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Possum Bourne, who celebrated his 47th birthday on April 13, was New Zealand’s top rally driver in the history of the sport. Brought up in the Te Kauwhata area where his parents were farmers, Possum later shifted to Pukekohe, just a few kilometres south of Auckland, where he had lived ever since. His ability behind the wheel made him world-class and for three years – 1993 to 1995 – he drove for the full Subaru works factory team run by the English Prodrive company.

In his 40s, at a time when many drivers are past their best, Possum had matured as a driver to produce the best performances of his career.

Success in the sport did not come easily. He did not compete in his first rally until 1979 when he was already 23 years old. But the talent was already obvious when his finished third from a 48th seeding. On a limited budget, Possum did not compete in a large number of events in his early years in the sport.

In 1983 he attracted the backing of New Zealand’s Subaru distributor and his name had become synonymous with the Subaru brand which he remained loyal to ever since. Possum’s career developed with Subaru, at a time when the cars were not the most powerful or sophisticated. From 1986 on he drove for a partial factory team from Japan in a limited number of international events in places as diverse as Kenya, Argentina, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

When Subaru produced the more competitive Legacy RS for the 1990 season and then the Impreza WRX from 1994 onwards, Possum’s career flourished, although he was often still only doing a handful of events a year, compared to the dozen or more the top world championship drivers were competing in.

Possum won the Asia Pacific Championship three times – in 1993, 1994 and 2000. He was the seven-times consecutive Australian Rally Champion from 1996 to 2002, a record. He won the New Zealand title in 1991. On eight occasions Possum was the first New Zealand driver on the World Championship Rally of New Zealand, finishing in the top 6 on several occasions against the world’s best.

As a result of those performances he could justifiably claim to be a world class driver. He won events in India, Thailand, Malaysia, China and Japan as well as on both sides of the Tasman. He has been the dominant figurehead in the sport in New Zealand for the last 15 years, yet many of his best performances occurred internationally.

Since 1992 most of his competition has been in Australia or further afield, yet he retained and enhanced his profile as New Zealand’s top driver. Among his best drives were fourth on Rally Australia in 1990 in a heavy, mildly-modified Legacy RS. Victory in Indonesia in 1993 – his first true international win, was particularly sweet, as the last success with long-time co-driver and mate, the late Rodger Freeth. A win in the marathon Hong Kong to Beijing Rally came against the odds and set him up for the successful defence of his Asia Pacific title. His best performance on the Rally of New Zealand came in 1987 when he took third place.

But he valued the fifths gained in 1997 and 1999 much more. Competing against far stronger fields of factory works teams when he was driving a car at least a year old with much fewer resources at his disposal. Possum had an unquenchable passion for rallying and was always totally positive about the sport. Never one to dwell on any setback, he would analyse what had gone wrong and plan ahead for a new goal. Possum enjoyed challenges, and after a decade of top performances in a succession of highly-modified Group A and World Rally Cars, he relished winning the Australian Championship in a standard production Impreza STi last year.

Critics in Australia said he could not change to the lower powered class of car successfully. But he proved them wrong. Apart from his ability behind the wheel, Possum’s practical engineering experience ensured his cars were as competitive as possible, as he started his working life as an apprentice mechanic. Possum’s personality was like a breath of fresh air. He could relate to people at all levels and went out of his way to talk to fans and sign autographs. He could keep audiences enthralled for hours, sharing his experiences and his own down-to-earth style.

He was also fiercely patriotic. At this year’s Swedish Rally at the start of his campaign in the Production World Rally Championship, his car carried the New Zealand silver fern symbol on either side of the windscreen, even though it was not part of the corporate livery for the car. He never gave up. If his car was still capable of forward motion he always gave himself a chance of completing a stage and the event. Possum did everything 100 percent. His competitive nature wouldn’t allow anything less.

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