Five years ago today, Richard Burns left us.
The 2001 World Champion died in London on November 25, 2005, after battling for nearly a year and half with brain cancer. It was four years to the day after he won the world title.
His driving career came to a sudden conclusion at the end of 2003, when he was still in with a chance of winning the World Championship. Burns had led the title race for eight months since February of the same year; with one round still to go a win on home territory could have assured him of another crown.
It was never to be. Driving to Rally GB in Cardiff, Richard passed out at the wheel of his Porsche 911 GT3. It was the start of the biggest battle of his life.
For a while, Richard defied the odds. In the summer of 2004 he was able to leave hospital and his health actually showed signs of improvement. But ultimately there was to be no miracle.
Richard’s analytical and precise approach sometimes made it difficult to get to know him: he took his job so seriously that he often came across as quite intense.
However, time spent with Richard away from rallies revealed another person completely: one who was at ease with himself and had finally found love with girlfriend Zoe, who stuck by his side throughout his ordeal. Richard was not an especially extravagant person: he did not believe in buying the private jets and apartments in Monaco that some of his rivals boasted.
Instead he preferred to take normal flights and live in Andorra, which he found less pretentious and more secluded. He said he liked the scenery and people in Andorra – the simple and normal things. A very close friend of his, who knew Richard intimately, said: “Richard really wanted only the most straightforward things: life and love. At least he found the latter.”
His record includes 10 world rally victories and 275 fastest stage times. The Englishman’s fluid and economical style inspired a generation of drivers, including Sebastien Loeb. The seven-time champion said: “When I was learning to drive a World Rally Car, he was the person whose example I tried to follow. He was so neat and so precise, and the car control he had was amazing. A lot of the way I drive my car now is down to Richard.”
He was due to have re-joined Subaru on a two-year contract in 2004 and 2005. After then, the chances are that he would have retired from the WRC but his natural mechanical empathy and affinity with the tough conditions of Africa would have made him a natural for the Dakar Rally. The tragedy is that we will never find out.
One of the people who knew Richard best was his co-driver Robert Reid. Robert speaks for all of us when he says: “I think it would do young drivers a lot of good to take a leaf out of Richard’s book – to take a look at the work he put in and the dedication he showed throughout his career; to let themselves be inspired by him. I was.”
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