ONE of the funniest stories told so far on the V8 Sleuth Podcast came courtesy of Jim Richards and Allan Grice.
In addition to nine Bathurst 1000 wins and four Australian Touring Car Championships between them, the two legends have a myriad of accomplishments from their remarkable four-wheel careers.
One event you probably won’t see in most rundowns of their competition histories is when they represented Australia in the Reto de las Naciones – Challenge of Nations – at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City in February 1989.
The event was dreamt up to boost Chrysler’s profile in Mexico and launch the Shadow model, with 26 spaceframe-chassied, fibreglass-bodied, rear-wheel-drive versions of the compact car built for the event.
As the event’s name suggests, 13 different nations were represented by two-driver teams, ranging from Italy, Germany and Great Britain, through to the USA, Canada, Brazil and Argentina, the Soviet Union, and our very own Australian squad, featuring Richards and Allan Grice.
“Gricey rang me up,” Richards told the V8 Sleuth Podcast in 2019.
“’I’ve got a bit of a weird one for you. I’ve had an offer to go to Mexico and drive in an international challenge. They wanted to ask Alan Jones to go and he can’t, so would you like to go in his place?’”
After a bit of pondering, Richards agreed to the deal – which included airfares, accommodation, food, and $1,000!
“When we arrived there our cars were still being built (but) one of the guys had done some practice and had blown the motor up – blew all the oil seals out of it, dumped oil all over the road, detonated, the whole deal,” Richards said.
“When the first practice came and our cars were finished, there were only half the cars left! They’d all blown up for the same reason.
“What they’d done is got the standard (2.2-litre turbocharged road-car) engine, put a chip in it to raise the boost, and away we went!
“They had to urgently ship motors from America to Mexico to give everyone a new engine.
“And then they had an old sack, put all these computer chips in the sack, shook it up, and then you grabbed your chip, plugged it into your car and away you went!”
Richards tells the full story of the Mexican adventure in the podcast – the on-track situation didn’t get much better, but it did get even funnier! – which you can listen to below.
Grice offered up his side of the story when he came on the V8 Sleuth Podcast in 2020 – including how another Australian motorsport legend (not Jones!) was responsible for roping he and Richards into the event in the first place.
For the record, the field of 24 cars – the French team of future Indy 500 racer Philippe Gache and former Formula Ford champion Jacques Goudchaux didn’t make the start line – bore a remarkable assortment of talent.
The winner of the race was Gianni Morbidelli, future Ferrari F1 driver and Australian Grand Prix podium finisher.
However, it was points for each team driver’s finishing position that determined the winning nation, with Germany getting the nod after future F1 star Heinz-Harald Frentzen finished second and future Le Mans 24 Hours winner Frank Biela finished third.
Ironically, it wasn’t the last time in 1989 that Richards and Grice took part in the same race as Biela – in fact, in their next race together, Richards and Biela both stood on the podium!
Nine months after the Nations Cup race the trio lined up for the Bathurst 1000, where Richards and Mark Skaife finished third in a Nissan Skyline.
Biela was one spot ahead of them, finishing second in his first trip to Mount Panorama with Klaus Niedzwiedz in Allan Moffat’s #10 ANZ Ford Sierra.
Italy came second in the Nations Cup points tally by dint of Morbidelli and Vittorio Zoboli’s efforts, while third was Argentina off the back of Juan Manuel Fangio II’s fourth placing, ahead of Brazil’s Wilson Fittipaldi – brother of F1 and Indy 500 champ Emerson – while Wilson’s son, future F1 racer and Champ Car star Christian Fittipaldi, finished in 14th.
The British team was also comprised of a father-son duo, multiple Le Mans 24 Hour winner and occasional Bathurst 1000 competitor Derek Bell and son Justin Bell upholding the United Kingdom’s honour.
The late John Andretti was one of the United States’ representatives – further reinforcing the fact that he truly did race everything on four wheels – while the home team was anchored by former Indy 500 rookie of the year Josele Garza, who announced at the conclusion of the event that he was retiring from driving.
|4||Juan Manuel Fangio II||Argentina|
|9||Ricardo Garcia Galiano||Spain|
|10||Nikolay Bolshikh||Soviet Union|
|12||Guillermo ‘Willy’ Kissling||Argentina|
|13||Alexey Grigoriev||Soviet Union|
|15||John Andretti||United States|
|DNF||Tom Begley||United States|
Nations Challenge Results