Burns, who embarked on the Rally of Great Britain intent on proving to the nation he could defeat his nemesis, dominated the second day of the event, through the forests of mid-Wales.
He set out in the fog and darkness of the morning eight seconds behind his Subaru team-mate, Juha Kankkunen, but was ahead after the first stage and fastest again on the two subsequent tests to take command.
By the time they ventured into the darkness again, late in the afternoon, Burns had been quickest on two more stages, establishing a lead of 26 seconds over the Finn and was 1min 33sec clear of the fourth-placed McRae
It had not all gone smoothly, however, for the Englishman. He negotiated stage 11 cautiously, conceding it to an inspired Marcus Gronholm, in the Peugeot, the one driver seemingly able to keep the Subarus in his sights.
Burns then made his way along a public road, and was nine miles from a service park when he had to stop to put out an engine fire. An official drove to his assistance with a little too much enthusiasm and slid into the Subaru. "That's all I needed," Burns groaned.
He used his fire extinguisher to put out the flames but had to stop twice more for cooling purposes before reaching the sanctuary of the service point.
His mechanics discovered a pinhole on the oil filter. That was sufficient to spray oil into the engine bay, which caught fire. The oil filter was changed and Burns sent back on his course for victory.
Burns said: "It could have been dangerous and my first thought was to just get out of the car and put the fire out. It was obviously worrying but I was hopeful that as long as we managed to get to the service point we could get it fixed."
McRae's problems began before he had even left the morning's first service stop and entered the day's opening stage. He ran into a tree, claiming he was blinded by an arc light. "There are only three trees in the whole of the car park and I managed to hit one of them," he said.
The Scot's Ford Focus was not significantly damaged but he struggled through the morning, complaining about his tyres and then a misfire. "It's not going to plan for us," he said. "We're nowhere near Richard's pace and there's not a lot we can do about it."
A change of tyres and a stiffer suspension improved McRae's performance. A spin spoiled his run on stage 12 but on the following test he was second quickest. "I hope that's a sign of better things to come," he said.
Huge crowds - estimated by some sources at half a million - forced the police to close the roads in the area and keep away further would-be spectators. The day's proceedings were delayed by half an hour and all competitors in the bottom half of the field were prevented from running on the final three stages. They will be allowed to continue today.
Some of the more illustrious names might have welcomed such a reprieve. Finland's Tommi Makinen, the world champion for the past four years, slid off the road and damaged his rear suspension, losing 2min 40sec and effectively dropping out of contention in his Mitsubishi.
Spain's Carlos Sainz, twice the world champion, lost almost five minutes when he slipped off the Sweet Lamb stage. "It was like a joke," the clearly embarrassed Toyota driver said. "I felt like a silly schoolboy. I approach junction, I slow, use hand-brake, car just slips off. I was doing only 5kph!"
McRae's younger brother, Alister, retired during the morning after rolling his Hyundai. Martin Brundle, having berated himself for driving too cautiously earlier in the day, became adventurous to his cost. He crashed his works Toyota near the end of stage 13 and although he managed to stagger beyond the control he was forced to retire.
NETWORK Q RALLY OF BRITAIN Second leg, leading placings (after six of eight special stages): 1 R Burns (GB) Subaru 1hr 34min 36.9sec; 2 J Kankkunen (Fin) Subaru 1:35:03.6; 3 M Gronholm (Fin) Peugeot 1:35:10.6; 4 C McRae (GB) Ford 1:36:09.9; 5 H Rovanpera (Fin) Seat 1:36:45.6; 6 D Auriol (Fr) Toyota 1:37:28.6; 7 G Evans (GB) Seat 1:37:31.9; 8 B Thiry (Bel) Skoda 1:37:47.1; 9 T Makinen (Fin) Mitsubishi 1:37:51.5; 10 A Schwarz (Ger) Skoda 1:38:03.0.