It is, as my colleague Matt Burt put it earlier today, a poignant time of the year for rally fans, as we remember not only the world titles of Colin McRae and Richard Burns but also, sadly, the death of the Englishman through a brain tumour precisely four years to the day after he claimed the sport’s top prize.

My own thoughts fly back to a quiet Monday afternoon in the office of weekly motorsport title Autosport in late 2003. I was pretty much done piecing together the rally news for that week’s issue when the phone rang. It was Claire Caudwell from the CSS management firm that represented Richard Burns, calling to inform me that her man would “like a chat”.

Calls like this are not received lightly. More than their F1 counterparts, rally journalists rely on direct access to the drivers (I once befuddled Autosport’s F1 man by informing him that I had all of the top drivers’ mobile numbers; he didn’t even have Michael Schumacher’s PA’s number). So when a top man like Richard calls you in for an audience, it’s normally to deliver a dressing down for mis-quoting him or getting a fact wrong in a report. I’d had my fair share of chewings – and not just from Burnsie.

Still, the request for an interview was slightly odd. “He wants to go over Rally Catalunya,” said Claire. “Can you come to his place in London, say, tomorrow morning?”