Richard Burns had a plan. He and co-driver Robert Reid always had a plan. The end of 2003 was no different. No different, that is, until the word ‘astrocytoma’ landed on planet World Rally Championship and changed everything.
The plan changed and what actually played out was one of the most astonishingly brave human stories. Burnsie had shown himself to be a fighter in a car, but that was nothing compared with what he was capable of in real life.
What was plan A? What if?
Reid takes up the story.
“We were pretty happy at Peugeot in 2003,” he told DirtFish. “Things were going quite well, the car was quick and we were getting quicker with it.
“And the season was going well. OK, we hadn’t won a round in the 206 WRC, but we were leading the championship and leading it quite well.
“Richard could be quite pedantic at times and one of the things he was quite keen on was trying to be the first driver in his era to win a world title without taking a victory on a rally. He was so much about consistency, about building a championship – he wanted to show that it was something that could be done.
“I’d have to say, when we flew home from Australia with our seventh podium from 10 starts and we were seven points ahead, I think we both fancied the championship and a second title was looking good.
“I don’t remember exactly when, but we obviously started talking about 2004 with Corrado [Provera, Peugeot Sport director] and Jean-Pierre [Nicolas, Peugeot Sport sporting director].
“The new car [the Peugeot 307 WRC] was coming for the following year and we weren’t going to make a commitment until we tested it.
“That test did not go well.
“The car wasn’t for us. Richard didn’t get any kind of feeling for it, which wasn’t really what the team wanted to hear. Next thing we knew Jean-Pierre had turned up and it was like: ‘Er, hello, what are you doing here?’
“It was obvious he’d come to try to smooth the waters.
After that test with the 307, the first thing Richard did was call his managerRobert Reid
“Just before that test we’d been in Germany for the rally and Lappy [David Lapworth, Subaru team principal] had leaned into the car during the weekend and simply said: ‘Be good to catch up and have a chat about next year…’
“Richard and I looked at each other, we were quite surprised. Don’t forget, we’d left Subaru at the end of 2001 – instead of celebrating our championship with the team, we’d gone to court with David [Lapworth] and other Subaru team members to end our contract and move to Peugeot. Like I said, we were quite surprised…
“After that test with the 307, the first thing Richard did was call his manager. He said: ‘Do the deal with Subaru.’ We were out of there and going back to Subaru for what would have been a third stint with Prodrive.
“The deal was done and Richard went to Banbury to sign – he actually took his 2004 team kit away with him from that meeting. We were going for two seasons.
“That would take us through 2004 and 2005 and that would have been the end of the WRC for us. Richard was building a new house in Andorra and things were going really well for him and Zoe [Scott, Richard’s partner at the time] and we’d both kind of seen the potential for life outside of the world championship.
“With those couple of years done, we were looking forward to taking some time off before starting work on a Dakar program for 2007.
“I don’t think that was going to be a long-term thing, it wasn’t like we were going to move into cross-country for years to come or anything like that, it was just the chance to have a crack at something that would be a real adventure.
“Richard and I had competed at a time when WRC rounds were much longer than they are now – we’d done the Safari thing where you’re away for weeks on end testing and testing and testing before the rally itself and we both enjoyed the adventure side of competing on a fantastic continent like Africa.
“After that, who knows? Like I said, Richard was really at a time in his life when he was very happy, really content. We’d done one title and we were looking good for another and then we were going back to where it all started.”
When things changed, Robert spent the next two years at Richard’s side until November 25, 2005, when he passed away.
“We’ve seen a lot of crew changes in this year’s world championship,” said Reid. “Richard and I were together for more than a decade.
“When that ended, I had some offers and some of them were really interesting offers, but it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t really have imagined working with anybody apart from Richard.
“We were a partnership. That will never change.”