Peter 'Possum' Bourne
- April 13, 1956
- April 20, 2003
- New Zealand
- Not Active
Possum Bourne was a rally driver from New Zealand which is considered as the greatest ever in the Australian/New Zealander rally sports history. He was active in a world rallying from 1983 to 2003 when he lost his life in an accident on a public road.
Possum's real name was Peter Raymond George Bourne. He was born on April 13, 1956, in Pukehoke. As he said, he got a nickname Possum after he crashed mother's car trying to avoid a possum on the road. Since then, everybody called him Possum and the majority of motorsports fans didn't even know what was his real name.
A special connection with Subaru over entire career
His entire career Bourne spent driving Subaru cars, including the famous Impreza 555 as a member of the 555 Subaru World Rally Team. Bourne competed in 42 WRC events but he achieved the biggest successes by winning three Asian-Pacific championships and seven Australian championships.
A home-grown boy, Possum started his working career as an apprentice mechanic for Howe & Weston in Pukehoke. As a young driver, he was a member of the Pukehoke Car Club and he competed in the hill climbs and other racing events.
WRC debut at Rally New Zealand in 1983
Possum started rallying in a V8 powered Ford Cortina and then switched to Mazda RX-3 in 1981. He debuted on the world rallying scene in 1983, entering the Sanyo Rally New Zealand with Subaru RX Coupe, which was the turbocharged racing version of Subaru Leone. In the rally, won by Walter Röhrl in Lancia 037 Rally, Bourne finished 14th.
In the following two years, he repeated the participation in the New Zealander round of the World Rally Championship, both times finishing eighth in the classification. The Japanese manufacturer recognized Bourne's talent and he was driving factory entered Subaru RX Turbo in three events of the 1986 World Rally Championship. For the first time, he competed outside New Zealand, at Safari Rally in Kenya and Toyota Olympus Rally in the United States.
The first and only WRC podium in 1987
In 1987, Bourne again had three-race WRC program, which included events in Kenya, Great Britain, and New Zealand. At the AWA Clarion Rally New Zealand Possum scored his first WRC podium, finishing third with Subaru RX Turbo. Late in the 1987 Possum partnered with Rodger Freeth as a co-driver. That partnership lasted until Freeth's tragic death in 1993.
Subaru RX Turbo was Possum's car for two more seasons, during 1988 and 1989. In 1989, he competed for the first time at the Rally Australia, finishing 10th. In 1990, the Subaru Legacy RS was introduced and Possum participated in three WRC events. He nearly missed the podium at Rally Australia (4th) and Rally New Zealand (5th).
First championship title earned in New Zealand
In 1991, his results on the world's stage weren't good, as he retired both in the Australian and the New Zealander rounds, but Possum won his first title on the home ground. He became the 1991 New Zealand rally champion.
One by one Possum started to collect the titles. In 1992, he was Group N Australian champions and after that, he became a part-time member of the famous 555 Subaru World Rally Team, alongside Colin McRae and Ari Vatanen. Bourne participated in two WRC rallies but he was much more successful in the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship. He won two consecutive APRC titles in 1993 and 1994, driving factory-entered Subaru Legacy RS and Subaru Impreza 555.
Possum lost his friend and co-driver Rodger Freeth
Unfortunately, 1993 season was marked by the death of Possum's co-driver and friend Rodger Freeth. The tragedy happened in September on the third stage of the Rally Australia. After that accident, Possum's wanted to quit racing, but Freeth's family encouraged him to continue. Since then he had a license plate with name ROJ (Fleeth's nickname), on all of his rally cars.
Seven consecutive Australian rally titles
While he was competing with Subaru factory team and other teams in WRC and APRC, Bourne launched his own team Possum Bourne Motorsport in 1992 to compete in the Australian Rally Championship. He won his first Australian rally title in 1996 and added six more consecutive titles between 1997 and 2002 to his count, thus becoming the most successful rally driver in Australia's motorsport history.
He added one more APRC title in 2000, driving Impreza WRX and Impreza S4 WRC. He scored lots of victories in the APRC events but his third place finish in the 1987 Rally New Zealand remained his best WRC result.
Controversial crash stopped Possum's return to world scene
In 2003, Possum planned to compete for full-season Production WRC program, driving Impreza WRX STi. He started the season at the Swedish Rally, which was his first appearance in that Nordic country, and finished 4th in the PWRC category. In the next round, at Rally New Zealand, he retired because of engine problems. It happened two days before his 47th birthday.
Seven days later, on April 18th, Possum Bourne was badly injured in a controversial traffic accident. He was preparing for the annual New Zealander Race to the Sky. He won that gravel hill climb race earlier in 2001. On the mountain road in the Cardrona Valley, Possum was driving his Subaru Forrester and collided with the Jeep Cherokee, driven by rally driver Mike Barltrop. Bourne died in a Dunedin Public Hospital on April 30th. Baltrop was arrested and convicted on a dangerous driving charge.
Possum's memorial statue in Pukehoke
His autobiographic book 'Bourne to Rally' was completed just a few days before his death. A bronze memorial statue of Possum was unveiled a year after his death in the wilderness of Central Otago, on the place where he loved to race. Eight years later the statue was transported to Pukekohe, with unveiling ceremony during the V8 Championship parade.
In 2005, Possum's wife Peggy Bourne entered Race to the Sky as a tribute to her late husband. They had three children (Taylor, Spencer, and Jazlin) and the oldest son Taylor Bourne competed in the 2013 Possum Bourne Memorial Rally. He was driving, you guess, Subaru Impreza.