TEN years since the passing of Jason Richards, we’ve dipped into the Motorsport News archive to bring you a feature story focused on the late, great Kiwi racer.
In this week’s episode of the V8 Sleuth Podcast, Richards’ father Dave mentioned his son’s close relationship with veteran race engineer Wally Storey, the pair working together first at Tasman Motorsport and then again at Brad Jones Racing.
Grant Rowley sat down with the pair for Issue No.383 of Motorsport News in 2009 to understand what made their relationship work so well.
PODCAST: Jason Richards – 10 years on
At the time the story was written, Richards was only a couple of rounds into his time with the Albury-based squad.
Within a month, he’d take the sole pole position of his Supercars career at Hidden Valley, then claim a stirring second place with Cameron McConville at the Bathurst 1000 come October.
Sadly it proved his only full season with BJR; Richards missed the final rounds of 2010 following his cancer diagnosis and passed away on December 15, 2011.
But in early 2009, the sky appeared to be the limit for BJR’s new recruit and his trusted engineer.
A RACE driver’s relationship with his engineer is similar to the one he or she has with their wife or partner.
When the missus asks you to do the dishes, you pull on the pretty pink rubber gloves. When the engineer tells you to brake later, apex earlier and use less kerb, you do as you’re told.
It’s a two-way street. Do the dishes and you won’t be sleeping in the doghouse. Set purple sectors on your qualifying lap and you’ll spend the next weekend hanging out on your engineer’s boat, inheriting invaluable fishing tips.
And that pretty much sums up the relationship between Team BOC’s Jason Richards and Wally Storey. Richards’ is noted as being one of V8 Supercars’ fastest drivers, and Storey is regarded as the sport’s best engineers/fisherman.
The pair started their driver/engineer relationship at Tasman Motorsport when the team first opened its doors in 2004. Then, a single-car team borne out of the Lansvale Smash Repairs outfit, Tasman quickly evolved into a competitive package – not a race winning team, but by no means a backmarker.
It should be noted that at times, Richards looked like being a race winner at Tasman, but a magnitude of problems, including JR spending too much time off the circuit while driving at 11 tenths, culminated in two Bathurst podiums with the team – and not much more to speak of.
By the time that last podium finish was achieved at Bathurst last year, Richards’ relationship with the squad had reached its used-by date. He never saw eye to eye with team-mate Greg Murphy, and after five years with the Tasman team, it was time to move on.
Storey had already taken that initiative a year earlier, leaving Tasman mid-2007 for a new environment at BJR. When it came time for the Albury-based team to look at its driver options for the 2009 season, Storey was guarded about his involvement in the decision, but was adamant that JR was the right man for the job.
“I’m not too sure what I can say with this one,” Storey says.
“There was a suggestion that the team needed a bit more pace and there was talk that there were very few blokes available that could run at the front. Jason was mentioned as a possibility and I said that it was a good plan.
“They had some concerns about him and I said ‘he’ll be right.’ So far this year, it’s right, and I’m sure for the future it was the right call.”
Storey’s right – so far, so good. Richards left Clipsal fifth in the championship and ran in a similar position at the non-championship races at Albert Park.
For Richards, his decision to leave Tasman for BJR consisted of a few layers. Having his mate Wally calling the shots was a bonus, but the real carrot was the chance to test himself with Walkinshaw Racing-built Commodores.
“To be fair, a big chunk of my decision was that I wanted to try WR equipment,” he admits.
“There’s no doubt about that. I’ve been involved in V8 Supercars for a long time and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done. Most of the teams I’ve been with have been start-up teams; Team Kiwi, Team Dynamik and Tasman.
“When Tasman took over from Lansvale, there was a big shift in equipment and infrastructure but this way at BJR, I get to test my own ability.
“I think I had Greg’s measure at Tasman. If you look at qualifying, there’ no doubt about that, but we both struggled in the same spot in the races. At the end of the championship, we were both only separated by 20 or 30 points. There was really nothing in it. Greg was a benchmark for me, obviously. Up until then, I had (Jamie) Whincup and (Andrew) Jonesy who were both inexperienced when they were my team-mates.
“This was an opportunity to come and drive the benchmark Holden equipment. The transition wasn’t going to be too difficult because I had Wally here who knows how I like a car and knows the fundamentals of how I speak. He knows what I mean when I say things. He’s got confidence in me and I’ve got confidence in him. That part was a no-brainer for me.”
Listen to a special episode of the V8 Sleuth Podcast powered by Repco on Jason Richards, featuring his wife Charlotte, dad Dave, plus John Bowe and Brad Jones in the player below.
In V8 Supercar racing, there is little or no chance to ‘try before you buy.’ Richards went to BJR knowing, maybe even hoping, that the WR Commodores were going to pay dividends for his career. After just one test day and two race meetings, he’s confident he’s made the right decision.
“The way you extract the speed out of this car is so different to anything else I’ve driven,” he says.
“There’s no where near as much pressure required from the braking to the apex of the corner which is excellent in a race situation.
“You don’t have that pressure in that entry part of the corner because you’ve got some grip left. You have to be slow to get the turn to put the power down. It’s a different way of driving.
“It just generates more drive than I’ve been used to. It gets off the corner better than I’m used to, given the amount of front grip that it has. I can afford to have my car different to someone like Garth (Tander) who is really used to having more rear grip. For me, if I have a more pointy car, in my world, the car still has a lot of drive because it’s fundamentally got more drive than I’m used to.”
Storey says that Richards’ acclimatization to his new surroundings has been fast tracked by the assistance that comes with a Walkinshaw chassis.
“The information help we get from them is really good. When you’re on your own, you’ve got no other teams and no other people to work off. If you don’t have pace, you can get lost pretty quickly.
“Keep in mind, it’s like picking the fly shit out of the pepper – the blokes down the back are only a click of the fingers away from the blokes at the front. When people look like they’re floundering, they’re not lost by much, but you don’t have to be lost by much to be off the pace.
“Having the information and experience that comes with it saves you wasting time going down the wrong path. That’s what enables you to be on it every time, and consistently on it.
“Having WR’s help, they can give you a bit of guidance because they’ve been looking after these cars for a long time. It makes the job … easier. Easier isn’t the right word because it’s not easy, but it certainly saves you wandering off and wasting time going down the wrong road.
“There’s a million roads you can go down but only a few which take you where you need to go. You can fix understeer 15 ways, but most of them cost you as much as they gain.”
Storey makes V8 racing sound easy. Is it as simple as buying a proven car, use a base set-up, throw in a fast driver and start writing your winner’s speech? According to the pair, Richards’ has not once used a WR-recommended set-up.
“Most people would be amazed, but I have not driven a WR set-up car yet,” Richards says.
“From the first lap, I haven’t driven what WR has suggested.”
Storey continued; “They’ll give you a starting point, if you want one, but with Jason, we haven’t used it yet. We used WR’s set-ups a lot last year because I didn’t necessarily understand the cars that much.
“I understand how Jason likes a car – how he likes it to point, how he drives it, how slow he is on the throttle and that makes a huge difference to what you can do to the car to get the best out of it.
“While we’ve retained the basis of the set-up, I’ve never had their shocks, springs, bars all together.”
Richards says that this alone points to the trust factor that the pair have developed and harnessed over the past six years.
“It gives you an indications of the trust and knowledge between us. You think you’d just roll out of the gate with a Garth Tander set-up and have a crack. One day, we probably will get there …”
And for fans of all things ‘JR’ and ‘BOC,’ according to the men responsible, there’s even more speed to come.
“We’ll get better yet,” Storey says. “Jason has learnt a lot and I’ve learnt a lot in 12 months. The team is still working at getting better. We’re still tuning the whole team. But I think this move has been good for him. It’s a very different culture to where he’s been.”
Richards agrees; “The difference is, every session I’ve been in, I’ve been up the front. We’ve been one of the most competitive Holdens, and there’s still so much to learn.
“But I still go into a race and I’m still not sure exactly what the car’s going to do. I’m guided a bit by what Wally’s had in the past, and we’ve been doing things different to what Cameron’s done in the past.
“I just need more mileage – more races. We need to work on figuring out what the car’s going to do, where to have the car set and Wally can help me with that process.”
With more speed on the horizon, we can only expect big things. A championship? A Bathurst win? Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Let’s find out why the Richards/Storey combination works so well.
“He listens to the driver, he’s honest, he deals in facts and he can tell a good story!” Richards says on Wally’s strengths.
“There are specific things I know I want and need, Wally knows all that stuff. We do all the key things, but I know what Wally needs and I know what I want.”
Storey says that being straight with each other is paramount, and he makes reference to Jason’s past ways.
“Sometimes being honest with a driver can be bad, but you just have to tell them,” he says.
“You’re not trying to discriminate against the bloke, we know he can do it – I know he can do it – Jason is one of the few with the gift that can do it, all you’ve got to do is try and help him through the errors he makes. Everyone makes mistakes, doesn’t matter who you are, but you’ve just got to try and minimise them.
“So far this year, Jason has done a very good job at doing that. Part of that is the car, part of that is the environment. What we work at here is different to what he’s done previously.
“There are times when we don’t want the driver to bust his arse. If it’s not right, we work on fixing it. If the car’s not there, don’t try and make up the gap because it just makes you look silly.”
Looking silly is something that this pair has is yet to achieve in 2009.
They speak the same language, they have a common goal and after a year and a bit apart, they are wearing the same team colours.
Some people in the industry had written JR off, but you can bet that Wally wasn’t one of them.
“He works very hard at his job – harder than most blokes,” Storey says of Richards’ work ethic.
“He understands data. Most of the drivers bust their arse on fitness – he won’t necessarily do that. He’ll be fit enough, he won’t wear out, but he works very hard at the job.
“You watch him, he works on the data, studying it all the time. And he’s got the gift of driving fast.”
We’re watching, Wally. And so far, we haven’t had to look too far down a timesheet to see where he’s at …
WHY JR AND WALLY WORKED SO WELL
QUESTION: What’s the most effective way to make a driver/engineer relationship work? Answer: Personal respect, honesty and a sense of mateship.
Well, that may not be the textbook answer, but it seems to work fine for Richards and Storey.
“We both get on really well,” Richards says.
“Wally is like my Australian father. We have similar interests. Wally is probably a better fisherman than me, but we’re similar personalities.
“The big thing though is that we’re honest with each other – honest to the point where we just can’t lie to each other. It’s a no bullshit relationship.
“The personal relationship is everything. It’s part of the bond. It builds trust in each other. Half of an engineer’s job is the psychology of it – for me anyway. Wally knows me. We’re probably deeper than most relationships up and down pit lane.
“But like everything, we’ve both got different strengths and weaknesses that complement each other.”
According to Storey, it’s all about intuition.
“The most successful arrangements have been where there’s a good bond between driver and engineer,” he says.
“Look at (Jason) Bright and Phil Keed. They’re good mates. They spend a lot of time together, fishing together. They understand each other and it’s that understanding.
“When Jason and I speak on the radio, I can tell what’s going on not by what he says, but how he says it. Then I know how much problem I’ve got going.”