Ipsden was also where Richard’s famous silver and orange helmet was designed, based on the colours of Mario Andretti.
11.30am: NEAR STOKE ROW, OXFORDSHIRE
In the heart of Oxfordshire there are some phenomenal driving roads: this is just one that Richard used to try out his cars on, often with volunteers stationed next to humpbacked bridges and blind corners to check that nothing was coming. Richard would drive around alone or with friends, such as touring car star Jason Plato. “We used to be thick as thieves back when Richard’s world rally career was taking off and I was coming up through touring cars,” recalls Plato. “We had a lot of fun; stupid stuff: young guys having a laugh. There was a lot of messing about with cars and motorbikes: I used to have a Ducati 916, which I parked in my kitchen because it looked cool. Richard would come round and often start the bastard up. I had to get the kitchen redecorated before I sold the place. Then there was the time when I had an orange bazooka: a bazooka that fires oranges. We used to go out at night to set the thing off. Oh man… there was one night when we took the back out of a wooden bus shelter in the middle of the countryside. And there’s a huge old metal road sign near Thrupp, near where I lived, that’s still got a huge dent in it now. Made by an orange. So I just remember that time with Richard as a great party. And Richard himself as an awesome driver.”
These were the roads he learned to drive on.
12.30pm: KIDLINGTON, OXFORDSHIRE
Kidlington is a suburb to the north of Oxford, perhaps best known in popular culture as the location of Inspector Morse’s police station. But for Richard it was all about Cots Green, a farmyard converted into 10 properties. He lived in two of the houses: number five, which he shared with his friend the rally photographer Colin McMaster from 1997 to ’98, and number 10, which he bought at the end of ’98 before eventually adopting non-dom status and moving to Andorra. Richard enjoyed some very happy times during his Kidlington period, with the possible exception of the occasion when his new Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 4 was liberated from outside number five…
The sight of the future World Rally Champion wearing an antiquated motorcycle helmet while being beaten around the head with a frying pan must have been a memorable one, but it was in Kidlington that the game of `kop the wok’ was invented. Unsurprisingly it was a drinking game, where the loser had to don the helmet and take his punishment.
As McMaster remembers: “These were some of the best years of our lives. After we first moved in there was quite a raucous housewarming. I had to take the call from the letting agent threatening eviction, but we all got on well in the end.
“In the later years one of the neighbours had to suddenly go to Budapest in tragic circumstances and Richard was asked to help out with the school run. In order to lighten the mood, he picked the little girl up from school in a different car every day: ranging from the Camaro, to a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, to a Porsche 911 GT3.”
Burns in the thick of it after winning the 2001 WRC crown at Rally GB
1.30pm: PRODRIVE, BANBURY, OXFORDSHIRE
What everybody forgets about Burns’s championship-winning drive on the 2001 Rally Great Britain was that he was locked in an intense legal dispute with Prodrive at the time. He had already signed for Peugeot in ’02, but Prodrive was contesting his right to leave as there was a clause keeping him with Subaru if he won the title. The 2001 Rally GB was a tough and tense event, fraught with little problems — Richard’s car refused to fire up out of parc ferme on the final day, for example — and there was an uncertain feeling about what was going to happen next. When Burns first tested the Peugeot 206 WRC, he enlisted McMaster to come with him and provide a photographic record, as he wasn’t sure if he’d ever be driving it again. So as Richard was winning the title on Rally GB, David Lapworth — Prodrive’s technical director — remembers thinking: “I wasn’t quite sure if we should be celebrating or not. It was a surreal feeling: here we were having a party together on Sunday, and then seeing each other in court on Monday.”
The biggest testimony to Burns as a driver though is the fact that less than two years later, and despite the acrimony, Subaru asked him back. “As a judge of pace, Richard was second to none,” points out Lapworth. “He knew exactly what he had to do to win a rally, or how to claim the maximum number of points if he couldn’t. You always got the feeling that he was managing the level of risk he was taking.”
So fluid was Richard’s approach — or maybe so flamboyant was Colin McRae’s, the inevitable comparison — that it’s easy to forget just how fast he was. In 1999 and 2000 Burns set more fastest stage times than anybody else.
“The funny thing was that he never really aimed to set all those fastest times,” adds Reid. “It was just a by-product.”
Chances are that Burns would have brought the number one back to Subaru in 2004 (incredibly, he only lost the lead of the ’03 title race just before Rally GB, when he was already very ill). His team-mate for the following season would have been Petter Solberg, who went on to win five rallies (one more than eventual champion Sebastien Loeb) and finish second in the title race. Richard could well have ended ’04 as a three-time champion. But we’ll never know.
Life on the edge: Burns thrills the crowds at 2003 Rally de Catalunya
4pm: MARGAM PARK, NEATH, WALES
They were the longest 18 miles of Richard’s and Robert’s life, down the muddy hillsides of Margam Park in South Wales for the final stage of Rally Great Britain. In the end they finished third: just one place higher than they needed to in order to clinch the world title. The subsequent scenes have been written into television history: Burns telling Reid: “You’re the best in the world!” and then the explosion of emotion as the drizzle fell relentlessly, while Richard hugged Zoe Keen — the love of his life — David Williams and dad Alex.
“It’s funny how the memory plays tricks on you,” says Reid. “Looking back on it now, I remember it being a fairly straightforward end to a fairly straightforward event. But that wasn’t the case at all.”
Four drivers had gone into the title-decider with a chance of the championship, and McRae was leading until he crashed out spectacularly on stage four, the first proper test. That left Burns with 13 more stages to hold his nerve, often under trying circumstances.
“We did two stages in the dark the following night with no map light,” recalls Reid. “It was just a cock-up: I reached up to switch the map light on and nothing happened. You can imagine how we felt then. I tie-wrapped a mini Maglite torch to my thumb and read two stages like that.”
Anything could have gone wrong at any point; somehow Burns and Reid held it together.