EXCLUSIVE: Q & A with David Richards
|By Simon Strang
||Tuesday, January 27th 2009, 00:35 GMT
After unveiling what he described as an 'audacious' assault on the Le Mans 24 Hours with a pair of factory Aston Martin LMP1s in London on Monday, David Richards explained exclusively to autosport.com why he believes it is the right time to fight for overall victory at La Sarthe.
And why he thinks the team can take on the might of Audi and Peugeot on the most famous sports car race in the world and maybe even come out on top.
Q. What would be a realistic and achievable result for you at Le Mans this year?
David Richards: I am sure there are some people who say this is a frivolous dream, but I am sure that's what they told David Brown in 1959 as he set about beating the Ferraris. One of the great appeals about sports car racing for me is that it is not a sprint like in Formula One, where inevitably those with the deepest pockets prove to be the victors at the end of the day. There are so many other issues that come in to racing at Le Mans that makes it unpredictable. I just think we have got to give it a go and see what happens.
Q. How important is it for you and for Prodrive, after a difficult year with the setbacks in your F1 and World Rally Championship projects, to come back with a bang?
DR: This is Aston Martin Racing and not specifically Prodrive. That's the team we enter under, but it is important for us to do well. But, while you measure success when you cross the line, somehow the way we go about it and the way we tackle Le Mans is as important to me as success.
The idea that we tackle the race with a car that is true to the style of an Aston Martin, with a V12 engine that has one of the most evocative engines that will ever be heard at La Sarthe and that we do it in a way that is about passion and enthusiasm and the will to win, and not just the might of money - all those factors to me are just as important as actually winning on the day.
Who knows, if we are fortunate and we do our job well and everything falls in our favour, it could just happen.
Q. How long is the project, is it year-on-year?
DR: Well, obviously we are looking to the future now, and we will see in 2010 what the projects are then. Clearly, we would like to go back to GT as well because that is very much where our product base is. We will look to see how the FIA World GT Championship looks for that year, and we are developing a suitable car for that. At the moment the focus is purely on this year and running in the Le Mans Series and Le Mans itself.
Q. You could realistically win the Le Mans Series though couldn't you, if Peugeot decide not to enter the entire championship?
DR: This is all about the emotion of going racing for Aston Martin and all the enthusiasts out there. Le Mans, for me, is the greatest motor race in the world, so I guess everything is focused on that and once it's over then we'll see. Maybe we will go to America later in the year and do a couple of races there, which from a marketing point of view would be quite useful as well.
Q. Presumably Sebring would have been a useful test had you been able to make it there in time?
DR: It would have been. If we had made a decision two months earlier we could have done, and it was certainly on the agenda had we been in a position to do that, but we clearly weren't.
Q. If you have a third car, are you likely to fill it up with star drivers?
DR: The team is a mixture of drivers who all bring something positive to the party and if we do bring a third car, then clearly we will be looking to add to those strengths and we have got a clear view of who those people might be. We have already had discussions with them and fingers crossed, we can achieve a third car.
Q. What is the biggest challenge you face with this project?
DR: The biggest challenge will be getting the cars to the first race, and then completing the test programme and getting the cars reliable and competitive. In fact, I think we have probably faced the biggest challenge already by taking the leap of faith and saying, 'let's go and do it'.
In a year when the world is facing so much uncertainty and even in our own business we are facing so many question marks, should we be doing something like this? We came to the conclusion that there is only one chance to do these things and you can't let these opportunities go by. Even if to some it may appear just a frivolous dream, to us it's much more than that.
Q. But why do you think this is a good year to do it when Peugeot are at the top of a development curve with the 908 HDi FAP and Audi are building a new R15 TDI?
DR: I don't say it's a good year, it just happens to coincide with the experience of last year leading us to understand exactly what we can do, a 50th anniversary which is never going to happen again and a time when the rest of our business needs a positive message. So all these things come together and, after all, when is a good year? We have just got to take the chance. Also the rules have definitely moved in our favour, they haven't worked against us.
Q. There are some who believe that a proper factory-funded petrol engine can still be a match for the turbo-diesels, what do you say?
DR: George Howard-Chappell is quite astute in these things and he is also the world's biggest pessimist, so he factors in a huge safety margin into everything he tells me. I have got a feeling that whilst we have an outside chance, it is not an unrealistic outside chance.
Q. Thinking back to the Bentleys in 2003, and the kind of draw they received from the British public, is that part of your dream to rekindle that?
DR: Aston Martin is probably one of the best-loved British sportscars of all time and the emotion that the product creates in people, they still love them. I am sure we will have an enormous amount of support this year at Le Mans, win or lose.