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.[8] 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.[8] 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.[8]
In the past, most rally courses were not allowed to be scanned prior to the race, and the co-drivers used only maps supplied by the organization. The exact route of the rally often remained secret until race day. Modern rallies have mostly converted to using organizer-supplied notes or allowing full reconnaissance, as opposed to racing the stages blindly. This change has been brought on in large part due to competitor demand.

Initially, most of the major postwar rallies were fairly gentlemanly, but the organisers of the French Alpine and the Liège (which moved its turning point from Rome into Yugoslavia in 1956) straight away set difficult time schedules: the Automobile Club de Marseille et Provence laid on a long tough route over a succession of rugged passes, stated that cars would have to be driven flat out from start to finish, and gave a coveted Coupe des Alpes ("Alpine Cup") to anyone achieving an unpenalised run;[37] while Belgium's Royal Motor Union made clear no car was expected to finish the Liège unpenalised – when one did (1951 winner Johnny Claes in a Jaguar XK120) they tightened the timing to make sure it never happened again.[38] These two events became the ones for "the men" to do. The Monte, because of its glamour, got the media coverage and the biggest entries (and in snowy years was also a genuine challenge); while the Acropolis took advantage of Greece's appalling roads to become a truly tough event.[39] In 1956 came Corsica's Tour de Corse, 24 hours of virtually non-stop flat out driving on some of the narrowest and twistiest mountain roads on the planet – the first major rally to be won by a woman, Belgium's Gilberte Thirion, in a Renault Dauphine.[40][unreliable source?]


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.[64][65] 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.
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. 

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.
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.

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.[citation needed] 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.[3]

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.
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