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The BBC's Jonathan Legard
"Without the pressure of a championship battle this could be a classic"
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The BBC's Adam Mynott reports
"All three stages will start at Cheltenham racecourse"
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Saturday, 20 November, 1999, 19:00 GMT
The next Battle of Britain
Richard Burns: Prepared to drive off with second win?

Click here for the rally route including maps and details of BBC coverage

BBC Motor Racing Correspondent Jonathan Legard looks ahead to a three day drive around the English countryside and Welsh forests - and another Scotland versus England clash in the Rally of Great Britain

After the overheated, overbearing hype of football's big Euro play-off, prepare for a Battle of the Brits that comes free of ritualistic xenophobia but which boasts a rawness and competitive spirit that most sports would die for.

The Network Q Rally of Great Britain may be a mouthful of a title which seems to get longer, not shorter, despite increased familiarity.

But it pits two of rallying's hottest talents, Colin McRae and Richard Burns, in the heart of some of the world's most demanding terrain.

McRae: Seeking record-equalling fourth British success
Scot McRae is a three times winner of the event while Burns was victorious for the first time last year.

Much of the credit for the Englishman got lost amid the tears and car kicking of Carlos Sainz and co driver Luis Moya after their Toyota went up in flames on the final stage and lost them the world title to Tommi Makinen.

There will be none of that this time round, with the championship already settled in Finn Makinen's favour, giving him four in a row.

So the gloves are off - and so is the pressure. And the hundreds of thousands of fans who will brave the elements in the Welsh forests should be in for a treat.

Carlos Sainz: Disaster last year
Burns is the man in form, having finished first or second in five of the last seven rallies.

McRae, by contrast, has failed to finish at all over the same period, despite an encouraging start at his new team Ford earlier this year.

His last outing in the motor company's Focus ended by the side of a eucalyptus tree in Australia which cut his speed dramatically - from 120mph to zero in 1.3 seconds.

"It was big - probably the biggest impact I've ever had. But there's nothing lasting," McRae admitted this week.

"We're looking to finish the season on a high for the whole team really because the performances have tested everyone's patience.

Burns: Two wins in first year with Subaru
"Maybe those wins on the Safari rally and in Portugal raised some people's expectations.

"But we knew this year would be difficult because the real push comes next season when we hope to have solved our reliability problems to go for the championship.

"I don't want to be beaten by Richard at home. But I'm confident if it came to a head to head battle on the final day, I could beat him."

McRae also raised the stakes by another comment aimed at his home rival.

"I think it would mean more to Richard if he beat me than if it was the other way round," he said.

"He still has something to prove to people, possibly even himself despite his results this year, that he can do it in a straight fight. I've done it already."

Ford's new Focus started well but has suffered poor reliability
Burns usually lets his results do the talking. He has already seen off McRae in the championship and could finish runner up if results fall his way in the British round of the championship - its final event.

But the 28-year-old from Oxford is keen to make a point over the nexr few days.

"I'd love to make it two wins in a row, and I think the car's performing well enough to do that," he said.

"Look at our results. They're better than anyone else in the second half of the year."

"I know people will see it as a battle between me and Colin, and that's great.

"After the problems he's had this year, I think there's more pressure on him to end with a good result."

One man who knows both drivers well is David Richards, team boss at Subaru where Burns replaced McRae this season.

"I think Colin's going to have to work very hard. Richard's done very well this season: No mistakes, improving all the time and without a doubt he'll be world champion next year," he smiled.

Makinen leapt to title success in Australia
Tommi Makinen will beg to differ. Though he admits a growing admiration for his former Mitsubishi teammate.

"He's doing very well at the moment. It's good to see how he's improving," said the four times champion at a Silverstone workout last week.

"At the beginning he was quite a lot slower than me. He didn't take risks but he's learnt, learnt, learnt and he's now at a good level." Makinen wouldn't be drawn on the Burns/McRae debate. He preferred to talk up his own chances of victory, even though his best result is only sixth.

Barring bizarre interventions by ageing Hillman Imps, as happened last year, Makinen will go flat out to set his record straight on this event.

But if their cars survive the mud, ice, snow, rocks and trees, Burns and McRae should not disappoint on world rallying's final event of the millenium.
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See also:
21 Jan 99 |  Sport
McRae third in Monte Carlo
07 Nov 99 |  Sport
Burns' win but Makinen's title
09 Jun 99 |  Sport
Burns wins Acropolis Rally
25 Nov 98 |  Sport
Burns wins but Sainz goes down in flames

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