Strange what you remember, isn’t it?
It was a sad surprise this morning to look at social media and discover it was 15 years since Richard Burns’ death at the age of 34 from a brain tumour. I was in the bath and a bit broken when I heard that sad news of his passing, but remember better being lucky enough to be in Cardiff, muddy and a bit cold, to cover his world championship win on the exact same day 19 years ago. In this case, happy memories stick harder, thankfully.
Aged 25, I won the lottery without realising it, getting a job to cover the World Rally Championship from 1999 to 2001, to date probably the golden era for British talent in the sport, with Burns and Colin McRae winning rallies in fast, high-tech but still sideways cars developed by big-spending manufacturers for a media audience drawn in by the sheer variety and spectacle of the sport.
I was working for Motoring News (MN), now Motorsport News, alongside its legendary world rallying correspondent David Williams, who was the ideal conduit for a raw, and frankly until then not rally-mad, writer to meet the teams and drivers.
I’d come from Formula 1, which was massively media managed, yet inside three events, I had the mobile numbers for them all - and they almost always answered my calls. In fact, it was only recently that I deleted Richard's and Colin’s numbers from my phone, this tenuous link gone but so, too, the sadness whenever I happened upon them.
But this isn’t a tale of friendship lost. I liked both, admired them more and spent some good time with them, but never got much beyond spending a few minutes and sometimes hours here or there with them. Enough to get insights, not enough to really know them.
I remember arriving at the third event I covered, the Safari Rally, armed with some copies of MN, knowing the teams had gone straight from Sweden to Nairobi in order to start testing, thereby missing our coverage. On the way to the service area, I walked past Richard but was too shy - and not a little too awkward back then (probably as now) to do more than nod a hello and walk on, but noting he was looking at me quizzically as we passed.