Richard Burns. Two words which summed up everything that was great about British rallying.
Richard was a master of his art. But then you’d expect that from a man who was born to drive – and was driving well before his 17th birthday. By the time he was allowed behind the wheel on the road, he’d already spent hours testing rally cars in the forest. Richard didn’t just hit the ground running, he hit the ground sprinting.
After 18 months at club level, a 19-year-old Richard took on his first national series and won it. Hands down. He dominated the 1990 Peugeot Challenge and then destroyed the opposition for a second season in succession in 1991. By then, he’d been spotted and was fast-tracked into a factory car to become Britain’s youngest ever works rally driver.
Richard’s progression from stacking shelves in his local Waitrose to a national champion in 1992 was a remarkable story of commitment and dedication from one of Britain’s youngest sporting stars.
Now, though, the world was waiting and watching. The launchpad to his arrival in the World Rally Championship was a sensational British Rally Championship win in what Richard and his co-driver Robert Reid both rated as their favourite rally car: the Subaru Legacy RS. It was a beast of a thing with an enormous amount of power – more than enough for your average 22-year-old!
But, there was nothing average about Richard. He dominated the British series, making it four titles in four years. The next one, the big one, would come eight years later.
In the intervening seasons, Richard became the benchmark for both speed on the stages and precision of car set-up off the stages. The attention to detail which had driven him to laboriously, yet lovingly, repaint his mud flaps and wheel rims after every event in his cash-strapped Peugeot 205 was the same meticulous thoroughness which pushed him harder and harder as his sparkling career progressed.
His early world championship years were with Subaru, but that all-important first win came in a Mitsubishi in 1998. And it came on one of the hardest rallies the world has ever known, the Safari. A few months down the line, RB picked up the win he really wanted: the RAC Rally.
That home win was the first of a hat-trick of British victories. When that run ended, in 2001, Richard wasn’t too concerned; he was celebrating on a different level. Third place was enough for Craven Motor Club’s finest to be confirmed as England’s first ever World Rally Champion.