Porsche’s rallying exploits are well documented, but in the 1980s one man had a very big hand in its success. Written by Chris Randall. Photography courtesy Porsche Archive.
911 hero: David Richards
Dave Richards rekindled the 911’s success in rallying during the 1970s and 80s
Make no mistake, rallying is in David Richards’ blood. Born in June 1952 and raised in North Wales, he went on to study accountancy, but playing with numbers soon gave way to motorsport. The peak of his glittering career as a professional co-driver was surely 1981 when he won the World Rally Championship alongside Ari Vatanen, and after retiring from the sport the following year he established Prodrive in 1984. Based at Silverstone before moving to the Banbury UK HQ in 1986, the company has since become renowned for its notable successes in rallying and endurance racing.
But it’s the former discipline that interests us here, and Porsche in particular, of course. In its iconic Rothmans livery – Richards was instrumental in bringing the tobacco company and Porsche together – the 911 SC RS was destined to become an instant winner. With the 959 not yet ready for competition he worked with Porsche to develop an alternative, and his first success was signing Saeed Al Hajri to run in the Middle East Rally Championship. That was in 1984, the RS being run by Richards as part of the Rothmans Porsche Rally Team, and all of the hard work paid off at the first attempt, with Al Hajri taking victory in Qatar. And the successes kept on coming, the team not only claiming the 1984 Middle East Championship outright but also seeing Henri Toivonen finish as runner-up in that year’s European Championship (they might conceivably have won had Toivonen not missed some rounds due to injury). Signing the talented Finn had been another masterstroke by the Prodrive founder, and while the driver swapped to Lancia the following season the ability of the team and car had been more than proven. The success of the partnership with Porsche would continue into 1985, demonstrated by a 5th place on the notoriously tough Acropolis Rally and capped by winning the Irish Rally Championship with Billy Coleman at the wheel. In all, the SC RS would go on to win 15 rallies, guaranteeing it a place in Porsche’s motorsport history, and it was thanks to the part played by David Richards putting together a solid team.
It is no surprise that with his drive and determination, and an insistence on attention to detail, plenty of success would follow for Prodrive, and there would be well-earned personal recognition, too. Awarded a CBE in 2005 for services to motorsport, he was inducted into the Motorsport Hall of Fame in 2017. Richards has proved pivotal in ensuring the 911 has been as competitively successful on gravel as on tarmac, furthering its reputation as a real automotive all-rounder.