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If ever there was a test of Possum Bourne's greatness, it was in 2002. Not unexpectedly, the New Zealand great came out on top in his Group N Subaru Impreza WRX. * * * * * The early 2000s were years of great change in the Australian Rally Championship, with World Rally Cars being replaced with the production-based Group N machines. Since the mid to late 1990s, the ARC had been the domain of Group A and World Rally Cars, with both Subaru and Toyota upping the stakes to win the coveted national title. Toyota and Neal Bates achieved some event victories in their ex-Toyota Team Europe Corolla, but they could never fully overcome Possum Bourne and his ex-Prodrive Subaru Impreza.

Possum Bourne on his way to a heat win in WA in 2002. Photo: Subaru

But that was expected to change in 2002 when the ARC switched to the heavier, lower powered Group N cars. Weighing in at 1470kg, the production car was around 250kg heavier than a World Rally Car. The car was no slouch, however, producing 195kW at 6000rpm, and an impressive 343Nm of torque at 4000rpm. Not bad for a 2.0-litre Boxer engine with a 32mm turbo restrictor installed. Bourne was a racer, and it was widely thought that his aggressive driving style wouldn't be suitable to the lower-powered Group N cars. Many thought his run of six ARC championship wins would come to an end. When the Kiwi failed to finish both heats of the opening round in NSW in early 2002 – albeit due to multiple flat tyres – the predictions seemed to be on the money.

Possum Bourne won 7 Australian Rally Championship titles. Photo: Subaru

Not to be deterred, he and co-driver, Mark Stacey, bounced back at the following round in Western Australia, taking a win and a second in the two heats. They retired from the following event, the Rally of Canberra, but after that Bourne was pretty much uncatchable, winning five of the remaining eight heats and clinching a record seventh Australian Rally Championship crown. To cap off a brilliant first season in Group N, the duo then won the Group N category at the WRC-qualifying Rally of New Zealand. It was perhaps Bourne's most impressive season, given his unfamiliarity with Group N and the ease at which he mastered the car.

Bourne to rally! Possum Bourne in full flight in 2002.

The following year, 2003, he masterminded a campaign to contest the Production World Rally Championship, and started his program in Sweden in February. In April, however, a tragic accident in the lead-up to the Race to the Sky Hillclimb claimed his life, and one of rallying's most popular figures was gone. Bourne's 2002 ARC-winning Impreza still takes pride of place at Subaru Australia's HQ in Sydney, and was on display at their recent ride day in Canberra. It was a thrill to sit in the car, and get up close and personal with a real piece of Australian rallying history. Photos: Andy Vause, Peter Whitten
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