The Englishman languished in fifth place in the points table heading Down Under, despite taking second in Finland in the previous round. Five no-scores in the first eight rallies of the year had hurt his tally and he needed a strong result to kickstart his championship challenge.
Ahead of him lay 24 special stages, totalling almost 400km of high-speed action through some of the WRC’s most spectacular scenery, as well as the challenge offered by former event winners Kenneth Eriksson, Marcus Grönholm, Tommi Mäkinen, Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz.
Burnsie played himself in gently on day one, which consisted of eight stages that included the magnificent 30km Whaanga Coast road. He suffered from a lack of grip with the Impreza WRC but promised a renewed attack on day two and its eight stages that featured a 60km opener between Parahi and Ararua.
And the two-time Championship runner-up, once again co-driven by Scot Robert Reid, kept his promise, taking the lead of the rally for the first time. Fastest times on stages 10, 11, 12 and 13 then consolidated his advantage, which he held until the end. Second place went to Burns’s arch rival and fellow Brit McRae, whose Ford Focus RS WRC was 44.6 seconds adrift.
It was a crucial win for the Burns/Reid/Subaru superteam, their first since Rally GB at the end of 2000, and it moved them up to third in the table, just nine points (less than a rally win’s worth) behind joint leaders Mäkinen and McRae.
With four rallies remaining – in Sanremo, Corsica, Australian and Great Britain – a thrilling scrap for the title was guaranteed.