McRae died on 15 September 2007 when his helicopter, a Eurocopter AS350, crashed 1 mile (1.6 km) north of Lanark, Scotland, close to the McRae family home. McRae's five-year-old son Johnny, and two family friends, Graeme Duncan and Johnny's six-year-old friend Ben Porcelli, also died in the crash. McRae's previously active website, ColinMcRae.com, was later replaced with a memorial screen stating a few details about the crash, and then with a short statement released on behalf of McRae's father, Jimmy, and later a book of condolences.
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."
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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).
But this wasn’t enough. By 1984 rallying was all but deregulated, and Audi Sport introduced the Sport Quattro: a shortened, more powerful version of the original coupe, and regulations insisted that 214 were built for the road. With its wheelbase shortened a meaningful 12.6 inches between the B- and C-pillars, the Sport Quattro was more nimble and the bodywork featured numerous GRP and carbon-Kevlar panels. A massive KKK-K27 turbocharger helped increase power to 302hp on the road, while Stig Blomqvist had access to over 450hp in the rally Group B version.
The term "rally", as a branch of motorsport, probably dates from the first Monte Carlo Rally of January 1911. Until the late 1920s, few if any other events used the term. Rallying itself can be traced back to the 1894 Paris–Rouen Horseless Carriage Competition (Concours des Voitures sans Chevaux), sponsored by a Paris newspaper, Le Petit Journal, which attracted considerable public interest and entries from leading manufacturers. Prizes were awarded to the vehicles by a jury based on the reports of the observers who rode in each car; the official winner was Albert Lemaître driving a 3 hp Peugeot, although the Comte de Dion had finished first but his steam powered vehicle was ineligible for the official competition. This event led directly to a period of city-to-city road races in France and other European countries, which introduced many of the features found in later rallies: individual start times with cars running against the clock rather than head to head; time controls at the entry and exit points of towns along the way; road books and route notes; and driving over long distances on ordinary, mainly gravel, roads, facing hazards such as dust, traffic, pedestrians and farm animals.
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.
The funeral for Colin and Johnny took place on 26 September at Daldowie Crematorium near Glasgow, conducted by the Rev Tom Houston, who had married the McRaes, and the Rev Steven Reid, chaplain at Johnny's school. An address was given by Robbie Head, a former rally driver and commentator who was a close friend of McRae's, with the Rev Houston giving the benediction. McRae's niece and nephews performed the tune Highland Cathedral, a popular funeral song. The song "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding, a favourite song of McRae's, was played when the family entered the chapel (coincidentally, Redding himself also died in an air crash). The Proclaimers' song "I'm on My Way" was played when they left. Colin and Johnny McRae were cremated in the same coffin. Among the attendees at the funeral were fellow Scottish racing drivers Jackie Stewart and Dario Franchitti.