Richard Burns

Restless, enthusiastic rally driver who became the first English winner of the World Rally Championship


Richard Burns, rally driver: born Reading 17 January 1971; RACMSA British Rally Champion 1993; FIA World Rally Champion 2001; died London 25 November 2005.

Richard Burns was England's greatest rally driver in modern times. He died on the fourth anniversary of his winning the World Rally Championship, the sport's greatest accolade.

Although his final two years in the sport were at the wheel of French-run Peugeot cars, the rest of his 10-year full-time professional career was spent driving the British-run Mitsubishi and Subaru cars, for whom he won 10 individual world championship rallies.

Burns was born in 1971, in Reading, and from an early age had a love of driving. Friends and family were strong influences in his career and his father, Alex, took him to watch the RAC Rally, where he experienced the spirit and excitement of the sport. His determination to go rallying started after a visit to a rally-driving school in Wales at the age of 15. It was the moment he knew which way his life was going to turn. He joined the Under 17s Car Club, to which his father took him every weekend and at which his father eventually became an instructor.

He was based in Reading, and, when he was old enough to drive on the roads, he took an active role helping friends at the Craven Motor Club who in turn lent him cars for use on rallies. This was at a turning point in British rallying, when road rallies were dying out and the sport concentrated on special stage events - the high-speed form of rallying Burns relished.

From early rallying days Peugeot had been largely instrumental in Burns's rallying career. The British importers ran a rally challenge for privateers, and this enabled him to enter a number of events in 1990 and 1991 - not least borrowing a car from the Peugeot importers themselves for the 1990 RAC Rally, his first world championship event. All the time Burns attracted supporters, but none so instrumental as David Williams, a friend from Reading who bought a Group N Subaru Legacy from Prodrive, the British-based Subaru rally team.

Williams found sufficient funds for Burns to contest the British national championship series in 1993, a series in which he became the youngest ever champion. Through Prodrive Burns's experiences increased. He was given test work, learning more about rallying and earning extra money to be ploughed back into his own efforts. He was also able to take advantage of Prodrive's various career-enhancing programmes. Another lifetime acquaintance from those times was Robert Reid, who became his regular co-driver for 13 years.

The Scottish driver Colin McRae was then on his way to becoming Britain's first world champion. Richard became the team-mate in Prodrive's British championship team line-up with McRae's younger brother Alister. Burns got to know Colin McCrae well, and it wasn't long before the McRae-Burns duet attracted headlines in the sport. In 1995 McCrae had a full programme in the world series and gained his world title, while Burns had only a reduced programme. In the hope that a move might widen his opportunities, Burns joined Mitsubishi, where he stayed for three years and which brought him his first major success.

To start off he doubled up a programme of selected world championship rallies with events in the Asia Pacific series, in which he finished second behind Kenneth Eriksson, but there was also time for victory in a world-class rally in New Zealand in 1996. After many reliable performances on full world rally championship events, Richard won the Safari Rally in Kenya in 1998, an event recognised as the world's toughest event in the championship. Victory in the British round followed: Burns was now considered a star-quality driver.

The next three years saw Richard back at Prodrive with full No 1 status, providing the results which his ability justified. In 1999 and 2000 he gained second places in the world series, then, in 2001, the world title.

At this time came news which baffled the sport. He announced he was leaving Prodrive, to move to the works world championship Peugeot team, based in France. In principle, it sounded a good idea. In 2000 and 2001 Peugeot had won the world manufacturers' title and Marcus Gronholm had been world champion in 2000. But it wasn't quite so simple. To this day the reasoning behind Burns's decision has never been fully explained. Presumably he wanted to drive for the team with the world's then top rally machine, the 206 World Rally Car. Equally, it might have been Prodrive's decision to enlist Tommi Makinen, four times world champion, as his team-mate which would have challenged his position in the team.

Prodrive claimed his intended departure was a breach of contract; certainly for a driver to leave a team having just won with them a world title was unusual. When driver nominations for the FIA championship in 2002 were announced, both Peugeot and Subaru had nominated Burns.

He went to Peugeot, but things did not work out as expected. In two seasons he did not win any world championship rallies, whereas his team-mate Gronholm won eight. The first year he was there, Peugeot again won the makes' title but it was Gronholm who won the drivers' championship. The 2003 season was going better, however, and, as the final round of the championship drew close, Burns was still in with a mathematical chance of regaining his world title. But even despite that possibility the restless Burns had already made plans to leave Peugeot and drive for Subaru again in 2004.

The final round of the 2003 season was again the Wales Rally GB (the new name for the RAC Rally), but as Burns drove down to Wales before the event he collapsed at the wheel of his road car. By a miracle he had a passenger, his fellow rally driver Markko Martin, and Martin steered the car safely to the side of the road. Burns was rushed to hospital, where he was eventually diagnosed as suffering an astrocytoma, a form of brain tumour. He never rallied, or even drove a car, again.

Richard Burns made a most welcome farewell appearance in public in August 2005 at Castle Combe, where a display of many of the cars that he had driven during his career were on view.

Burns had loved driving all his life. "When I was eight," he wrote in his autobiography, Driving Ambition (2002),

I used to volunteer to reverse horse trailers at my sister's Pony Club. All I wanted to do since I was 15 was drive rally cars. I didn't plan on becoming a world champion. All I wanted to do was drive rally cars like the champions do. Just the driving, nothing else.

Even when he was a full-time professional he used to enjoy taking his mechanics and friends for high-speed rides in rally cars, just to test their reactions, which always evoked a stream of bad words from frightened passengers.

The only rally car which Burns ever owned, bought by his father when Richard was 15, was a Sunbeam which was converted into competition specification with a friend, Gordon Jarvis. All the others were cars from admirers, including Jan Churchill, the driving-school proprietor, who once confided that, of the 2,000 pupils which had passed through his school, Burns was the only one whom he had actively urged to take up a career in rally driving. To make that dream a reality was a lot of hard work. Burns went stacking shelves in supermarkets, doing competition-driving tuition, anything to help raise cash.

Richard Burns had always been a fanatic for personal fitness. He took the work of being in peak condition for rallying extremely seriously, but this was not always straightforward. In the Peugeot 206WRC the in-car temperatures were very high. He found this more discomforting than his team-mates did, and this was largely due to his naturally fair complexion. Sports psychologists helped him overcome the mental pressures which three-day rallies demand. Attention to diet was always a major factor in his rally preparation, as was physical training.

He leaves a partner, Zoe.

Martin Holmes

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate Pricing Analyst - 6 months / 1 year analytical experience

£20000 - £25000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Year 2 Teachers needed for day to day supply

£110 - £130 per day + Competitve rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Yea...

Year 4 Teachers needed for day to day supply across the region

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

Nursery Teachers needed for supply roles

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Nu...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits