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Five unbelievable facts about Jim Richards’ racing career

WRITING a book with Jim Richards on his career behind the wheel was an eye-opening experience.

We all know about his legendary feats in touring cars and at the Bathurst 1000, but the length and diversity of his career becomes even more impressive the deeper you delve into it.

The book, Gentleman Jim: The Official Racing History of Jim Richards, is now available to be purchased from the V8 Sleuth Superstore.

In it, Richards talks about the headline moments of his career – the championship wins, the Bathurst 1000 victories, that infamous podium speech… – but he also opens up about some of his more unusual feats.

Here are just five of Richards’ unbelievable achievements.

Richards celebrates a race victory at the Thunderdome in 1997 and his second Targa Tasmania triumph in 1997. Pics: Supplied

He won both Targa Tasmania and a NASCAR title within a 24-hour period.

Richards’ versatility was a recurring theme, regularly displaying his ability to drive any kind of car quickly on any kind of track.

There were many occasions where Richards raced in multiple categories or disciplines on the same weekend, from pulling double duties in Porsche Carrera Cup and V8 Supercars, back to his early days in New Zealand where he might be racing at Pukekohe during the day and at Auckland’s Waikaraka Park speedway that night.

The weekend of April 20-21, 1996 was unusual in that Richards won two major titles across two very different disciplines in two completely different states!

The final round of the Australian Superspeedway Series was scheduled for the Saturday night, while the week-long Targa Tasmania was set to wrap up on the Sunday.

Richards couldn’t afford to skip the NASCAR finale – he was leading the points and on track for his maiden title! – so he looked at how he could do both.

The solution came in the form of the private plane of Supercars privateer John Trimbole, who offered to fly Richards back and forth, the only cost to Richards being a bottle of Jim Beam!

When he and navigator Barry Oliver arrived in Burnie at the end of Targa’s penultimate day, Oliver drove Richards to the town’s airport to board Trimbole’s private twin-engine jet, which flew him across Bass Strait to Essendon Airport.

A helicopter ride got Richards to the Thunderdome in time for the race, where a fourth-place finish sealed his first and only NASCAR title.

The following morning, Trimbole flew Richards back to Burnie to be reunited with Oliver and their Porsche 911 Turbo to complete the final day of Targa, where they secured the first of their eight wins in the event.

Richards (black helmet) and Hansford (white helmet) approach the finish side-by-side with Dowson, Doohan and Magee in hot pursuit. Pic: Supplied

He beat Mick Doohan, Gregg Hansford and Kevin Magee in a motorcycle race…

…although he did have a head-start!

One of the support races at the Surfers Paradise round of the 1986 Australian Touring Car Championship was something called the ‘Challenge of the Champions’, pitting several top touring car and motorcycle races in a pair of races: one on two wheels, one on four.

Richards and John Harvey represented the car racers while Doohan, Magee and Michael Dowson represented the bike racers, while the versatile Hansford was more than competent at both!

Richards was fastest in practice for the car race, utilising six identical Nissan Pulsar ET turbos, but was half a second slower than pole man Dowson when the field swapped to Yamaha FZR750s.

However, the bike race was run as a handicap based on practice times, giving Richards and Harvey a head-start over Hansford, who in turn began before Magee, Dowson and Doohan set off in pursuit.

Richards’ increasing comfort on the Yamaha meant he lapped several seconds quicker than in practice, and he managed to hold on for the win over a charging Hansford by only a few millimetres.

And yes, Richards also won the race in the Pulsars for good measure.

Richards on maximum attack with navigator Richard Halls alongside. Pic: Supplied

He won almost as many stages as a WRC legend when they were teammates on Rally New Zealand.

Rally New Zealand was a staple of the World Rally Championship for decades but it had been a major international rally long before it joined the world championship calendar.

Known originally as the Silver Fern Rally and later the Heatway Rally, it was New Zealand’s first proper ‘modern’ rally consisting of competitive stages on closed roads.

The country’s racers soon fell in love with the sport and Richards was no different – he was a competitor on almost every edition of the rally prior to his move to Australia.

Richards was recruited to drive the third works Ford Escort on the 1973 edition of the event, with the ‘blue oval’ charge to be led by established international rally star Hannu Mikkola.

Richards was the Finn’s closest rival until the Dansey’s Pass stage in the Southern Alps on the opening night, where a patch of ice sent the Escort rolling down a hill in pitch-black darkness.

Remarkably, the battered Ford was largely mechanically sound. Once it was winched out of its predicament, the car was beaten back into shape and Richards rejoined the rally.

Although out of contention for the overall honours, Richards managed to win more than a few stages over the remainder of the event – and beating Mikkola to do so!

The Finn wasn’t too pleased with teammate’s efforts, either – a story Richards tells in the book.

Richards heading past the stables approaching Turn 2 at Pukekohe in the mid-1960s. Pic: Richards Family Archive

He raced at Pukekohe in the reverse direction.

Pukekohe Park Raceway will close in April 2023 after 60 years of continuous use, albeit with several layout changes along the way.

Richards has raced on them all, from the full Grand Prix circuit to the tiny club circuit, plus the briefly-used version in the early 1970’s that had chicanes in both the back straight and final corner.

He even raced in the one race meeting held at Pukekohe where the circuit was used anticlockwise, instead of the usual clockwise direction.

Supposedly triggered by a suggestion from F1 hero Jim Clark, the Auckland Car Club ran a meeting in the reverse direction on April 23, 1966.

Richards, still in the very early days of his career, campaigned his Ford Anglia in the Allcomers races.

He’d go on to race a wide variety of cars at Pukekohe, from his legendary Sidchrome Mustang to the mighty Nissan GT-R.

He also once raced a tractor around Pukekohe – another story he retells in the book!

Richards completing his Top 10 Shootout lap at the 2003 Bathurst 1000. Pic: an1images.com / Justin Deeley

He qualified third in Bathurst 1000 Top 10 Shootout at 56 years of age.

The Bathurst 1000’s Top 10 Shootout in 2003 is best remembered for Greg Murphy’s Lap of the Gods, but an equally divine feat had been achieved a few minutes earlier by Richards.

A then 56-year-old Richards was the lead driver of the Holden Racing Team’s #2 Commodore and was the third car out for the first Saturday afternoon Shootout.

He stopped the clocks at 2m08.1466s. At the time, it was the fourth fastest V8 Supercar lap of Mount Panorama ever and half a second clear of the two drivers that preceded him.

Craig Lowndes was next out – slower by three tenths. Garth Tander followed; quicker than Lowndes but still a few tenths shy of Richards who, at that point, was more than twice his age. Then came Marcos Ambrose, and he too was unable to match Richards’ time.

John Bowe finally pipped Richards to provisional pole, but it took his own personal fastest-ever lap of Bathurst to do so.

Murphy’s mega lap soon overshadowed them all, while Richards other scalp was that of HRT team leader Mark Skaife, who was a full half-second slower in the #1 Holden.

The other amazing aspect of Richards’ lap is that he was doing double duty that weekend, racing both the V8 Supercar and in Carrera Cup; he’d had to run back from the Carrera Cup paddock, having won the race that preceded the Shootout, to the HRT garage!

Richards remains the oldest driver to take part in the Bathurst Shootout, having subsequently qualified for the 2005 Shootout at 58 years of age.

For perspective, Shane van Gisbergen would need to make the Top 10 Shootout in 2047 to equal that mark.

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