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By a sad coincidence, his death came on the fourth anniversary of his championship win with Subaru in 2001.

The Briton was diagnosed with the astrocytoma, a form of a brain tumour, after blacking out at the wheel on his way to the British Rally in Wales in 2003 where he could have won a second championship with Peugeot.

He had been due to return to Subaru in 2004 but the illness forced him to withdraw from that season.

"You don't become a world champion without being a great, great driver," world rally supremo David Richards, whose Prodrive company also runs the Subaru team, told Reuters.

"He will stand out amongst them as one of the icons of the sport.

"We were very confident (in 2003) of him coming back to us and winning another title."

The only other Briton to have won the championship was Scottish driver Colin McRae, also with Subaru, in 1995. The two drivers were great rivals, contrasting personalities who frequently clashed but also respected one another.

Burns, overall runner-up in 1999 and 2000 and winner of 10 rounds of the world rally championship, had a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy last year and in April this year underwent brain surgery.


"From the outset, Richard knew that the odds were heavily against him and yet he fought his illness with bravery and good humour," said a statement issued on his family's behalf.

"Having undergone both chemotherapy and radiotherapy, he was able to leave hospital in summer 2004. For a while his health showed signs of improvement but then after six months it once again began to decline.

"Determined not to give up, he opted for surgery earlier this year. This alleviated some of the symptoms of his illness and enabled him to remain active," the statement added.

"At Castle Combe in August he attended a parade of the rally cars that he drove throughout his career and was touched by the warmth of the reception he received.

"However there was to be no miracle and in recent days he lapsed into a coma."

Richards said he had received emails from all over the world, including several from Kenya where Burns won his first world championship rally with Mitsubishi in 1998, paying tribute to the driver.

"It's easy to think of him just as an English star but remember that he won events all around the world and he had an extraordinary following," he said.

"He stood out, tall, looked slightly different with his gingery hair from the rest of the crowd and I suppose was very recognisable.

"He was the first English world champion and he did it in great style as well, he was very professional in the way he went about it," Richards added.

"He and Colin were great pals but nonetheless two completely opposite ends of the spectrum with Colin's flamboyance and Richard's sheer determination and professionalism. He (Burns) had a very methodical, determined style."
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