Burns' mastery ensures victory cruise

McRae's aggression is questioned as Englishman proves he has ability to win next year's title
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The Independent Online

Yesterday's tour of South Wales was no more than a lap of honour. The forests, like the opposition, had succumbed to the absolute mastery of Richard Burns.

Yesterday's tour of South Wales was no more than a lap of honour. The forests, like the opposition, had succumbed to the absolute mastery of Richard Burns.

The 28-year-old Englishman set out on the Network Q Rally of Great Britain determined to demonstrate he was the best in the land and even Colin McRae must concede the onus transfers to him to prove otherwise.

Domestic business completed, Burns' objective now is the World Championship, and no one in the sport will underestimate his challenge when they reassemble for the opening rally of next season, at Monte Carlo, in January.

Burns' domination of this event was such that the closing acts were frankly anti-climactic. He was fastest on 11 of the 15 authentic stages over the final two days and secured his second consecutive home victory by a margin of 1min 48.2sec over his Subaru team-mate, Juha Kankkunen.

It was his third win of the year, his fifth championship success overall and gave him runner-up place behind Tommi Makinen in the final standings.

Didier Auriol needed a top-three finish to resist Burns but his cause had long been lost before he hit a rock on the penultimate stage.

This event continues to elude Makinen, who retired his Mitsubishi with engine trouble. But the Finn, like McRae, who crashed out on Monday evening, and other leading drivers, had made no impression on Burns.

Subaru patently provided Burns with the ideal equipment to do the job, as Kankkunen's second place emphasised. Next season the team are concentrating their championship efforts on Burns and he believes that confidence will not be misplaced.

Burns' only moment of concern yesterday came at the end of the penultimate stage when he had to change a punctured tyre but he safely negotiated the last 17 competitive miles.

He said: "The last stage felt very long so I'm glad it's all over. Now I can enjoy it and it's fantastic to have won my home rally back to back. It's difficult enough to win it the first time, especially with so much pressure on the home rally. But we've had a fantastic second half of the season and that's reward for the efforts of the team.

"The Championship is over 14 rallies and you have to say we're ahead of Colin in the Championship and we won the British rally so we've come out on top in that contest.

"I hope there will be a British champion next year and that it will be me. We certainly had the measure of Colin here and I expected him to do better but that points to the car or the tyres. I expect Colin to be tougher next year. He's certainly not going downhill. Anyone who says that would be an idiot."

Burns was recruited by Subaru's team principle, David Richards, at the beginning of the year as replacement for his former protégé McRae. Richards guided the Scot to the Championship and predicts Burns will follow him to the title next year.

Richards said: "It's a stunning result but more significant because Richard is runner-up in the Championship and that bodes well for the future. You haven't seen anything yet of Richard and people would be foolish to bet against him for the World Championship next year. I'm convinced he can win it."

McRae had hoped this rally would serve as a foothold for next year after a series of slips and stumbles this season. He won two rallies early in the year but retired from the last eight.

Reliability problems on the new Ford Focus undermined his season, but heavy crashes on the final three events revived criticism of his over-aggressive instincts. No one doubts his pace, but many are again questioning his application.

Auriol broke a wheel and fan belt on his Toyota on a penultimate stage which wreaked havoc. Gwyndaf Evans retired his SEAT with engine trouble and Carlos Sainz abandoned his Toyota with a damaged suspension.

Makinen had gone earlier in the day and Marcus Gronholm, the one driver to have sustained a pursuit of the Subarus, went out in spectacular fashion rolling his Peugeot six times. The Finn was unhurt, his car less fortunate.

Mark Higgins completed a British double, winning the two litre class in his Volkswagen Golf.

NETWORK Q RALLY OF BRITAIN: Leading final positions: 1 R Burns (GB) Subaru Impreza 3hr 53min 43.3sec; 2 J Kankkunen (Fin) Subaru Impreza +1min 48.2sec; 3 H Rovanpera (Fin) SEAT Cordoba +4:56.2; 4 B Thiry (Bel) Skoda Octavia 8:28.4; 5 F Loix (Bel) Mitsubishi Lancer 9:36.2; 6 T Radstrom (Swe) Ford Focus 10:04.2; 7 G Panizzi (Fr) Peugeot 206 10:34.5; 8 M Martin (Est) Toyota Corolla 11:38.2; 9 P Solberg (Nor) Ford Focus 13:10.7; 10 M Kahle (Ger) Toyota Corolla 15:04.9. Leading final World Championship positions: Drivers: 1 T Makinen (Fin) Mitsubishi Lancer 62pts; 2 Burns 55; 3 D Auriol (Fr) Toyota Corolla 52; 4 Kankkunen 44; 5 C Sainz (Sp) Toyota Corolla 44; 6 C McRae (GB) Ford Focus 23. Manufacturers: 1 Toyota 109; 2 Subaru 105; 3 Mitsubishi 83; 4 Ford 37; 5 SEAT 23; 6 Peugeot 11.

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