David Richards - Passion And Business Side Of Motorsport
David Richards has been at the top of world’s motorsport for more than 30 years although he has never competed as a racing driver. He was the 1981 World Rally Champion as the co-driver of Ari Vatanen in Rothmans Rally Team’s Ford Escort RS1800.
In 1984, he founded Prodrive, during 1990s and 2000s he led few Formula One teams… His last assignment as a chairman of Prodrive was to run Aston Martin Racing’s endurance racing programme and various rally and rallycross cars in different competitions across the world.
The youngest British pilot
David Richards was born in 1952 in Wales and he grew up in North Wales. An interesting fact from his childhood is that at the age of only 17 years and 3 months he became the youngest person in Wales to hold a private pilot’s licence and was awarded an RAF university scholarship.
British rally champion with Tony Drummond
At 22 he had started his career as a rally co-driver and while sitting next to Tony Drummond in Ford Escort RS1600 MkI he won the 1974 British championship. With the same car Richards debuted in WRC at the 1974 Lombard RAC Rally.
His cooperation with Ari Vatanen started in 1975 for a few round of the European Rally Championship, in the cockpit of Opel Ascona. At the 1975 Lombard RAC Rally Richards competed as a co-driver of Tony Pond in Opel Kadett GT/E and they scored fourth place overall.
Successful combination of business and co-driving
Young Richards had an idea to combine motorsport and business, so in 1976 he established his own motorsport consultancy and created a new rally series in the Middle East. In 1978, he was a team manager for Fiat and in 1979 he returned to the competition with the Ford factory team.
Here he formed a successful partnership with Ari Vatanen. For two seasons they finished fourth in the world championship and finally in 1981 they won the title, in a Ford Escort RS1800 MkII of Rothmans Rally Team.
Fight for the championship until the last race
Vatanen and Richards competed in ten events of 1981 World Rally Championship, scored three wins and two more podiums. Start of the season wasn’t so good, because they retired in Monte-Carlo and Portugal, with second place finish at Swedish Rally. They won fourth round in Greece, but again retired in Argentina.
In the middle of the championship the leading crew was Talbot/Peugeot duo Guy Frequelin – Jean Todt with Peugeot 504 and Talbot Sunbeam Lotus. Until the end of the season Vatanen and Richards finished all races, with victories in Brasil and Finland. Decisive was the last race, RAC Rally, in which Vatanen/Richards finished second and took the title with just seven points more than Frenchmen, who retired on the last race.
Retired from racing, focus on business
After winning the World Rally Championship, he decided to retire from active competition and focused on the business side of motorsport. He was organizing rallies and set his own rally team, backed by Rothmans.
In 1984, Richards created Prodrive, brought together Rothmans and Porsche and ran the newly formed Rothmans Porsche Rally Team at the European and Middle East Rally Championships. They won MERC and finished 2nd in ERC in its first year of competition.
The rapid expansion of Prodrive led to some changes, like moving to a new facility in Banbury, Oxfordshire in 1986. A year after that Prodrive started a partnership with BMW in both rallying and touring car racing. They won three consecutive BTCC titles in 1988, 1989 and 1990.
Subaru World Rally Team was created in 1989
In 1989, the creation of the Subaru World Rally Team was a historic moment. All the successes of Japanese manufacturer in the World Rally Championship and other competitions were connected with Prodrive and David Richards as the team principal. Richards was the man who introduced Colin McRae, Richard Burns and Petter Solberg to the world and the man who was standing behind them in the days of glory.
Controversial team orders in 1995
There were also some awkward moments, like the team’s orders against McRae at the 1995 Rally Catalunya, but stilll they won three world drivers’ titles (1995 – McRae, 2001 – Burns, 2003 – Solberg) and three Manufacturers’ titles in 1995, 1996 and 1997. After 19 years together, Subaru pulled out of the World Rally Championship at the end of 2008.
Cooperation with many different manufacturers
On the other side, in the next couple of years Prodrive and David Richards cooperated with many different manufacturers in circuit racing. They ran BMW, Alfa Romeo, Honda and Ford in British Touring Car Championship and Volvo in FIA European Touring Car Cup. From 2001 to 2004 Prodrive built Ferrari 550 GTS Maranello for FIA GT Championship and the biggest success was a class win at the 2003 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Six years as a chairman of Aston Martin
In December of 2003, Richards announced a partnership with Aston Martin, with a long-standing plan to return the famous British marque to the top of world’s racing. The Aston Martin Racing team was formed in 2004 and that corporation is still alive. From 2007 to 2013 Richards was involved not only in a sports programme but also was the chairman of Aston Martin, after he led a consortium of investors who bought the firm from Ford.
Formula One adventure with Benetton and BAR
Richards also had two episodes in Formula One. In 1997, he replaced Flavio Briatore as the chief of the Benetton Team, but only for one season. He was back in F1 in 2001, after BAT (British American Tobacco) signed Prodrive to run the restructured BAR Team and Richards was appointed as the team principal.
Under his direction, the team rose up and scored 2nd place in the Manufacturers’ classification in 2004. This success led to BAT selling a 45% share to Honda and Richards was replaced by Nick Fry. Prodrive tried to form its own Formula One team for 2008 and 2010 seasons, but failed because of various reasons.
Almost lost his life in a helicopter accident
When it comes to his personal life, David Richards married his wife Karen in 1976. They have three children. On 16 September 2007 Richards and his wife almost lost their lives in a helicopter crash in Essex. It’s interesting that the accident happened less than 24 hours after Colin McRae and three more persons (including his son) were killed in a helicopter crash in Scotland.