Richard Burns on board, From Championship and Rally Racing – Video

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Richard Burns (January 17, 1971, Reading, Berkshire, England – November 25, 2005) was a British rally driver from England. He was the 2001 World Rally Champion, having previously finished runner-up in the series in 1999 and 2000. He also helped Mitsubishi to the world manufacturers’ title in 1998, and Peugeot in 2002. His co-driver from the 1991 to 2003 seasons was Robert Reid.

He started driving in a field near his house at the age of eight, in his father’s old Triumph 2000. At eleven Burns joined the Under 17 Car Club, where he became driver of the year in 1984. Just two years later his father arranged a trip to Jan Churchill’s Welsh Forest Rally School near Newtown, Powys where Burns drove a Ford Escort for the day, and from that moment on he knew what he wanted to do. He badgered his father into letting him join the Craven Motor Club in his home town Reading where his talent was spotted by rally enthusiast David Williams. In 1988 he entered his first rallies in his own Talbot Sunbeam. The car was too basic to make much impression and in 1989 he had to borrow other competitors cars in order to progress. To this end he rallied the stages of Panaround, Bagshot, Mid-Wales, Millbrook, Severn Valley, Kayel Graphics and the Cambrian Rally as these were all rallies which included stages used on more prestigious events.

In 1990 he joined the Peugeot Challenge after David Williams bought Burns a Peugeot 205 GTI. He got his first taste of a World Rally Championship event in Great Britain as a prize for winning the Peugeot Challenge that year. In 1991 Burns met Robert Reid, the man who was to become his co-driver for the next 12 years. For 1992 Williams bought Burns a Group N Subaru Legacy and with the support of Prodrive won the National Championship. This year also saw Burns help out Colin McRae with his gravel notes[3] as Prodrive saw him as a promising driver for the future.

In 1993 he joined the Subaru Rally Team for the British Rally Championship alongside Alister McRae where he won four rallies on the Vauxhall Sport, Pirelli, Scottish, and Manx International stages delivering Burns the title of the series’ youngest ever champion that year.

1996 saw an opening with Mitsubishi Ralliart at international level, seized upon with sufficient vigour to guide Burns to victory on that year’s Rally New Zealand – albeit then, only a fixture within the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship. Even so, the fending off of such calibre competition as works-backed Subaru heavyweights Kenneth Eriksson and Piero Liatti only added gloss to an increasingly fervoured reputation. Come 1998, he had won his maiden World Rally Championship event on the treacherous stages of the Safari Rally, piloting a Mitsubishi Carisma GT. He added a second career victory on his swansong outing for Mitsubishi on that year’s Rally Great Britain, the event where the dramatic late retirement from fourth of Toyota’s Carlos Sainz secured the drivers’ title for his team-mate and first leg super special stage retiree on a patch of oil, Tommi Makinen, as well as confirming the constructors’ accolade for Mitsubishi.

Burns moved to the Prodrive-run Subaru World Rally Team under David Richards for the 1999 season, joining Juha Kankkunen and Bruno Thiry as part of the factory team driving Subaru Impreza WRCs, replacing Ford-bound fellow Briton, Colin McRae. Burns worked his way to a career high of second place in the drivers’ standings, adding to his win tally. He also led Subaru to second in the constructors’ series behind the Formula One departing Toyota team. On that year’s Rally Argentina, he was upstaged for victory by virtue of a team order mix-up by veteran team-mate Kankkunen. He was a long-time contender for the title in 2000, but crashed out on the Rally Finland in mid-season handing the momentum to eventual champion, and future team-mate, the Peugeot driver Marcus Grönholm who had been competing in his first year as a full-time factory driver. Even so, a stirling comeback from the lower reaches of the top thirty to win on the season-ending Rally of Great Britain kept the Burns name well entrenched within public conscience.

The 2001 rally season began inauspiciously for Burns – neither of the season curtain raisers, the Monte Carlo Rally or the Swedish Rally, yielded points scores, placing in peril before it had began, the Englishman’s title bid. Fourth place in a rain-drenched Portugal kicked his campaign into action prior to second place finishes on the gravel rallies of Argentina and Cyprus, on both occasions to Ford’s Colin McRae. Nonetheless, both the Scotsman and Monte Carlo victor Tommi Makinen were later to hit upon snags of their own, while Burns’ own consistent points scoring culminated in a first and only individual rally victory of the season in New Zealand, with McRae beaten into second. Burns then finished second on the Rally Australia to close within two points of new standalone series leader McRae, although the Scotsman and Makinen were to struggle to fifth and sixth respectively on this event (and the last of the drivers’ points-scoring positions) amid controversy over McRae arriving to time control too late at the end of the first leg of the event to be able to choose a favourable running order on the ball-bearing gravel for day two. Meanwhile the Finn, for his part, continued to struggle with a newly homologated version of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution World Rally Car he had been entrusted with, which had only been introduced by his team a few rounds earlier in San Remo. A four-way title decider, also including nine-point adrift outsider, Ford driver Carlos Sainz, thus beckoned on the final round of the series in Great Britain.

There, all three of Burns’ rivals were to have suffered retirement from the event by the end of the second leg proceedings on Saturday. On Sunday, November 25, 2001, therefore, Burns’ third place finish behind Peugeot duo Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera enabled him to become the first Englishman to win the World Rally Championship. When Richard passed the finishing line at the final stage of the final rally in 2001, Burns uttered words thought to be paying tribute to his codriver Robert Reid: “You’re the best in the world”. To commemorate the title success, Subaru produced a special edition of the Subaru Impreza in the UK called the RB5. A messy legal battle ensued for the Englishman’s services for the following 2002 season, from which fresh suitors, 2000 and 2001 manufacturers’ champions Peugeot emerged victorious.

Burns joined Peugeot for the 2002 season. Although Peugeot were the pacesetting team of the period, Burns had difficulty matching the pace of team-mates Marcus Grönholm (on gravel) and Gilles Panizzi (on tarmac). Therefore the existing tally of ten WRC triumphs were not to be added to, with the quest for a second world title proving equally fruitless for Burns. He cobbled together a title challenge, albeit founded more on regular podium finishes than on victories, for much of the 2003 season – a feat which did not convince him to remain at the wheel of the 206 WRC. The gloomy prospect of a continued winning drought with the French team left Burns poised to rejoin Subaru, having signed for them for the second time beginning with the 2004 season, the ploy being to couple him with the eventual 2003 title winner, Norway’s Petter Solberg. In November 2003, however, with the Englishman heading to the season-ending Wales Rally GB still in the frame to duke it out for that title, Burns suffered a blackout while driving with Ford driver Markko Martin to the rally. He was withdrawn from the event, and thus the title fight, and duly diagnosed with an astrocytoma, a type of brain tumour. He did have a brief stint out of hospital in summer of 2004, only to be made to return, undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy, as well as surgery in April 2005 that was described as “very successful”.

WRC Victories

# Event Season Co-driver Car
1 Flag of Kenya 46th Safari Rally Kenya 1998 Robert Reid Mitsubishi Carisma GT Evo 4
2 Flag of the United Kingdom 54th Network Q Rally of Great Britain 1998 Robert Reid Mitsubishi Carisma GT Evo 4
3 Flag of Greece 46th Acropolis Rally of Greece 1999 Robert Reid Subaru Impreza WRC
4 Flag of Australia 12th Telstra Rally Australia 1999 Robert Reid Subaru Impreza WRC
5 Flag of the United Kingdom 55th Network Q Rally of Great Britain 1999 Robert Reid Subaru Impreza WRC
6 Flag of Kenya 48th Sameer Safari Rally Kenya 2000 Robert Reid Subaru Impreza WRC
7 Flag of Portugal 33° TAP Rallye de Portugal 2000 Robert Reid Subaru Impreza WRC
8 Flag of Argentina 20° Rally Argentina 2000 Robert Reid Subaru Impreza WRC
9 Flag of the United Kingdom 56th Network Q Rally of Great Britain 2000 Robert Reid Subaru Impreza WRC
10 Flag of New Zealand 31st Propecia Rally New Zealand 2001 Robert Reid Subaru Impreza WRC

Late on Friday, November 25, 2005, four years to the day after winning the World Rally Championship, Burns died at the age of 34, after having been in a coma for some days as a result of a brain tumour. His death was overshadowed by the much covered death on the same day of footballer George Best.

The British television show Top Gear, well known for its irreverent attitude toward most celebrities, aired a tribute to Burns during the December 4, 2005 show. The host, Jeremy Clarkson, said that “the news has been completely dominated, as far as we’re concerned, by the sad death of Richard Burns.” After playing a montage of Richard Burns footage, Clarkson, who lived near Burns, shared an anecdote about Burns playing video games with his 7-year old son and commented, “He was just such a nice guy. I’m going to miss him…badly.” No other motoring news was announced in that episode.

A memorial service for Burns was held at St Luke’s Church in Chelsea on Thursday 22 December 2005, with readings from BBC TV’s Jeremy Clarkson and Steve Rider, and a tribute paid by one of Burns’ closest friends, photographer Colin McMaster. Subaru also paid tribute to Burns at Castle Combe in 2006, when over 50 Subaru Impreza RB5s took to the track, including the RB5 number #001 driven by Alex Burns (Richard’s father).

During the 2006 Goodwood Festival of Speed, a charity was founded in his name with a purpose to “inspire and support people with serious injury and illness”, named RB Foundation. The foundation also raises money for the Michael Park Fund, which deals with improving safety in motorsport events.

Subaru released a special edition Impreza WRX STI in 2007 – the RB320 – in memory of Burns. It features a 320 bhp (240 kW) Prodrive Performance Pack, Prodrive developed suspension, sports spring kit and is available only in Obsidian Black colour. Proceeds went to the RB Foundation.

The Scottish band Travis dedicated their album The Boy With No Name to Burns’ memory.

He is survived by his girlfriend Zoe Keen.

Scribbled on March 27th 2008 in Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Subaru
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