The 2000 World Rally Championship had it all. Excitement, drama, heart-stopping crashes and frighteningly quick stage times - and it culminated in a last-round title decider in the forests of south Wales.
In the early rounds, Richard Burns in his Subaru Impreza had established a healthy lead, but Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm steadily clawed Burns back and eventually took the lead in the championship for himself on round nine, fittingly his home event, Rally Finland. Here, Burns crashed out in spectacular style, handing his rival the initiative.
After the penultimate round, when Gronholm won in Australia following Tommi Makinen's exclusion, the Finn had a nine-point lead over Englishman Burns. So Burns' task on the Rally GB was simple. Win the rally and hope Gronholm would be unable to finish. Richard was a two-times winner of the event, and this was Marcus's first full WRC season. While his mission was difficult, it wasn't impossible.
But the Oxfordshire driver did not get off to the best of starts. A kilometre into the first stage on Friday morning, Burns turned into a corner a fraction too early and clipped his left rear wheel. He stopped to make a temporary fix, but he had to drive through a further two stages before he reached service where proper repairs were carried out. By the end of the first leg he was 58 seconds behind leader Colin McRae (Ford) and 39 seconds behind championship leader Gronholm.
Leg Two was a day of changing fortunes for the British duo of McRae and Burns. Overnight leader McRae, aiming for his third Rally GB win too, was looking strong until he rolled his Ford Focus on SS12. The Scot tried to carry on, but after suffering damage to the radiator he had to concede that his rally was over. Burns meanwhile was pushing hard and eventually finished the day leading the event. Gronholm was driving a conservative rally, never really pushing his Peugeot 206 and staying out of trouble. But he still finished the day in second, 19 seconds behind his rival.
In the final leg, Richard Burns kept up his side of the bargain and duly won Rally GB. After all his hard-charging efforts of the previous two days, Burns just had to maintain his lead and hope that Gronholm's Peugeot would suffer some mishap. But it wasn't to be. Marcus kept his cool on the final four stages of the rally and rounded off a remarkable year with a second place in Wales.
Gronholm wasn't even confirmed to compete a full season when he joined Peugeot's ranks, but his four wins and a world title in his first full year in the WRC proves just how talented the 32-year-old is. And although Richard Burns was disappointed with being beaten to the title, the Englishman can take comfort in the fact he scored his third Rally GB victory in a row - equalling the hat-trick of Rally GB wins set by legends Erik Carlsson and Timo Makinen.
WHAT THEY SAID
Marcus Gronholm: "It will be easier for me next year. I think I will be more relaxed."
Richard Burns:"Anyone who says that Marcus does not deserve the championship is talking shit."
Corrado Provera: "From the hunters we become the hunted. We will keep our concentration (in 2001)."
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