The death last week of Chinese Rally Champion, Liu Chao Dong, sadly adds to the number of top class rally drivers who have left us far too soon.

It’s a known fact that motorsport is dangerous and that there will occasionally be fatalities at events, but thankfully, these are rare. In fact many of the top drivers who have gone long before their time have died as a result of accidents or illnesses of a non-competitive nature.

Perhaps the most famous rally driver to have died is Colin McRae, the 1995 World Rally Champion and probably the best known name in rallying for more than a decade. While he was in the latter stages of his career, McRae still had hopes of reviving his WRC career when he crashed his helicopter near his home in Scotland in 2007, killing himself, his young son and two others. (Photo:

Incredibly, Irish driver, Bertie Fisher, also suffered a fatal helicopter accident.

In a weird twist of fate, two of the drivers who were McRae’s 555 Subaru World Rally Team team-mates in the early 1990s, Richard Burns and Possum Bourne, have also passed away.

All three spearheaded Subaru’s assault on the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, and were a fearsome combination. Burns, the 2001 World Champion, died from a brain tumour in November 2005, while Bourne (the seven-time Australian Rally Champion) was killed after a recce accident at the Race To The Sky Hillclimb in New Zealand in April 2003.

Fortunately you can nearly count the number of top-line drivers killed in the World Rally Championship on one hand.

Lancia driver Attilio Bettega died after crashing his Lancia Rally 037 on the 1985 Tour de Corse Rally, while 12 months later, an accident that claimed the life of Lancia’s Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto, brought a sudden end to the wild Group B formula in the WRC.

Three years on, Sweden’s Lars-Erik Torph didn’t survive his accident on the 1989 Monte Carlo Rally.

Co-drivers, Michael Park (GB) and Rodger Freeth (NZ), both lost their lives while competing at the top level of the sport.

Park died when the Peugeot in which he was co-driving for Markko Martin hit a tree on the 2005 Rally of Great Britain. Martin – a former winner of the 1000 Lakes Rally - has not contested a round of the World Rally Championship since.

Freeth succumbed to injuries sustained after he and Possum Bourne left the road during the 1993 Rally Australia in Western Australia.

Others to have left us after competition accidents include former British Champion Mark Lovell, China’s Xu Lang, and Australian motorsport great, Peter Brock, who crashed out of Targa West in 2006.

Over the years the safety measures that have been built into rally cars, and the equipment available in the medical and emergency response teams, has helped to lessen the chances of serious accidents in all motorsport categories.

However, it’s not something that we should become complacent with. Motorsport IS dangerous, and every precaution should be taken.

As sad as it is, the ‘Rally of Heaven’ sure boasts an impressive entry list.
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