DEC 29th 2015

GRR Meets... Richard Attwood – In '70 I Thought I Made the Biggest Mistake of My Career

Attwood 917 Le mans Porsche

Midlander Richard Attwood contested 16 Grands Prix during the second half of the 1960s, for Lotus, Cooper and BRM. He took a best finish of second, on the streets of Monaco, at the wheel of a 3-litre V12 BRM P126 in 1968.

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As was de rigueur in those days, he dovetailed sportscar outings with his F1 commitments, campaigning Ford GT40s and various Ferrari prototypes for Ronnie Hoare’s pseudo-works Maranello Concessionaires outfit, as well as Mirage M1s for JW Automotive and the Alan Mann Racing Ford F3L.

He joined Porsche in 1969 – a season that would also be his last in F1. His debut in the fearsome 917K came at Le Mans that year, an experience he’d rather forget. Twelve months later, however, he gave the German marque the first of its record 17 wins in the great race, when he and Hans Herrmann took the #23 Porsche Salzburg machine to a five-lap win over the long-tail version of Gérard Larrousse and Willi Kauhsen.

Attwood also notched up the 917’s final win at World Championship level, when he triumphed in the Osterreichring 1,000km alongside Pedro Rodriguez in June 1971.

Many years after retiring from international competition, Attwood became one of the stars of the Goodwood Revival. Now 75, he lies third in the all-time winners’ list, behind Wayne Gardner and Gary Pearson, thanks to four wins in the Glover Trophy in a BRM P261, two wins aboard an Iso Bizzarini in the RAC Tourist Trophy Celebration alongside Mark Hales, and another brace in the Richmond Trophy in a Ferrari 246 Dino.

Porsche 917 Le Mans Attwood 1970

While Richard went on to have much success with Porsche, he admits his first time in the legendary 917 wasn’t perfect: ‘Thinking about the 917, you have to remember that Porsche was a small company back then. There wasn’t the money there is now, but they were out to beat the world and the intention, as ever, was to dominate.

‘In 1969 the 917 was a monster, nobody wanted to drive it, but by the beginning of 1970 they’d worked hard on the car’s stability at high speed – John Horsman had added the swept-up tail – and on reliability. A lot of the early testing had been on airfields, where they got up to about 185mph before they had to turn round, so they never knew how the car would behave on the Mulsanne at 235mph. In ’69, after a double stint, I was deaf as a post, had a blinding headache, my head was falling off my neck and I had to rest it on the rear bulkhead. The gearbox failed after 21 hours and I was never so relieved to get out of that death trap.

‘But then, in early 1970, they asked me to specify the car I wanted for Le Mans and I said I wanted the 917K with a 4.5-litre engine because it put less stress through the gearbox. What I didn’t know was that they’d improved the 5-litre engine and strengthened the gearbox – so we qualified way down and I thought I’d made the biggest mistake of my Porsche career. But the race was full of attrition, it rained a lot, and after 10 hours we were in the lead – we didn’t so much win the race as the others lost it.

‘Now Porsche are back, with the hybrid 919, in the World Endurance Championship and, as ever, they are there to win. In a quiet way, they did a huge amount of preparation, but they didn’t show their hand too soon in case they were pegged back by some new regulation. Everybody goes into a new project with great anticipation and I assure you that Porsche would have been very disappointed if they hadn’t beaten the Audis to win Le Mans and the championship.”

Richard Attwood

The 74th Members’ Meeting will feature daily demonstrations of a staggering horde of Group 5 sports-racers from a highly evocative period of the International Championship of Makes – the World Sportscar Championship by any other name. The years 1969-1971 produced incredible battles between the fastest and most beautiful, purpose-built endurance weapons ever seen, including Porsche’s flat-12 917, Ferrari’s V12 512S – and later 512M – and British brawn in the shape of the V8-engined Lola T70 Mk3B.

The distinctive bark of numerous examples of all three of these iconic sportscars will reverberate around the Goodwood Motor Circuit during the March 19-20 weekend, recreating the period 1000km marathons at Brands Hatch, Monza, Nürburgring, Osterreichring and Spa-Francorchamps, and the round-the-clock classics of Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring.  

Interview by Rob Widdows

Photography courtesy of LAT

 

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