Remembering Richard’s nearest miss in NZ

Richard Burns dominated the first half of the 2002 Rally New Zealand. Then it went wrong in Paparoa Station

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Forgive me, there’s a degree of indulgence with this picture. A family trip to New Zealand has turned into something of a trip down memory lane.

A day out to Raglan landed us at the airfield and a recollection of that most dramatic of events in 2010: a rally which Sébastien Loeb was going to win after a stunning fight back. Then he didn’t. Then it was going to be Sébastien Ogier’s first win. Until he spun a couple of corners before the end of the rally. Petter Solberg? He was in it to win it, until he whacked a telegraph pole. Jari-Matti Latvala was the man who made it stick for one of his – and the WRC’s – most memorable wins.

All pretty much within a stone’s throw of Raglan.

South of the Kiwi surf capital, there was only one road: Whaanga. Class. In the opposite direction, up north: Paparoa, Waipu Gorge and, of course, Brooks and Batley were all there to be talked about.

Rally New Zealand, Auckland, 6/5 - 9/5 2010

Latvala was the master of a crazy final day in and around Raglan on the 2010 Rally New Zealand

Searching the fabulous Girardo & Co. Archive to bring those recollections to life I happened upon this absolute gem from 2002.

It is, of course, Richard Burns and Robert Reid powering their Peugeot 206 WRC towards a maiden victory as defending world champions.

The picture is pure Aotearoa. There’s the lush green hills, some sort of coastline, the urgence of the #1 silver dream machine and the ubiquitous heli in pursuit. Chasing back-to-back NZ wins, RB and Reidy looked to have the job sorted.

Out of the blocks, they were flying through Friday morning. Quickest on the Te Akau North opener, they ended an unbeaten loop with a stage win on Whaanga. A day later and they were 44 seconds up on team-mate Marcus Grönholm. Everything was looking good.

Rally New Zealand 2002

Even the Kiwi heli struggled to keep pace with Richard Burns through the first half of the 2002 Rally New Zealand

Mid-way through Paparoa Station, everything went south. Fractionally too quick through a right over a bridge, the left-rear of the 206 touched a bank and sent them across the road in the other direction, tipping them into a sizeable roll.

Inversions over, Burnsie’s head was in his hands, and with exasperation near desperation came: “Oh, no.”

Robert: “You OK?”

Richard: “Yeah. Just. You?”

Robert: “Yeah. Just.”

Game over.