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Portrait: David Richards

Aston Martin, Aston Martin Racing, Prodrive F1 Team, Prodrive Subaru WRC Team, etc. All these are names associated with the name David Richards. So, who is this David Richards, who has been moving and shaking things in the Rally, WRC and F1 scene for over three decades now?

David was born on 3 June 1952 and grew up in North Wales, attending Bryn Hyffryd comprehensive school in Ruthin, Denbighshire.

At the age of only 17 years and 3 months he became the then youngest person in Wales to hold a private pilots licence and was awarded an RAF university scholarship. However, after completing his first year of A-Levels, he left school aged 17 to spend five years studying for his articles as a chartered accountant. It was during this period that he established his early career as a professional rally co-driver winning his first national rally championship with Tony Drummond in 1974.

In 1976 he established his own motorsport consultancy and created a new rally series in the Middle East, before joining the British Leyland factory team, co-driving Tony Pond. In the same year he married his wife Karen.

The following year he took up the position of team manager for Fiat, before returning to competition with the Ford factory team in 1979. Here he formed a successful and long-standing partnership with the Finnish rally driver, Ari Vatanen. The two won both the British and Scandinavian Championships before going on to win the World Rally Championship in a Ford Escort RS in 1981.

Middle East: 1976 - 1987

David has been closely linked with the development of motorsport in the Middle East since 1976 when he was approached by Rothmans (A part of British American Tobacco) and asked to manage the organisation of the first ever major rally event in the Middle East, in Kuwait. Indeed, it would also become the first officially recognised FIA motorsport event in the region. Prior to this, motorsport in the Middle East had been limited to low-key, local events, primarily in Bahrain.

The success of the Kuwait rally saw Rothmans call on Richards’ organisational skills once again to organise further rallies throughout the region in Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman. As a result of this, by 1978 the Middle East Rally Challenge was born and was soon attracting the top names and teams in rallying including drivers such as Shekha Mehta in the works Nissan team.

After winning the World Rally Championship he took the decision to retire from active competition and focussed his attention on organising rallies on behalf of Rothmans in the Middle East and setting up his own rally team.

During early events in the region David met Qatari driver, Saeed Al Hajri, and instantly realised that he was a very talented young driver. In 1982, David sourced an Opel Ascona Safari rally car and established Al Hajri’s co-driving partnership with John Spiller to compete in Middle East rallies.

In 1984, David brought together Rothmans and Porsche and took his next major step in motorsport management, creating Prodrive to engineer and run the newly formed Rothmans Porsche Rally Team in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC).

He brought Saeed Al Hajri and John Spiller into the new Prodrive team and was instantly rewarded with a win on the team’s debut at the Qatar Rally. The pair went on to win the Oman and Dubai rounds in the Porsche 911 SC RS and take the MERC title that year.

Al Hajri and Spiller repeated the feat in 1985, winning three rounds of the MERC at Qatar, Jordan and Oman whilst also competing in and winning the Pharaohs Rally that year, this time in a Prodrive-prepared Rothmans Porsche 959.

In 1987 Al Hajri, this time co-driven by Irishman, Ronan Morgan won two events at Qatar and Kuwait, but narrowly missed out on the MERC title finishing second.

Creating Prodrive 1984

In 1984, based at Silverstone with just 14 employees, the company was renamed Prodrive at the same time as running its first programme, the Porsche Rothmans Rally Team. Success was immediate with the team winning the Middle East Rally Championship for three consecutive years and finishing runners up in the European Championship in its first year of competition.

Rapid expansion of his new Prodrive company led to a move to a new facility at Banbury, Oxfordshire in 1986 (the current headquarters of this business). The following year saw Prodrive begin a six-year relationship with BMW in both rallying and touring car racing. His BMW team won three consecutive British Touring Car Championships (BTCC) in 1988, 1989 and 1990, while the BMW rally teams began to dominate tarmac rallying across Europe winning the Belgian and French series.

David’s success and business skills led to a pivotal meeting with Fuji Heavy Industries at the Safari Rally in 1989, which was to lead to the creation of the Subaru World Rally Team (SWRT) in a partnership which continues to thrive today.

Under David’s direction the team embarked on a programme, initially in the British, and subsequently the Asia-Pacific and World Rally Championships (WRC). It was David who in 1990 saw the raw talent of up and coming young driver, Colin McRae and later Richard Burns. He personally oversaw the development of their early careers, leading to two British titles for Subaru and McRae in 1991 and 1992, and a further title for Burns in 1993. Through the 1990s, Prodrive turned the Subaru into the icon of world rallying with its familiar blue and yellow livery. It was this success in rallying that is credited with helping to turn around the fortunes of the Japanese company.

The team’s highlight came in 1995 when the Subaru World Rally Team and Colin McRae achieved the double of the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ World Rally titles. Under David’s direction, the team went on to win two further Manufacturers’ titles in 1996 and 1997.

The mid 1990s was a particularly successful period for Prodrive. In 1994 the team won the BTCC for Gabriele Tarquini and Alfa Romeo and in the same year won the Andersen Consulting Motorsport Business of the Year award.

In 1997 Prodrive was the first motorsport company to achieve Investors in People status and ISO9001 accreditation, and saw further expansion with a two year contract to run the Honda British Touring Car Team in 1997 and 98.

1998 was to be one of David’s most important years of learning when he was approached personally by the Benetton family to help turn around the fortunes of its Formula One (F1) team. It had been a long time ambition for David to get into F1 and he seized the opportunity. However, after a year of mixed fortunes, David found that he was not given the opportunity to run the business in the way he wanted and returned to focus his attentions on expanding Prodrive at the end of the season.

At the time of his return, David was instrumental in bringing one of his young prodigies, Richard Burns, back to the Subaru team and in 2001 he became England’s first World Rally Champion and only the second British driver after McRae.
At that time, Prodrive was also running the Ford Mondeo Touring Car team in the BTCC and in 2000 Prodrive brought the vehicle manufacturer its first BTCC title in more than a decade.

In 1999, David sold some of his personal stake in Prodrive to venture capitalist firm, APAX, which enabled him to move onto his next major challenge. In 2000 he acquired the television rights to the WRC with the acquisition of International Sportsworld Communicators (ISC) from Bernie Ecclestone. His commitment to the task has ensured that the WRC has already become a global televised sport in more than 200 countries, thanks to the use of new broadcast technologies developed by his company.

At the same time as acquiring ISC, David was overseeing dramatic expansion of Prodrive. In 2000, with nearly 500 staff, the company had outgrown its Banbury base and acquired a facility with its own test track near Warwick. This would be the base for its new Automotive Technology division, developing innovative technologies for road cars. To develop this side of the business further, Prodrive acquired automotive engineering business, Tickford, in May 2001, doubling the size of the company overnight and giving it operations across the world from the USA to Australia.

Having no race programme in 2001, David took Prodrive into a new arena, sports car racing, with the development of the Prodrive Ferrari 550 GTS Maranello. After winning in only its second race, the car went on to win races on both sides of the Atlantic, culminating in a class victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2003. At the same time, Prodrive took Subaru into North America with the creation of Subaru Rally Team USA which won the SCCA ProRally title in 2001. Prodrive then returned to touring car racing in 2002, this time with Volvo in a new European Championship.

At the end of 2001, David was approached by British American Racing (B.A.R) to take control of its under performing F1 team. Having learnt from his time at Benetton, he took up the role as team principal, but only with the support of his management team from Prodrive. After three years in charge, David helped take BAR to second place in the 2004 manufacturers’ championship with lead driver, Jenson Button, taking third in the drivers’ series. Indeed, at the end of 2004, the team was so strong that Honda decided to buy the company. With it the Prodrive management contract was ended and David returned to Banbury.

In 2003, Prodrive launched a new team competing in the Australian V8 Supercar Championship called Ford Performance Racing and an expanded joint venture with Ford producing performance road cars at a factory in Melbourne. The same year, Prodrive announced that it would take Aston Martin back into motorsport and during 2004, David was instrumental in the development of Aston Martin Racing and the development of the DBR9, the car which saw Aston Martin return to Le Mans in 2005.

In March 2006, David signalled his intention to return to Formula One, as Prodrive placed an entry for the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship. On April 28 2006, this place was confirmed and Prodrive will become the 12th team on the Formula grid.

Prodrive today

Today, Prodrive has operations in the UK, North America, Germany, Thailand, Australia and China employing almost 1000 people and with sales in excess of $250 million. It is the only business involved in such a wide range of motorsport series at such a high level including:

Subaru World Rally Team: Prodrive has been running the Subaru World Rally Team since 1990 and, to date, has brought the Japanese manufacturer six World Rally titles.

Aston Martin Racing: Through a partnership with Aston Martin, Prodrive runs the Aston Martin Racing team from its headquarters in Banbury. In 2007, the team will return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Ford Performance Racing: Ford Performance Racing is a wholly-owned Prodrive team which competes in the Australian V8 Supercar Series.

Formula One: On April 28 2006, Prodrive was confirmed as the 12th team for the 2008 Formula One World Championship. This will be the first time the company has competed in F1 with its own team.

Prodrive also works with the world’s leading vehicle manufacturers and components suppliers to transfer its technologies and skills from motorsport into innovative products for the road. Approximately half the company’s turnover comes from its automotive technology business, which is headquartered in Warwickshire, UK, but has major operations across the world. In Australia, the company has a joint venture with Ford of Australia, Ford Performance Vehicles, which designs and manufactures a range of performance Fords for the Australian market. It will also oversee the assembly of cars for Toyota Racing Developments (TRD) for the Australian market. In October 2006, the company opened its first office in China.

In March 2007, David led a consortium which acquired Aston Martin from Ford. Now, in addition to his role as chairman and chief executive of Prodrive, David is also chairman of Aston Martin.

While wearing so many hats and overseeing a workforce of this scale, David has continued to find the time to use his vast experience for the benefit of the industry. In 2001 he became a member of the Motorsport Industry Association (MIA) committee and was a member of the DTI Motorsport Advisory Committee which made recommendations on the future of the industry in the UK. He also sits on the advisory board of the Warwick Business School and is a trustee of the British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC) Benevolent Fund. Whenever possible, David makes time to talk on important industry issues and support local charitable initiatives where he has financed a technology centre for a local school. He also remembers his roots by retaining the presidency of his original motor club in North Wales.

David’s success and commitment to the motorsport industry has recently led to a number of personal and business accolades.

In 1999, Prodrive won Oxfordshire Business of the Year and in 2002, was voted Business of the Year by the MIA. At the same time, it became one of the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For, a feat it repeated in 2005.

On a personal level, he is an honorary fellow of Myerscough College and of the University of Wales, Bangor. He is a winner of the Welsh Motoring Writers Tom Pryce Trophy for ‘Taking rallying from Wales to the World’. He has also become recognised as a leading British entrepreneur, winning the Central Region, Entrepreneur of the Year award 2002. The same year, he received the MIA’s ‘Most Outstanding Contribution to the Motorsport Industry’ award.

In the 2005 New Years’ Honours List he received his highest accolade to date, when he was made a Commander of The British Empire for his services to motorsport.

Prodrive – company insight

And what about the company Prodrive itself?

Well, Prodrive is considered one of the world’s largest and most successful motorsport and vehicle technology businesses with annual sales of more than $250 million and employing nearly 1000 staff in Europe, North America, Australia and Asia-Pacific.

Today the company runs three motorsport programmes: Subaru World Rally Team in the World Rally Championship; Aston Martin Racing in world sports car racing; Ford Performance Racing in the Australian V8 Supercar Series. The company also works with vehicle manufacturers to help them develop new technologies and performance vehicles for the road.
Prodrive and Motorsport

Prodrive is the world’s leading independent motorsport business. It has won six World Rally Championship titles with Subaru (three manufacturers’ and three drivers’). In circuit racing, Prodrive has won five British Touring Car Championships and, in 2003 and 2007, took GTS class honours at Le Mans with its Ferrari 550 GTS Maranello and GT1 class honours with the Aston Martin Racing team respectively.

Prodrive has been behind the Subaru World Rally Team’s rise to fame since 1990 and has helped make Subaru synonymous with rallying, turning it into a respected performance marque around the world. However, Prodrive’s rallying history is far more than just Subaru. Over the years, it has won more than 130 international rallies with other great motorsport names like Porsche, BMW and MG.

In touring car racing, Prodrive has worked with BMW, Alfa Romeo, Honda, Ford and Volvo. In 2003 the team achieved its ultimate circuit racing accolade by winning the GTS class at the Le Mans 24 Hours with its Ferrari 550 GTS Maranello. Now the company is managing Aston Martin Racing, which saw the British company return to sports car racing in 2005 with the DBR9 – and win its first two races. In 2007 the team won the GT1 class at Le Mans

From the beginning of 2002 to the end of the 2004 season, Prodrive managed the B.A.R Honda Formula One Team in Brackley, UK taking it from the middle of the grid to second in the manufacturers’ championship. In 2008, Prodrive will enter the Formula One World Championship with its own team.

In 2003, Prodrive moved into another series, creating a new team called Ford Performance Racing in the Australian V8 Supercar Championship Series.

In 2007, Prodrive’s motorsport programmes are: the Subaru World Rally Team, Aston Martin Racing and Ford Performance Racing.

Automotive Technology

During the 1990s, Prodrive began offering its technical expertise and project engineering skills to the mainstream automotive market. Over the years, this part of the business has grown rapidly to represent more than half the company’s turnover.

The company has the capability to take concepts through to full working prototypes and into production. It has particular expertise in the design, calibration and testing of powertrains, vehicle dynamics, control and systems integration, vehicle engineering and manufacture.

Prodrive has design, test and development facilities across the world. In the UK there is a 250-acre proving ground including a 2.5 mile test track; low friction straights; areas for suspension and dynamics performance testing; and a high speed, six lane, mile-long straight. The company also has extensive powertrain test facilities in North America and Australia, where a joint venture with Ford called Ford Performance Vehicles, develops and annually manufactures nearly 2000 high performance cars for Ford. In addition, Prodrive Asia-Pacific has three operations in Melbourne, Bangkok and Shanghai with more than 100 engineers.and commuters.

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