Victorious Burns 'can become champion'

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The Independent Online

They came supposedly to lock antlers and determine control of the British forests, but Colin McRae never got close to Richard Burns and retreated to prepare another attack. According to a man better qualified than most to pass judgement on the two British drivers, Burns could be out of McRae's reach for ever, and the latter will have difficulty enough reasserting himself within his own camp.

They came supposedly to lock antlers and determine control of the British forests, but Colin McRae never got close to Richard Burns and retreated to prepare another attack. According to a man better qualified than most to pass judgement on the two British drivers, Burns could be out of McRae's reach for ever, and the latter will have difficulty enough reasserting himself within his own camp.

David Richards is the team principal of Subaru, who recruited Burns when McRae moved to Ford at the end of last year. Burns has paid instant dividends on that faith by taking the runners-up place in the world championship, an achievement confirmed emphatically with victory in this week's Network Q Rally of Great Britain.

Attention now turns to next season, which starts in Monte Carlo in January, and Richards is confident his new protégé is better equipped than McRae to win the title. "Richard has matured and I believe he has become a better driver than Colin," Richards said. "He knows when to go for a win and when to settle for points. That's the way to win championships. He's intelligent and thoughtful.

"We wound him up to believe in himself more to take on Colin because he had never tested himself. He has always been in the shadow of Colin. He wasn't prepared to take the risks and confront.

"We pushed him to do that. We did it to raise his confidence and now he has that. He's focused on what he has to do and he'll be difficult for anyone to beat next year.

"He's 28, the youngest of the leading drivers, and this is becoming more of a young man's game. You need fitness and stamina to sustain the pace over the three days of a rally."

Subaru plan to concentrate their campaign on Burns, while Ford have signed Carlos Sainz, twice world champion, to partner McRae. The Scot won his title when the Spaniard was his team-mate at Subaru in 1995, but Richards warns that Sainz has no intention of playing a supporting role next year.

Richards said: "Colin has got problems to face. Not only in terms of getting his own form back but also because he will have Carlos there to share the limelight. And Carlos believes he's there to be No 1."

With the departure of Toyota, it is Peugeot whom Richards rates as the key challengers next season. "Peugeot's the threat next year and everyone should realise that now," he said.

McRae, meanwhile, contends he has no concerns about Sainz and few question his natural pace. However, he has contributed to a catalogue of retirements this year by making high-speed errors, while Sainz is renowned for his constancy and judgement.

The short off-season could be a crucial, even defining period for McRae. He must convince his team that he remains their best hope for the championship and win the psychological jousts with Sainz before the Monte Carlo Rally.

Burns and Subaru begin their preparations for the new season on Monday, testing in Lapland. They plan further stints in Spain and the south of France, a total of 20 days' testing, before Christmas. "We'll be prepared as well as possible," said Richards. "I've been so proud of the team's efforts this year and Richard has come good as a world-class driver. But that's now last year. It's next year that matters."

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

FINAL STANDINGS

1 T Makinen (Fin) Mitsubishi 62pts 2 R Burns (GB) Subaru 55 3 D Auriol (Fr) Toyota 52 4 J Kankkunen (Fin) Subaru 44 5 C Sainz (Sp) Toyota 44 6 C McRae (GB) Ford 23 7 P Bugalski (Fr) Citroen 20 8 F Loix (Bel) Mitsubishi 14

Manufacturers: 1 Toyota 109; 2 Subaru 105; 3 Mitsubishi 83; 4 Ford 37; 5 Seat 23; 6 Peugeot 11; 7 Skoda 6.

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