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."
In the 1960s, the competitions manager of BMC, Stuart Turner, hired a series of brave and gifted young Finns, skills honed on their country's highly competitive gravel or snow rallies, and the modern professional driver was born. As special stage rallying spread around the world Scandinavian drivers were challenged by drivers from Italy, Germany, Britain, Spain and elsewhere. Today, a World Champion may be of any nationality.
Road rallies are the original form, held on highways open to normal traffic, where the emphasis is not on outright speed but on accurate timekeeping and navigation and on vehicle reliability, often on difficult roads and over long distances. They are now primarily amateur events. There are several types of road rallies testing accuracy, navigation or problem solving. Some common types are: Regularity rally or a Time-Speed-Distance rally (also TSD rally, testing ability to stay on track and on time), others are Monte-Carlo styles (Monte Carlo, Pan Am, Pan Carlo, Continental) rally (testing navigation and timing), and various Gimmick rally types (testing logic and observation).
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.
The World Rally Championship now visits nearly all continents, taking its stylish sideways driving style and specialized cars to a vast global market, estimated by some to be second only to the Formula One juggernaut. This has produced unprecedented levels of visibility in recent years, but in many ways removed the motorsport from its grassroots past. For better or worse, rally has become a lucrative business.
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.