Bathurst conqueror and V8 Supercar hero Jim Richards will be the focus on and off the track at the Hampton Downs’ annual Festival of Motorsport being held at the North Waikato circuit over the weekend of January 13/14.
Richards will get behind the wheel of the iconic black and gold John Player BMW635 alongside other period correct Bathurst pedigree cars and play a lead role on stage at a celebratory dinner planned for the Saturday night of the 4Guys Autobarn Legends of Bathurst event.
And it’s fitting that one of the stars of the show is a deadset legend around Mt Panorama. Richards will be joined by a host of other drivers with Bathurst connections including his son Steve, Fred Gibson, John Bowe, Allan Moffat and Paul Radisich.
It’s just over 25 years ago since Richards cemented his place in Australasian motorsport history with an unforgettable victory speech from the top step of the podium. Ford fans were incensed that their hero Dick Johnson was denied the win due to a decision made by the officials and they made their feelings known by booing Richards and his co-driver Mark Skaife on the podium.
‘Gentleman Jim’ as he was known didn’t hold back in his speech.
‘I can’t believe the reception,’ he told the crowd. ‘I thought Australian race fans had a lot more to go than this, this is bloody disgraceful. I’ll keep racing but I tell you what, this is going to remain with me for a long time, you’re a pack of arseholes.’
“I could have said worse probably,” says Richards, reminiscing about the events of 1992 and the victory that was the fifth of his seven wins in the Bathurst 1000. “Five minutes after I said it I was having a beer and I’d forgotten all about it. Nowadays I’d probably be fined $50,000 for bringing the sport into disrepute. Instead I was asked to apologise and I had no problem doing that. The following year people wore these T-shirts that read: “I’m an arsehole. Jim Richards told me,” and I still get fans who come up to me and tell me, “I was one of those arseholes!”
That win in 1992 was bittersweet. Before he got on the podium Richards learned that his JPS BMW teammate and fellow Kiwi, Denny Hulme had died from a heart attack in the early part of the race. Interestingly enough, it’s a second place finish with his son Steve that ranks up there as one of Jim’s favourite Bathurst memories.
“We raced together three times in 1996, 1997 and 2004 and we finished second in 1997. I don’t think any other father and son have ever been on the podium together. When I look back on my career that second place is as good as a win. We were driving for Garry Rogers Motorsport and that team punched above its weight which made it even more special.”
“Another one that stands out is 2002 with Mark Skaife,” says Richards. “I was 55-years-old and I’m pretty sure nobody that old will win it again. We went our separate ways after we won in 1992 and after ten years he asked me to drive with him again. To win it again after that long was extra special.”
Richards is looking forward to sharing his Bathurst memories with the fans at the Legends of Bathurst festival and he’s also looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of the Peter Sturgeon-owned, ex-Frank Gardner Group C BMW 635 CSi.
“It was an easy decision to come over to Hampton Downs and see some people I haven’t seen for a while and have a drive in a nice car. It probably runs better now than it did back in the day. The tyres are better for a start. Back when I drove it the tyres weren’t as good as they are now so it’s probably faster now than when I drove it 30 years ago.”
Sturgeon’s BMW 635 in the iconic black and gold John Player Special livery is a well travelled car and proved hugely popular at the Silverstone Classic in the UK earlier this year where it won the Stuart Graham ‘Scarf and Goggles’, the award for the most admired car at the Classic. It was the first time the car was displayed outside Australasia and both the car and Richards himself, were a huge hit with the appreciative Silverstone crowds.
“Every time Jim jumps in the car it’s a pleasure to watch him and it’s a pleasure to watch other people’s reaction when they see him in the car,” says Sturgeon. “He’s such a great ambassador for our sport and you can see why he’s called ‘Gentleman Jim’.”
Richards first raced the BMW 635 CSi in 1983 with the Frank Gardner Racing team and the combination came up trumps in the inaugural Australian Touring Car Championship, winning seven of the ten rounds to claim the title. That same year Richards also won the Australian Endurance Championship in the same car, winning five out of six races.
New Zealand collector Peter Sturgeon, who runs a transport company in Christchurch, has been the proud owner of the car for a number of years now, and his relationship with Richards dates back to the 2012 New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing.
“I’ve got to thank Jim Barclay for putting us together at the festival. It’s become a great friendship and I still pinch myself today even after working with him for so many years.”
Richards and Pip Barker, who worked with the Frank Gardner team back in the day, convinced Sturgeon to overhaul the car from a Group A spec car, back to its original Group C setup. It took Baker almost 18 months to complete the project and the sound of the
24-valve engine revving at more than 8000 rpms a little bit special.
“It’s a beautiful car,” says Sturgeon, “and the sound…well, just wait until you hear it at Hampton Downs!”
Jim’s son Steve will climb behind the wheel of an ex-Gianfranco Brancatelli/Johnny Cecotto BMW E30 M3, also owned by Sturgeon.
Another highlight of the Legends of Bathurst festival will be the Bathurst Revival, which will be a chance for cars and drivers that have a connection with Bathurst to race on track, while the two feature categories, Archibalds Historic Touring Cars and ENZED Central Muscle Cars, promise to deliver some outstanding racing on the track.
The Historic Touring Car category was set up in 2015 to promote the purchase and active use of touring cars from the various categories which were run through the 1980s and 1990s.
The New Zealand Association now has over 50 active car-owning members and fans at Hampton Downs can expect to see a broad range of Super Tourer models in a 23-strong field, from the popular E30 and E36 BMW 3-series models to the later model Honda Accords, Nissan Primeras and Volvo S40s. Some of the key car and driver combinations at the Legends meeting include the Archibald’s Group A BMW 635i for Trevor Crowe and a Mark Petch-owned Volvo 240T driven by John Bowe.
The ENZED Central Muscle Cars (CMC) is one of the most popular race categories in New Zealand. CMC was formed in 2003, by a group of like-minded enthusiasts from around the Central North Island (hence the name) who wanted to create a class catering to classic competition muscle cars. The category grew quickly, as many other competitors who shared the same passion for thundering, powersliding Australian and American muscle cars came on board and the fan base grew rapidly.
Formula Libre and Historic Formula Ford complete the racing on track. The Car Club Cruise will allow members of local car clubs to have a chance to drive on Hampton Downs International circuit while there will also be a massive Show ‘n’ Shine exhibition.
The Legends on Stage dinner on Saturday evening at Hampton Downs Pavilion promises to be another highlight of the weekend. Revisit some classic moments from Bathurst on the big screen and hear from Jim Richards, Steve Richards, John Bowe and Paul Radisich about their favourite Mt Panorama memories.
Zade Quilter December 19, 2017
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