Radnor forest, Wales. It’s a daunting place at the best of time. But the gravel stage which teeters on the brink of the English border is particularly grim when the weather closes in. At just after half seven on a Monday morning deep into November, 1997, few of the world’s fastest rally drivers are smiling. Richard Burns is. In dense fog, the Burns’ Mitsubishi has just stopped the clock a minute up on everybody. RB leads his home round of the WRC for the first time. Stand aside, McRae, Sainz, Makinen and Auriol - Burns has arrived.
That he lost that event to his arch-rival Colin McRae merely made him more determined. Twelve months later, Burns was back, smashing the opposition out of the park and, winning the event by close to four minutes.
Having won the Safari Rally to break his WRC duck earlier that season, Burns was on the up.
Born in 1971, he started driving rally cars 15 years later at a private rallyschool. His first competition came in a borrowed Toyota in 1989. That was his first rally. He won his second event.
He then won the Peugeot Challenge in his first full season, 1990, and backed that up with another Peugeot win a year later. For 1992, he hunted the British national title, and bagged it. By then, the big time was calling, with Subaru offering a British Rally Championship contract in a team alongside Alister McRae. Burns took the Scot - and Ford’s Malcolm Wilson - on and beat them both out of sight, becoming the youngest-ever British champion.
He remained with Subaru and learned his craft in the WRC until the end of 1995. After a three-year stay at Mitsubishi, he switched back to Subaru to lead the team from 1999. Much has been made of Burns’ methodical approach to the sport. But to dwell on that detracts from his speed. He was utterly comfortable when caning his rally car down the road on the limiter in top. But Burns’ came at the sport from a different angle to those who proceeded him. Burns was a pioneer in the ways of driving a modern rally car. He took the principles of race driving, adapted them for the stage and became one of the fastest drivers in history, winning 10 of the 104 WRC rounds he started.
Rally GB, 2001, was his crowning glory, though. Four drivers went to Wales with a shot at the title, but only Burns demonstrated the speed and dexterity in the most dangerous of conditions to come home as a world champion.
Unfortunately, his biggest moment in blue was also his final act for the Subaru squad. He moved to Peugeot for the following season and would not win again. Had it not been for the onset of a brain tumour, he would have won the 2003 title - he’d led the championship from the third round until the penultimate rally in Catalunya. Burns withdrew from a final-round showdown at home in Britain to take on an even bigger battle. Unfortunately, England lost its first World Rally Champion to cancer on November 25, 2005.