David Richards CBE needs little introduction as one of the is one of the highest profile people in the world of UK Motorsport.
His victory with Andy Dawson on the 1975 Snowman Rally was followed by several years co driving for Tony Pond and Ari Vatanen, with whom he went on to win many international events and the World Championship in 1981 with, in the David Sutton Rothmans Escort.
Following this success, he followed Andy Dawson into the World championship as a team principle and built up the legendary and successful Prodrive team – most notably achieving 3 World Championships with Colin McRae, Richard Burns and Petter Solberg with the iconic Subaru 555 team.
He then worked in Formula one leading the BAT team for two seasons with drivers such as Jenson Button.
He became the Chairman of Motorsport UK 3 years ago, overseeing a huge amount of change as the organisation evolved from the old MSA to what it is today.
You competed on the Snowman’s of 1975 and 1976 when the event was also part of the BRC, what was your overriding memory of the rally as an event, the long travel to get to it, and the stages that form the rally?
In 1975 I had just finished my accountancy articles and decided to take a year out to go rallying. The Snowman was therefore one of the first events of what has turned out to be a rather long career in motorsport. In those days, the event was the opening round of the British Championship and it seemed quite normal to drive all the way to the north of Scotland to compete for the weekend, and of course it was a great way to start our season with a win on this first rally of the year.
In each year you co-drove for two loved UK drivers, – Andy Dawson and Tony Pond – who both had a degree of success on WRC events like Corsica and Portugal - you had a perfect view of their driving - how did their styles differ?
Both Andy and Tony were two of the most talented drivers of their era. It’s sad to look back and see that neither of them had the opportunity to make it at a World Championship level which was dominated by the Scandinavians at the time.
In 1975 with Andy Dawson (who we also interview for this year’s event) you both went on to win the event against fierce competition – what are your recollections of that victory?
To be honest I don’t remember very much about the event although reading the press cuttings and seeing photographs does bring back some recollections. Remember I was only 22 years old at the time and it’s now over 45 years ago!
You both competed in a Kleber backed Datsun Violet GT – I think its first win on a UK event and probably an underpowered car compared to some others – how then was it possible to win?
I do remember the Datsun being somewhat underpowered but in slippery conditions, as they always were on the Snowman, it wasn’t the power that counted, and Andy knew how to get the best out of the car in these conditions.
It’s great to see the photographs of the Datsun dealer and I only hope that he sold a few cars on the back of our success.
The 1976 event was a special one – with an all-star entry list – you competed with Tony Pond in a Triumph Dolomite – how did that event go for you against some true legends like Vatanen, Airikkala, Clark, Culcheth, a young and upcoming Jimmy McRae, and the like?
In 1976 I joined the Leyland team with Tony Pond and the intention was to drive the TR7 but it wasn’t ready at the beginning of the season so we had to take a Dolomite Sprint to the Snowman.
I don’t remember exactly what happened on the rally but we did have a lot of problems with head gaskets that year and it may well be that we retired for that reason. The Dolomite Sprint certainly wasn’t any match for the Escorts and other cars that we were up against.
Was 1976 the first year you got to know Ari Vatanen? (who also shares his memories with us on our event) – did you have any idea of the success that you would both achieve together?
I actually met Ari in 1975 for the first time when he came over for the Welsh Rally. He didn’t speak much English but I lived in Wales and invited him back to come and stay at our farm in North Wales which was very like his background in Finland up on the Russian border.
We ended up doing the Scottish Rally together and Donegal before we went our separate ways; Ari to Ford and myself to Leyland. It was only a few years later that we got back together again to join the Ford team in 1979 and we’ve been great friends ever since.
With such a successful career in Motorsport it must be difficult to pick out highlights – but what achievements gave you the greatest personal and professional satisfaction?
One would normally think that winning events yourself is what would be a highlight of a career and of course winning the World Championship with Ari was quite extraordinary.
The truth is however that building teams and creating organisations that go on to achieve great things is what I really enjoy and, in that respect, seeing Colin McRae win the World Rally Championship in 1995 stands out as one of the great moments I’ll never forget.
In 1976 there was a professional film made of the Snowman Rally (that we will show during our event) appropriately for these times called ‘A Time For Change’ – I think then it was a reference to the new generation of drivers like Vatanen and Airikkala coming through – do you recall the impact drivers such as these brought to UK rallying – not just in the 70s but the 80s?.
It's easy to forget but back in the 70s the UK was where all the Scandinavian drivers used to come to gain recognition. The British Championship in those days was like a World Championship round today with every top driver competing.
I look forward to seeing a copy of the film of the ’76 event as I’m assuming it was made by Barrie Hinchcliffe who recorded so many great moments in rallying around that period.