Remembering Richard Burns: Today Marks the 20th Anniversary of His WRC Title

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Throughout his professional career, Richard Burns has only raced with Robert Reid as his co-driver. The latter’s voice can also be heard in the Richard Burns Rally game, the only racing simulator that had the champion’s name on it. It was released in 2004 on PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC, but never got the chance for a sequel after the rally champion’s death in 2005.

Richard Burns started driving at the age of eight, and he became the Under 17 Car Club’s driver of the year in 1984. Burns entered his first rally in 1988, the year he turned 18, but his career took off when he joined the 1990 Peugeot Challenge, which he won in a Peugeot 205 GTI. The next year after that, Richard Burns met Robert Reid, and they raced in their first WRC rally together.

In his 104 rally starts, Richard Burns managed 34 podiums, 277 stage wins, a total of 351 points, and 10 rally wins. The British racing driver raced for Subaru, Mitsubishi, and Peugeot.

His teammates over the years include Carlos Sainz Sr., Colin McRae, Alister McRae, Tommi Makinen, Juha Kankkunen, Marcus Gronholm, and Gilles Panizzi, just to name a few.

The only WRC Driver’s Title won by Richard Burns, on November 25th, 2001, was achieved in the last race of the season, which was Rally Great Britain. While Marcus Gronholm won the event, Richard Burns’s third-place finish landed him just enough points to beat Colin McRae by two points to a world champion title.

The 2001 WRC season found Tommi Makinen in third place, with just three points away from the lead, followed by Marcus Gronholm, who completed the championship with 36 points, tied with team-mate Harri Rovanpera. Peugeot won its second constructors’ title with the 206 WRC that year.

The French carmaker achieved another title the next year, with the 2002 driver’s world champion Marcus Gronholm. Richard Burns was his teammate at that time, so the British rally driver chipped in with points for the Sochaux marque’s overall win.

Richard Burns’ last WRC race was the 2003 Rally Catalunya, in which he entered a Peugeot 206 WRC from the factory team. Burns and Reid retired from the rally after a crash on the SS19. The event was won by Gilles Panizzi, followed by Sebastien Loeb.

The same year was the last when a driver won the title in the World Rally Championship in a Subaru, despite the manufacturer’s three constructors ‘championship titles.

Like many other great duos of driver and co-driver in rallying, Richard Burns and Robert Reid had a distinctive system for pace-notes. The team split corners into three parts, entry, apex, and exit, which meant incredibly detailed notes for every corner of every stage in a rally.

Usually, rally pace notes are made corner-by-corner, but the pace notes describe the severity of each turn along with the distance between it and the next turn and potential hazards and obstacles along the way.

To the best of our knowledge, Richard Burns’s system has not been replicated by another crew in the World Rally Championship. You can watch the pair in action in the videos embedded below.

The saddest thing about November 25th is the fact that Richard Burns died on the same day when he won his first and only WRC Driver’s title. As fans know, Richard Burns succumbed to a brain tumor on the day of the four-year anniversary of his WRC Driver’s title.

In 2006, the Richard Burns Foundation was set up, and it has raised money at various motorsport events in its mission to donate to charities that focus on enhancing the lives of children and young people suffering from brain injuries and serious disability or illness. Sadly, the foundation that bears his name was removed in 2019 from the Royal Register of Charities.