A bona fide world exclusive is a rare thing these days. But – thanks to Robert Reid and Colin McMaster – DirtFish can bring you one today.
You’ll have seen that November 25 was the day Richard Burns won the 2001 World Rally Championship. Tragically, it was also the day he passed away four years later. This story is focused very much on the former.
Our retelling of 2001 concluded with a hungover Burns and Reid being filmed beneath Marble Arch at the top of Park Lane, London. We didn’t go any further. We will now.
As 20 years ago today, the Subaru pair headed once more west across Offa’s Dyke and into the principality of Wales. The middle bit.
Given the parlous state of their relationship with Subaru – and the fact they were going to the High Court to let the British justice system decide which color they would wear for the defense of their first ever world championship title – any mention of the word Peugeot was a proper no-no at the time.
So, it would have been impossible to imagine them testing a Peugeot 206 WRC for the first time in mid-Wales 20 years ago today, wouldn’t it…
“It was a proper, proper secret,” said Reid. “Nobody knew. Nobody was told. There weren’t many people from the team, it was a very, very low-key thing.”
Not trusting any of the stages used the previous week, Peugeot rented the Higgins’ family’s Forest Experience rally school – a place where the gate could be locked and long lenses kept well away.
There was, however, one lens which was welcome.
“Col was there,” said Reid, casually referring to world-renowned snapper and Burns’s bestie Colin McMaster.
Having shared a house and a life in Oxfordshire with Burns, it was only natural that the one-day-old world champion would ask his mate if he fancied flying back to Wales for the day.
“We took off from a back garden in the village of Broadwell,” McMaster told DirtFish. “It was a real pea-souper of a day. Burnsie had spoken to [Peugeot Sport director Corrado] Provera and had cleared it for me to take some pictures. It was clear, these were only for Richard – just in case he never drove the 206 again.”
When the heli landed in Carno, the car was ready. Stripped bare. Ready.
“I didn’t think so much about this at the time,” said McMaster. “But Richard and Robert both had Sparco suits on in the colors of Peugeot – minus every single logo and sponsor.
“The only decals on the suits were their names and flags. It was the same with their crash helmets, Bell had provided them in the same silver and orange color scheme, but without any logos on.
“And the same for the car. It was the test 206 WRC in silver, but with no livery.”
The test didn’t last long, as it didn’t take long to convince Burns and Reid the court case and the associated hassle was worth it.
“It wasn’t anything like a day-long test or anything like that,” said Reid. “It was just a bit of familiarization, a day to get a feel for the car and look at seat positions and things like that. Was Corrado there? I don’t remember, I don’t think so. F-X [Francois-Xavier Demaison, Peugeot’s technical director] was though.
“It was something of a blast from the past for Richard. Don’t forget, before Mark and David’s [Higgins] family bought the school it belonged to Jan Churchill and Richard had spent a long time up there, teaching people how to be rally drivers when he was just starting out on his career.
“It was a good day.”
A day when the world champions decided their immediate future.
McMaster: “We were back in Broadwell in time for dinner.”
A very good – if a little less secret – day, Tuesday November 27, 2001.