Possum Bourne – World Class Rally Driver

Possum, 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 where he has lived 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 company Prodrive.

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 immediately obvious when he 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 has become synonymous with the brand he has 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 champion from 1996 to last year, 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 six on several occasions against the world’s best. With those performances he could justifiably claim to be a world class driver.

He won events in Indonesia, 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 the Rally of 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 1994 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 NZ came in 1987 with 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 set back, 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 across the Tasman said he could not change to the lower powered class of car successfully. He proved them wrong.

Apart from his ability behind the wheel, Possum’s practical engineering experience insured his cars were as competitive as possible, as he started 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 kept audiences enthralled for hours sharing his experiences in his own down to earth style.

He was also fiercely patriotic. At the Swedish Rally this year, at the start of his campaign in the Production World Rally Championship, his car carried the silver fern on either side of the top of the windscreen even though it was not part of the corporate livery for the team!

And he never gave up. If the car was still capable of motion he always gave himself a chance of completing a stage and the event.

Possum did everything 100 percent. His competitive nature would not allow anything less.

He will be sadly missed.

Contributed by John Coker, Subaru NZ