Subaru will fight to keep Burns

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Subaru have indicated that they are prepared to go to court to keep Richard Burns, the newly-crowned World Rally champion, for another season.

Peugeot maintained they have a binding contract with the Englishman, who is equally convinced he will be defending his title alongside Finland's Marcus Gronholm with the manufacturers' champions.

However, Subaru claim to have a clause in their contract with Burns which gives them an option on his services for another year in the event of his winning the World Championship. David Lapworth, the team principal, said he would be discussing the future with Burns this week.

Other sources close to the team say they are planning to take legal action and pursue their case in the courts, but it is thought more likely that the two teams will find another means of settling their dispute.

Burns, who became England's first world champion by finishing third in the Network Q Rally of Great Britain, has made it clear his mind is made up and that further talks with Subaru would serve no purpose. "I can't go into detail but I am happy that I shall be driving for Peugeot next season. It's not about finance,'' he said.

Burns had already said that Subaru would have matched the salary agreed with Peugeot. As if to underline his intent, he added: "I expect to have a big fight with Marcus next year.''

The much trumpeted "Battle of Britain'' with Colin McRae failed to materialise because the Scotsman rolled his Ford Focus out of the rally on the first morning.

The champion had greater difficulty driving from Cardiff, headquarters of the event, to London for a publicity photo call yesterday. It took him four hours to negotiate the traffic and he arrived at Marble Arch 45 minutes late. A few bemused tourists and workmen looked on as the 30-year-old and his co-driver, Scotsman Robert Reid, gave their blue Subaru a twirl and sprayed some more champagne.

Burns revealed that as the celebrations began on Sunday, he received a congratulatory phone call from McRae. "That was cool.'' he said. "Colin said well done and talked about his crash.

"He said he'd do his best to take the title back next year and I said we'd be trying to hang on to it. There was a lot of hype about our rivalry before the rally but we get on. We do the same job fairly well. We are privileged to be in our position and we respect each other.''

If Burns is duly confirmed as a Peugeot driver for next year, he will have a car that has proved itself formidable on both gravel and asphalt. The Subaru, like the Ford, has been less effective on the firm surface.