before World War II had tended to be for standard or near-standard production cars, a rule supported by manufacturers because it created a relatively even playing field. After the war, most competing cars were production saloons or sports cars, with only minor modifications to improve performance, handling, braking and suspension. This kept costs down and allowed many more people to afford the sport using ordinary family cars, so entry lists grew into the hundreds.
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.
Starting in 2011, rules for WRC cars changed to be more restrictive. Now regulations were derived from Super 2000 cars with a different aerodynamic kit. The cars were smaller models (there was no longer a minimum 4m length), with a 1600 cm3 direct injection turbo-charged engine with a 33 mm diameter air restrictor and a maximum pressure of 2.5 bar absolute (this will limit torque to about 400 N.m or less).