Rallying became very popular in Sweden and Finland in the 1950s, thanks in part to the invention there of the specialsträcka (Swedish) or erikoiskoe (Finnish), or special stage: shorter sections of route, usually on minor or private roads—predominantly gravel in these countries—away from habitation and traffic, which were separately timed. These at long last provided the solution to the conflict inherent in the notion of driving as fast as possible on ordinary roads. The idea spread to other countries, albeit more slowly to the most demanding events.
As public interest grew, car companies started to introduce special models or variants for rallying, such as the British Motor Corporation's highly successful Mini Cooper, introduced in 1962, and its successor the Mini Cooper S (1963), developed by the Cooper Car Company. Shortly after, Ford of Britain first hired Lotus to create a high-performance version of their Cortina family car, then in 1968 launched the Escort Twin Cam, one of the most successful rally cars of its era. Similarly, Abarth developed high performance versions of Fiats 124 roadster and 131 saloon.
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. 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. Racing was going its own separate way.
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The First World War brought a lull to rallying. The Monte Carlo Rally was not resuscitated until 1924, but since then, apart from World War II and its aftermath, it has been an annual event and remains a regular round of the World Rally Championship. In the 1930s, helped by the tough winters, it became the premier European rally, attracting 300 or more participants.
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.
Driving rules and regulations in the real world sadly prevent us from racing everywhere at breakneck speeds and performing hell-raising stunts and turns. Only professional rally and racing drivers can play out their wildest fantasy’s and satiate their lust for speed on the track or rally course. We watch them with envy as they dangerously accelerate around corners, fly over road bumps and career through all kinds of terrain in their finely tuned rally cars. From the tantalizing dessert races in Dakar, to the high-adrenaline rally championships, there is something inherently cool and exciting about this sport.
Two ultra long distance challenges took place at this time. The Peking-Paris of 1907 was not officially a competition, but a "raid", the French term for an expedition or collective endeavour whose promoters, the newspaper "Le Matin", rather optimistically expected participants to help each other; it was 'won' by Prince Scipione Borghese, Luigi Barzini, and Ettore Guizzardi in an Itala. The New York–Paris of the following year, which went via Japan and Siberia, was won by George Schuster and others in a Thomas Flyer. Each event attracted only a handful of adventurous souls, but in both cases the successful drivers exhibited characteristics modern rally drivers would recognise: meticulous preparation, mechanical skill, resourcefulness, perseverance and a certain single-minded ruthlessness. The New York–Seattle race of 1909, if shorter, was no easier. Rather gentler (and more akin to modern rallying) was the Glidden Tour, run by the American Automobile Association between 1902 and 1913, which had timed legs between control points and a marking system to determine the winners.
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.