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GP Week : Issue 140
WRC FEATURE >> 2001 had been a long and challenging year, in which Richard Burns gained his points little by little. At the start of the British event, no fewer than four drivers were still in the running for the title. These were Richard, Colin McRae, and, with fewer chances of success Carlos Sainz and Tommi Makinen. Makinen was out very early on with a suspension bolt failure, and McRae had a big accident at much the same time. Sainz had been running further back and when he was then involved in a spectator-related accident he withdrew, leaving Burns to gain a minimum three points in order to become the champion, which he duly did. So, that wasn’t a rally with any special memories. But two months earlier there was. It was to be his and Subaru’s only victory of the year and, in the end, the final world championship victory of his sadly shortened career. Richard, the 2001 world rally champion died on 25th November 2005, but what happened on this particular event four years earlier was still just as unforgettable as any other to everyone who followed Richard’s career – especially to his co-driver, Robert Reid. To celebrate the 10 years since Richard and Robert were the champions, Robert told us about the most unforgettable event of their most important season. The season had not started off too well. Richard did not score any points till the third round. They were lying eleventh in the series after the first four events, with 10 more to go... The 2001 Propecia Rally New Zealand came at an unforgettable time in itself. The event started nine days after the 9/11 tragedy in America, something which caused serious disruption in itself to the aerial transit of people and equipment. Eventually nearly everyone made the journey but the Japanese Subaru company ordered a large group of dealer technicians, who were to work the cars as a work incentive award, to stay at home. Then, inside the sport, there were changes. Of the five registered manufacturers who entered the event Subaru and Mitsubishi both went to New Zealand with new team managers., Burns’ Subaru had a revised, lighter air box for this event, said to give more power, not fitted to the team cars of Petter Solberg and Toshi Arai. For Richard and Robert 2000 had been a good year. The 2000 ‘S6’ car was spectacular, but the disappointment for Richard of not winning that championship was huge. Robert: “By the end of the season (again the Network Q Rally GB) we had done all we could, we had done our part, and yet Marcus also did his part and ended up winning. So that was really disappointing. There was a lot of expectation in ‘01 as to how we could put together a championship year. It didn’t start great – the ‘01 car (Subaru’s Impreza WRC ‘S7’) just wasn’t initially what anyone had hoped for. We were really struggling with it. By the time we went to New Zealand for the 10th round of the series, we had struggled to rise to fifth place in the championship. “ This was an event which Richard and I both particularly enjoyed and liked, and we really needed to win this rally. We felt that if we didn’t win this rally then the championship chances were fast disappearing. We had won New Zealand in 1996 when it wasn’t a full championship event (that was in a Mitsubishi) so there was a little bit of unfinished business there in terms of winning it as a full championship round. “It was an event that suited Richard. He always went well on that type of event and enjoyed the place as well. But there was also a huge question of tactics because of the exaggerated road-cleaning problem on that event. How you could play this to your advantage led to a lot of discussion.” These were evolving times in the sport. Running-order tactics were in their infancy: “ We started the event running fifth on the road. The first stage on Day 1 (Te Akau North) was the longest of the day but this was no time or place to attack. Right from the start we knew we needed to slow right down. We certainly didn’t want to be running first on the road or high up on Day 2. 45