Rallying: Burns yearns to steal McRae's thunder

RALLY OF GREAT BRITAIN Season's finale set to become straight fight between former champion and young pretender in front of home fans

IT COULD scarcely have been stage-managed better. The World Championship has been settled, team tactics are out of the window, every driver can go for the win and every observer can focus on the one issue.

And the likelihood is that the Network Q Rally of Great Britain, which starts at Cheltenham tomorrow, will develop into a straight fight between Scotland's Colin McRae and England's Richard Burns.

Tommi Makinen, having secured a fourth title in a row, will be liberated to chase his first victory here, while such luminaries as Carlos Sainz, Didier Auriol and Juha Kankkunen are all capable of challenging.

However, drivers of any nationality respond to home comforts and, reliability permitting, McRae and Burns ought to set the pace and provide a stirring finale to the season. McRae won this event in three consecutive attempts before last year, when his engine blew and Burns took first place. The satisfaction for Burns was diluted by McRae's retirement and a dramatic conclusion to the Championship.

A sense of frustration propels Burns still and sharpens the edge to this domestic dual. He feels it is time he was recognised as the coming man and contends McRae is living on his reputation. McRae, for his part, remains convinced he is the faster of the pair. Burns has had to live with the spectre of McRae since he came in to the World Championship arena. He moved to Subaru when McRae switched to Ford at the start of this season.

McRae's early success with the new Focus - recording victories in Kenya and Portugal - reimposed his status and profile. He was widely regarded as the fastest man in the world, or at least the equal of Makinen. He was mercurial, spectacular, compulsive viewing.

Burns' apparently less natural, more cautious approach persuaded few he was a champion in the making. Then he was duped out of a win by his team-mate, Kankkunen, in Argentina, won in Greece, and made a lot of people inside rallying change their minds. He won again last time out, in Australia, where McRae crashed into a gum tree at 115mph. It was the Ford driver's seventh consecutive non-finish. If Burns is the winner again on Tuesday evening, he could claim second place in the Championship.

Both men are plotting title campaigns for next year and victory here would generate momentum and motivation through the short off-season period. But this is personal, too.

Burns acknowledges he has to beat McRae on a level playing field to earn the recognition he craves. "It is difficult to take when Colin seems to get all the recognition," the 28-year-old from Oxford said. "I can understand it in that he's won 18 rallies and a World Championship. I've won four rallies and no Championship so far.

"I just hope, though, that it's not because of his TV advert. People inside the sport know it's been a very different story this year. Hopefully if I beat him fair and square in front of our home crowd that will change things."

Burns concedes McRae is blessed with exceptional pace, but argues the case for a more thoughtful strategy. "I've never regarded Colin as the benchmark for me," he says. "Of course he's very quick but I do things a different way and it's working for me. Colin has gone off in the last two rallies and I'm going to finish higher than him in the Championship no matter what happens in this rally."

McRae realises he confronts a worthy pretender to his domain yet is less impressed by Burns' verbal aggression. "I don't think Richard should show he's miffed because I get more publicity and recognition," McRae says. "I'd keep quiet and let my driving do the talking."

That said, he continues: "People do recognise me a lot more through the TV advert and my computer game, but I do believe I'm still faster than Richard. If I was 15 seconds behind him on the last day I'd feel I could beat him. He's definitely got better but I just feel he lacks the last five per cent. That doesn't come from bravery, it's confidence. Everybody at this level has the ability to drive at speed, it's having the confidence to produce it."

The old, and recently revived, criticism of 31-year-old McRae is that his confidence sometimes gets the better of him. It is suggested by some - including the Subaru team principal, David Richards - he might take a leaf out of Burns' more considered manual.

McRae counters: "I am a lot more methodical than I used to be. I'm putting more thought into it. That's why I defend myself when people say I'm just a speed merchant. David and I have disagreed on a few things."

He is equally adamant he is undaunted by his latest accident. "It could have been a lot worse. Luckily the car is so strong. It's not the speed, it's the stopping. We went from 115mph to zero in 1.3 seconds. But if it put me off at all I wouldn't be carrying on. I had a problem with the steering wheel and there was nothing I could do. You can't afford to think about it."

More disturbing has been the sequence of breakdowns. If the lessons learned by the team take him to the Championship next season the anguish will have been worthwhile, but he is anxious to finish this year with a flourish. "It would be great to win and sign off on a high after the run we've had," he said. "That would keep up the spirits and confidence and help us approach the start of next season at Monte Carlo in a better frame of mind.

"For sure I'm going into this rally to win, but I think the result will affect Richard more than it will me or, say, Tommi. I don't want to be beaten by Richard but it would not bother me as much as it would him. He's still trying to prove himself. It will be a big fight for sure."

Burns has little doubt the scrap will come down to a head-to-head with McRae. "We'll both get a lift from the fans," Burns said. "It does make a difference. It's not just that you can see them and hear them when you're on home ground. You can actually feel the difference. The foreign drivers just can't cope with it. I'm sure it will be between me and Colin.

"I hope so, too. Although it was pleasing to win last year, some of the satisfaction was lost because Colin dropped out of the rally and the Championship had such an exciting finish. That took away a lot of attention from my win.

"This year it's all about the winner of the rally. I'd like both of us to be there at the end, and then we'll see who's the better. I believe it's going to be me."

With that he was off into the night - at the wheel of a Ford Focus. McRae smiled wryly and said: "I'll let the result speak for itself."

Derick Allsop is the author of `Ford and McRae - Focus on the World Rally Championship' (Haynes Publishing).

News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
News
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own