Today marks the 10th anniversary of the death of the only Englishman to win the World Rally Championship, Richard Burns.
The lanky redhead progressed through scholarship schemes with Peugeot, in which he shone at both national-rally and prize-drive world championship level to land a Prodrive Subaru Legacy for a British Championship attack in 1993. He duly won that, and took the car to seventh in the end-of-season RAC Rally, his home World Championship event.
Over the next two seasons, very much in the shadow of Colin McRae – the man who’d become his late-’90s/early-00s nemesis – in the factory Subaru outfit, Burns tackled six WRC events, with a best result of third in the ’95 RAC behind esteemed team-mates McRae and Carlos Sainz in a Subaru Impreza 1-2-3.
Frustrated at a limited programme, Burns switched to Mitsubishi for 1996, under the wing of Andrew Cowan and up against flying Finn Tommi Makinen. Fourth in Argentina and fifth in Australia were his best showings in a four-rally programme, while Makinen took the title.
A year on, he knuckled down to an eight-rally assault, taking second on the Safari first time out. That was backed up by five consecutive fourth places, which demonstrated speed and consistency.
For 1998, Richard Burns was ready to win. And that maiden WRC success came on the most gruelling rally of them all, the African Safari. He had become only the third British driver, after Roger Clark and McRae, to win at rallying’s top level. He’d win again in the RAC Rally at the end of the year, joining rallying’s elite in the process.
Having earned his stripes, served his apprenticeship and his notice of intent, Burns rejoined Subaru to replace Ford-bound McRae as number-one driver in the Banbury-based squad for 1999. Three wins and three second places gave him second in the Drivers’ Championship, behind former team-mate Makinen.
Four more wins in 2000, including a third straight home win in Rally Great Britain, gave him second in the points again. The sole aim for 2001 had to be the title.
A slow start was boosted mid-season with three second-place finishes and a crucial win in New Zealand, meaning the No.5 Subaru came to the finale in Wales needing third or better to land the coveted crown.
Burns did exactly what he needed to, securing third behind the Peugeots of Marcus Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera.
The date was November 25, 2001, and in South Wales’ Margam Park, Richard Burns stood atop his Prodrive Subaru Impreza WRC as World Champion, revelling in the jubilant scenes alongside long-time and loyal co-driver Robert Reid.
A switch to Peugeot, the dominant team of 2000-2001, came for 2002, alongside Gronholm. Consistency was his trademark in that first season in the 206 WRC, with five podium finishes, but only fifth in the championship.
The 2003 season brought another intelligent and consistent approach, with points finishes – including seven podiums – in 11 of the first 13 rallies. It all meant that he headed to Wales for the final round in with a shout of the title.
On the way to Cardiff, Burns was taken ill with what would prove to be an astrocytoma brain tumour. It signalled the end of his career – after 104 WRC starts, 10 wins and the 2001 World Title – and the start of the biggest fight of his young life.
Exactly four years after that joyous day in Wales in 2001, 34-year-old Burns lost that fight.
Here, we pay tribute to a British motorsporting legend, and rallying superstar, with this gallery and collection of videos that we think perfectly encapsulate Burns’ speed, bravery and commitment.
Photography courtesy of Goodwood and LAT