The UK’s premier rally is steeped in history, from humble beginnings in 1932, all the way through to the state-of-the-art machines from Hyundai, Toyota and M-Sport Ford – all bristling with the latest technology.
Back in the thirties, the inaugural Royal Automobile Club Rally in 1932 took its lead from the Monte Carlo Rally with crews driving standard road cars setting off to/from nine different towns and cities all bound for Torquay on the English Riviera via a variety of 1000-mile routes, each one with four control points. No fewer than 342 competitors entered and the £25 prize for having recorded the lowest number of penalty points was awarded to the first winner of the rally Colonel A. H. Loughborough driving a Lanchester 15/18. Though there was a break in the action following the outbreak of the Second World War and again in 1957 for the Suez Crisis, the RAC Rally followed a similar format, albeit with the introduction of more competitive tests, until the start of the sixties when Scandinavian style off-road forest stages were first introduced – a move which cemented the rally’s reputation as one of the most challenging and respected on the calendar.
In 1973, the event’s international repute earned it a founding position in the newly created World Rally Championship and, together with Finland, remains one of only two rounds that have featured on the WRC roster the most ever since.
In more recent times, though, the victories have been shared more widely with further home-grown winners Colin McRae (1994, 1995 and 1997), Richard Burns (1998, 1999 and 2000) and most recently Elfyn Evans in 2017.
Here are the key milestones of the UK’s most famous rally
1932 – First RAC Rally. Torquay finishing point. 341 starters. Class winner: Col A H Loughborough (Lanchester).
1933 – First female RAC Rally winner: Miss Kitty Brunell
1934 – In this year a record number of 351 finished the rally!
1939 – Brighton finishing point. 200 starters, 192 finishers. As in all seven previous rallies, no outright winner declared, just the best performance.
No events were held between 1940 – 1950 due to World War II and the following rebuild of the nation.
1951 – RAC Rally resumes with Bournemouth the finishing point
1953 – Outright winner declared for the first time with Ian Appleyard winning the RAC Rally in Jaguar XK120
1954 – Increased emphasis on navigation with night work in Wales and Derbyshire. ‘Only’ 164 of 229 starters reach finish in Blackpool.
1957 – RAC Rally cancelled due to the Suez Crisis
1958 – A tough route saw only seven of 130 finishers at Hastings complete route without penalty due to weather and complex navigation tests in Wales.
1960 – First forest competitive section successfully introduced in Scotland with the Tulip road book introduced
1961 – Multiple forest stages introduced around the country – 200 miles of 2,000 miles route held on Forestry Commission land. Introduction of names such as Kielder, Dyfi and Radnor. No longer ‘Rally of the Tests’ but ‘Rally of the Forests’.
1962 – Erik Carlsson completes a hat-trick of wins in Saab 96
1965 – 57 Special Stages (400 miles) with positions calculated on elapsed time and no longer on points. Rauno Aaltonen gives the Mini its only RAC Rally triumph
1966 – Entries from two F1 World Champions Graham Hill (Mini) and Jim Clark (Lotus Cortina)
1967 – Rally cancelled due to foot-and-mouth disease
1968 – Rally returns with 115 starters and 85 special stages!
1970 – 2,300 miles. First leg: 48 hours (London-North East-Scotland-Lake District-Blackpool). Second leg: 36 hours. (Blackpool-Wales-West Country-London). GPO telephone recorded reports introduced.
1971 – Fan-friendly Spectator Stages first introduced at Harewood House
1972 – Roger Clark becomes the first British driver to win since switch to forest event
1973 – Rally UK included in the first FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers
1974 – Event becomes Lombard RAC Rally
1975 – Timo Mäkinen completes a hat-trick of wins in dominant Ford Escorts era
1976 – Second victory for Roger Clark who becomes first British winner of a WRC round
1977 – Sunday start with spectator stages. Starts from Wembley. Moves to York. 68 Special Stages (460 miles). Dedicated on-site computer used for results.
1979 – RAC Rally included in first FIA Drivers’ World Championship
1980 – Henri Toivonen becomes final driver to win in two-wheel-drive car (Talbot Sunbeam Lotus)
1981 – Hannu Mikkola wins the event – the first time a four-wheel-drive car wins the rally
1982 – Hannu Mikkola becomes the first four-time Rally GB winner
1985 – The rally was at the height of the Group B ‘supercars’ Two new cars lock out the podium with Henri Toivonen taking the first four-wheel-drive rally win for Lancia and Tony Pond takes the British-built Metro 6R4 to third
1986 – RAC Rally was final European round for Group B cars
1987 – Pace notes begin to be introduced
1988 – Hailed as the most exciting rally of the season with three different rally leaders – even on the final day
1989 – One of oldest and most popular drivers Pentti Airikkala finally wins the rally after years of trying
1990 – The event saw the strongest WRC entry since Monte Carlo in 1979 and a certain Colin McRae takes a Ford Sierra to sixth and best British driver
1992 – Lombard’s farewell £100,000 prize for a British winner goes unclaimed
1993 – Title sponsorship from Network Q begins
1994 – 50th running of RAC Rally; Colin McRae becomes first British winner for 18 years
1995 – Colin McRae wins the fastest ever rally and is crowned as Britain’s first World Rally Champion
1996 – WRC 2 litre qualifier only. Ice and snow cover many stages. Schwarz wins for Toyota. 50-year-old Blomqvist third in 2WD, 1600cc Škoda Felicia – 25 years after he first won the event in a Saab.
1997 – Colin McRae wins his third rally
1998 – RAC Rally became Rally of Great Britain. First day all mixed surface stages. Five stages at Silverstone. 100th rally for Ari Vatanen. First win for Richard Burns. Oil patch and concrete block combine to end Tommi Makinen’s rally. Carlos Sainz retires on last stage. Who can forget Luis Moya putting the crash helmet through the window!
1999 – Last year in Cheltenham. Shortest WRC event in terms of time between recce and prize giving (7 days). Different service parks for Manufactures and privateers. Last WRC appearance for Toyota Team Europe.
2000 – Richard Burns completes a hat-trick of Rally GB victories at Cardiff-based event which saw the introduction of tickets to all special stages
2001 – Richard Burns finishes third and is crowned as England’s first World Rally Champion
2002 – First World Championship win for Petter Solberg and his Welsh codriver Phil Mills.
2003 – Welsh Government becomes principal funding partner with Petter Solberg and Phil Mills becoming World Champions
2005 – Petter Solberg/Phill Mills win for a fourth consecutive year. However, the event was overshadowed of the passing of Michael Park
2006 – The rally became the final round of the British Rally Championship for the first time, while Marcus Gronholm wins the rally, giving Ford their first win in 27 years
2007 – The 75th running of the event was one of the wettest on record with Mikko Hirvonen claiming his first Rally UK win
2008 – Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena win their first WRC event in the UK while Welshman Tom Cave started the rally with ‘P’ plates on his Ford Fiesta after passing his driving test, just days before the event
2009 – Event sees titanic title fight between Sébastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen with one point separating the pair before the start
2010 – An all-new National Rally was conceived. It attracted 90 applications for 60 starting spots. A successful event saw universal praise and was won by Nigel Griffiths and Jon Scott in a Subaru Impreza
2011 – Event starts in North Wales with the Great Orme stage being used for the first time in 30 years. The event moved south as the event went on with Jari-Matti Latvala winning the rally in the new 1.6 litre rally car format
2013 – Rally moves to new home in Deeside, for revitalised format, with crowds flocking back to the stages. First win for Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia.
2014 – Mikko Hirvonen retired after the event while his teammate Elfyn Evans showed plenty of promise with fifth on his home event. His first home event in a WRC car
2015 – Sébastien Ogier joined an illustrious group of drivers as he scored a hat trick of victories
2016 – Sébastien Ogier claims his fourth win as recently crowned British Rally Champion Elfyn Evans had to sit on the side lines with no WRC drive available. 2016 was also to be the first year of title sponsorship from Dayinsure
2017 – Elfyn Evans becomes first Welsh driver to win a WRC round and first British driver to win the rally in 17 years
2018 – Llandudno stages first world championship motor sport on closed public roads in the UK, as Sébastien Ogier becomes the most successful driver on the event, taking his fifth win.
2019 – Milestone 75th running of the rally with seaside service park in Llandudno, Ceremonial Start in Liverpool and opening stage in England at Oulton Park
2020-2021 – Event cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic