Welcome to Freeze Frame, our look back at moments from this week in automotive history.
24 November 1998 – Richard Burns wins a fraught Rally of Great Britain
Whatever you call it – the Lombard, the RAC Rally, the Network Q, Rally of Great Britain, or until recently the Wales Rally GB – the British rally’s position at the end of the World Rally Championship calendar made it a must-watch event. But 1998’s rally, from November 22-24, had audiences truly rapt.
You could usually guarantee some kind of drama in Great Britain, but 1998’s event didn’t need the usual mud, snow and challenging stages to make an impact. Tommi Mäkinen did that himself, sliding on oil left by a historic rally car earlier in the day, and clouting a concrete block on the sixth stage at Millbrook.
The impact tore the wheel off his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution V, and threw the title wide open to his rival Carlos Sainz, in the Toyota Corolla WRC.
Mäkinen, like all rally drivers (and especially double World Champions) carried on – right up until the moment a bemused bobby pulled him over on the following road section, and the distraught Finn was forced to retire.
If fans thought that would be the end of things though, they’d be handed one more surprise. Just half a kilometre from the end of the final stage, at Margam Park in Wales and with Sainz’s title in the bag, the Corolla’s engine let go. Neither Sainz nor co-driver Luis Moya could do a thing, Moya expressing his frustration by throwing his crash helmet through the rear window – creating one of the iconic rally images, and ultimately handing the title to Mäkinen.
Colin McRae, an early title contender in 1998, had gone into the Rally of Great Britain with no higher hopes than winning the event itself, but those dreams also came to an end when his Subaru’s engine gave up on the 20th special stage.
It would be fellow Brit, Englishman Richard Burns, who would finally take the lead. Burns, Mäkinen’s teammate in Team Mitsubishi Ralliart, had won early in the season in Kenya, but was way out of contention for the title.
Early in the rally he’d sparred with McRae, but following the Scot’s retirement had kept his head and his position at the top of the timesheets. In dominant fashion, he set the fastest time on the final nine stages of the rally (including every stage on the final day, following McRae’s retirement) and on November 24th, 1998, crossed the line to become the first English driver since Roger Clark to win the Rally GB – a full 22 years later.
Burns was already one to watch, but after a move to Subaru in 1999 he became a true pace-setter. In the Impreza WRC he finished second that year to Mäkinen, and then second to Marcus Gronholm in the Peugeot in 2000, finally taking his first and only title in 2001.
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