30-year-old Subaru World Rally Team driver Richard Burns today became the first Englishman ever to win the FIA World Rally Championship for drivers since the series was established in 1979. The result was secured in Cardiff this afternoon when he finished third on the Rally of Great Britain - his home event and finale of the 14 round series. In fog and driving rain Richard and his 35 year-old Scottish co-driver Robert Reid kept the pressure at bay on the final four stages and successfully juggled caution with speed through the perilous forest roads.
Following the earlier retirements of fellow title contenders Colin McRae, Tommi Makinen and Carlos Sainz, Burns needed to finish at least fourth to guarantee his world title. In fact he brought his Impreza WRC2001 home third, collected four championship points and with a total of 44, beat his British rival Colin McRae by two. Peugeot's outgoing World Champion Marcus Gronholm ended his reign in style by winning the rally, while his teammate Harri Rovanpera was second.
Subaru has now been the driving force behind five FIA World Titles. The Japanese marque was manufacturers' champion in 1995, 1996 and 1997, and the Subaru Impreza powered Colin McRae to the Driver's title in 1995. Richard was 2nd in the championship in 1999 and 2000. His fellow Subaru team driver Toshihiro Arai finished 10th. The Japanese star, partnered by new co-driver Tony Sircombe, put in a well-paced and consistent drive that enabled him to gain plenty of experience of the specialist Welsh rally conditions.
Another star Subaru performance came from British Impreza driver David Higgins and his co-driver Craig Thorley. The pair finished 11th to win the Group N class -- ending Mitsubishi's run of 28 consecutive wins!
"I feel absolutely fantastic! There was massive pressure before this event, and to come through it like this is brilliant. It's a bit of a shame not to win my home event, but after the retirements on the first leg my sole aim changed from the rally, to the bigger championship picture. I'm overwhelmed by this experience it's been a great team performance, so many people have worked so hard for this result and we all deserve it!"
"You beauty! It still hasn't sunk in yet, after the disappointments of the last few years this victory means so much. Richard has proved that he's the best this year and we did the job. There's going to be a big party tonight!"
"I'm very pleased to finish in the top 10 on what is a very difficult rally. It's been good experience and practice especially with the high-speed sections and my pace notes. I'm looking forward to the future"
Team Principal David Lapworth:
"We signed Richard three years ago with the intention of making him world champion and we've worked hard to achieve that. It's been a massive team effort, people were writing us off in the middle of the season, but we've proved them wrong. It'll take a while to sink in, we've just got to get him back to Cardiff now. Richard has proved himself now to be one of the best drivers in the world, and all along his approach has been determined and focussed and he judged the pace superbly this rally. There'll be a big celebration tonight!"
SS14 07:58 Rheola 1 ((26.93km))
Weather conditions for leg three had deteriorated, driving rain and fog made the stage surface muddy and slippery and kept visibility down. Marcus Gronholm's run of fastest stages was broken by his Peugeot teammate Harri Rovanpera, who was more than eight seconds faster than his compatriot. The result moved Rovanpera above Burns on the overall leaderboard into second place. Didier Auriol was third fastest with the Skoda of Armin Schwarz fourth. With just four stages separating him from his first World Rally title, Richard Burns took things steady, he was sixth fastest and dropped to third overall. This wasn't a problem for Burns and despite dropping a place he still kept a safety cushion of more than four minutes between himself and fifth placed Schwarz. Alister McRae and Kenneth Eriksson both had a miserable time on the rainy stage -- neither of their works Hyundai Accents had working windscreen wipers.
Fastest Time : Rovanpera (Peugeot) 15:36.8
SS15 09:42 Rhondda 2 ((26.47km))
Gronholm was back on the pace through the repeated 26km Rhondda section. He won the stage by 10 seconds from Rovanpera, and pulled further ahead to lead the event by 1 minute 46 seconds. Burns consolidated his position and was third quickest. Meanwhile, Back at Hyundai, Kenneth Eriksson had fixed his wipers on the road section before SS15, but McRae's still refused to work. In desperation his co-driver David Senior improvised a manual system by attaching a spare intercom cable to one of the wipers and passing the two ends of the wire through the two front side windows. After the stage crews headed back to the service area before attempting the final two repeated stages of the rally.
Fastest Time : Gronholm (Peugeot) 14:31.6
SS16 12:18 Rheola 2 ((26.93km))
Gronholm fastest followed by Auriol, Schwarz and Eriksson. Rovanpera lost time with a stall and was fifth while Richard Burns took things gently to finish sixth.
Fastest Time : Gronholm (Peugeot) 15:23.6
SS17 13:36 Margam 2 ((27.93km))
No surprises on the final test of the season. Gronholm was quickest through the famous Margam stage and won the rally overall. His teammate Didier Auriol was second quickest and the third Peugeot of Harri Rovanpera third. Richard Burns was sixth quickest in the Subaru but his third place overall was safe and he won the 2001 series.
Fastest Time : Gronholm (Peugeot) 16:30.0