Richard Burns Biography

From Adrian Kirk-Burnnand [ 13/06/2001 ].
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Read Richard Burns' rallying biography here.

After a number of years when he was on the brink of breaking into the WRC, Mitsubishi carried Burns to the WRC, after success in the British and Asia-Pacific Titles in 1997. Richard made a name for himself in 1998 winning the Safari Rally and Rally of GB. 1999 and 2000 have seen Richard finish painful second's in the drivers championship with Subaru. 2001 should be his year.

Note: For similar feature articles covering Subaru please see the 'All About Subaru' Index of articles and for information on the other Subaru drivers please visit the 'Current Drivers Index'.

Date of birth: 17 January 1971
Place of birth: Reading England
Lives: Kidlington, England
Marital Status: Single
Hobbies: Mountain bikes, motorbikes, music, jet-skiing
Career debut: 1988 in a Talbot Sumbeam
Joined Subaru WRT: 1994-1996; 1999 - present
WRC Titles: 0
BRC Titles: 1 (1993)
Co-driver: Robert Reid
First WRC Win: 1990 (RAC Rally)
WRC Wins:

7 (Updated Yearly)

Richard Burns was born in Reading on the 17th of January 1971. His earliest recollections of four wheels was when at the very early age of eight, his father Alex, allowed him behind the wheel of an old Triumph 2000 in the fields near to their home. Despite his not being able to see over the wheel, Richard enjoyed the experience and would pester his Dad to allow him to repeat this game as often as his fathers busy schedule would allow. More formal training waited until he was only 11, when he joined a car club for under 17's.


Richard Burns during the 2001 Rally of Catalunya.

Richard's father, Alex, was instrumental in encouraging him to pursue his interest in cars and driving, and at the age of 15, after four years of experience at the car club, Richard's driving skills were assessed in a rally car at a Welsh driving school. Two hours later with instructor/co-driver beaming from ear to ear, Richard emerged convinced him that he wanted to be a professional rally driver - two years before most people of his age have even contemplated their driving test.

Richard had gained valuable experience by competing in a variety of different UK rallies until rally enthusiast and businessman David Williams spotted his talent in 1989 and offered him a drive in the 1990 Peugeot 205GTI Championship, which remains one of the best breeding grounds for British talent. Burns was hugely successful in the one-make series winning on his first attempt then proving it was not luck, winning it back-to-back, underlining his ability at the wheel. David Williams was to go on to become Richard's mentor and great personal friend. To this day, David is behind most of Richard's career decisions.

After these early successes, David Williams was instrumental in organising an entry in the 1992 British National Championship, in a Group N Subaru Legacy. He won the title that year against much more powerful opposition, still aged a tender 21 years. 

In 1993, when Colin McRae, who today is one of Richard's keenest rivals, left the British Open Championship and moved on to the world championship scene, Burns' tenacity and skill had attracted the attentions of Prodrive. Burns was to take over Colin's seat that year and the Burns, Prodrive and Subaru combination proved unbeatable. The British title was convincingly claimed with outright wins in Scotland, Wales and on the Isle of Man, Subaru's third successive title in the series at the time. To add to this impressive domestic form (and significant milestone - the youngest ever British Rally Champion), Burns also gave a hint of his overseas promise with a second place on the Rally of Thailand in the Asia Pacific Championship.

He stayed with Subaru for the next two seasons, with a third in the 1994 Asia-Pacific series, at the helm of the all-new Subaru Impreza, gaining more valuable experience of international events, including increasing numbers of World Championship events. However, he seemed to be trying too hard to prove himself in his first years on the world stage, but he did take a win on the non-championship New Zealand round. By mid-1995 Burns had been told that his services would not be required the following season at Subaru. 

Yet, his rapidly developing maturity and demonstrable ability attracted the attentions of many other teams. Over the winter Burns had offers from both Ford and Mitsubishi. Mitsubishi Ralliart signed him to a real crack at the prestigious Asia-Pacific title in 1996. Richard finished second in the Championship.

This convinced Mitsubishi he was worthy of the number two spot in the Mitsubishi Ralliart WRT and he was to partner the multiple World Champion, Tommi Makinen in 1997 on selected events. His season was much more consistent earning Burns a full season with Mitsubishi in 1998. Brilliant performances on events he didn’t even know (especially the 1000 Lakes) and wins on the Safari and the RAC meant even at this early stage of his career there was no question that he was one of the best ten exponents of his art anywhere in the world. An already meteoric rise by anyone's standards meant he was in demand as a No.1 driver in his own right.

Taking the offer of a Subaru drive for 1999, Burns thought he had exactly that top spot. However, when Subaru signed four-time champion Juha Kankkunen, Burns realised he would have to stamp his authority on the team starting from scratch. The expected – and bitter - competition from the Finn started as the Impreza became competitive in Argentina, where Kankkunen allegedly disregarded team orders to steal what would have been Burns’s first win for his new team. Burns made up for it in Greece with a characteristically smooth, and utterly dominant performance.

Second behind his team mate at the Rally Finland was an astounding result for a non-Finnish driver, and the Englishman was beginning to lift himself into contention for the title. Another second place in China helped, though retirement in the San Remo event all but destroyed his chances of catching Makinen. Auriol’s second placed Toyota, however, was fair game, and wins in Australia and Britain lifted Burns into second overall at the season’s end.

It was little surprise that Burns started 2000 as the leading challenger to Makinen in the fight for the driver's crown. However, Tommi's threat was null and after an excellent start to the season it looked like Richard had the title wrapped up. Unfortunate problems with his Subaru, two crashes and excellent results from Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm saw the title slipping from Burns' grasp. The battle was down to the final two rallies of the season - Australia and Great Britain. After Makkinen was disqualified for an illegal turbo charger Marcus was promoted to the win and Richard to second. In the final rally Richard now had to win and Marcus finish 5th or worse! Taking it easy Marcus was able to finish well, and Richard's third successive win on the Rally of GB was to no avail.

2001 has been a mediocore year so far, but there's still a chance for Burns and it'll all be covered on this site.

This article is continued here with a list summarising the results throughout Richard Burns' career. 

Please also visit the biography of Richard's co-driver, Robert Reid, here.

Note: For similar feature articles covering Subaru please see the 'All About Subaru' Index of articles and for information on the other Subaru drivers please visit the 'Current Drivers Index'.