Richard Burns: 1971-2005
Richard Burns - PeugeotFormer world champion Richard Burns, the only Englishman to have lifted rallying's top crown, has died as a result of the brain tumour that forced him out of the sport at the end of 2003. The 2001 title winner won 10 rallies in a 13-year World Rally Championship career that included stints with Mitsubishi, Peugeot and Subaru.
"From the outset Richard knew the odds were heavily against him, yet he fought his illness with bravery and good humour," said a statement from Burns' family. "Having undergone both chemotherapy and radiotherapy he was able to leave hospital in summer 2004. For a while his health showed signs of improvement, but after six months it once again began to decline.
"Determined not to give up, he opted for surgery earlier this year. This alleviated some of the symptoms of his illness and enabled him to remain active. At Castle Combe in August he attended a parade of the rally cars that he drove throughout his career and was touched by the warmth of the reception he received. However there was to be no miracle and in recent days he lapsed into a coma."
Burns' family are planning a private funeral, although details of a memorial service will be released at a later date. Cards or messages can be sent to either Ecurie Albion, Wheelwright's Cottage, Shilton, Burford, OX18 4AA or www.richard-burns.co.uk/memorials
Burns was one of the first of the modern breed of rally drivers - more thoughtful and analytical in his approach than 'flat-out sideways', but always able to put in the stage times and pip his rivals when it mattered. He was also part of the new wave of British talent with long-time friend and rival Colin McRae. Both drivers gained their reputation during stints with Subaru, and Burns became particularly synonymous with the Japanese team and its deep blue colour scheme.
Burns' reputation as one of rallying's rising stars first came to light in 1990 when he won the British Peugeot 205 GTi one-make series. He made his WRC debut at the end of the year in his home event, the RAC Rally, finishing 28th. Burns then joined Subaru's young gun squad in 1993, winning the British title in a Legacy RS and finishing seventh overall in that year's RAC Rally.
After several WRC outings with Subaru, Burns moved to Mitsubishi in 1996, finishing second in the 1997 Safari Rally. He went on to score his first WRC win in the same event in 1998 as part of a full season partnering world champion Tommi Makinen. Burns then returned to Subaru, where he really began to come of age as he narrowly lost out to Makinen for the 1999 title and Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm for the 2000 championship. In 2001 he finally achieved his goal of winning the WRC's drivers' crown in a closely-fought battle with Gronholm that culminated with Burns taking his third win in a row on his home event, the Rally of Great Britain.
A contentious off-season move to Peugeot to partner Gronholm set up the intriguing possibility of a head-to-head between the WRC's established stars. Although Burns failed to get to grips with the 206 WRC in his first season with the French team, he was one of the most consistent finishers in 2003 and was in the thick of a four-way battle going into the season-finale - his last event with Peugeot before a planned return to Subaru for 2004. Sadly, Burns was forced out of the event with an illness that was later diagnosed with an astrocytoma - a virulent brain tumour - that meant an enforced departure from the sport as he underwent treatment.
Everyone at wrc.com extends their deepest condolences to Richard's friends and family.