GRR

Racing at Revival with Richard Attwood | Thank Frankel it's Friday

04th April 2024
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

I just wanted to say a few words on the occasion of my mate Richard Attwood’s 84th birthday. Over the years I have got to know many people in the motor-racing community, some close enough to be real friends whose company I’ll always seek out, often as not at Goodwood where we all tend to coalesce at certain times of the year.

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But I’m not sure there’s any professional racer whose friendship I value more than Richard’s. We first met in around 1998, a period of my life when I’d routinely abuse my position as editor of MotorSport magazine to drive all the racing cars I’d have otherwise not had the smallest chance of even sitting in. Top of the list, of course, was the Porsche 917. And Richard had one. Although it looked identical to his 1970 Le Mans winner, it was actually the next chassis down the line, and he duly pitched up at Silverstone with it on the back of a trailer, fired it up and told me to get in.

I, of course, was terrified but Richard, in his inimitable way, just told me the car was fine, so was I, so I should just get over myself, get on board and get going. So I did. We were only on the National Circuit and the car was the slowest of all 917s, with a 4.5-litre engine and a four-speed box, but it still did over 160mph three times over the course of every lap. It was the greatest thing I had ever done in a car, and a quarter of a century later still ranks right up there. But Richard wasn’t happy; he could hear I was holding back. So when I came in he told me to get back out there and not return until I’d had what he described as ‘a proper go’. Which is how I found myself sliding a Porsche 917 out of Becketts and accelerating so hard down the straight that a bystander said the car looked like it was pulling a wheelie.

But my greatest moment with Richard came rather more recently – in 2011 in fact. To my utter astonishment, I found myself sharing the famed Lister Costin Coupe with him in the TT Celebration race at that year’s Revival. In the driver’s briefing, I sat there with Derek Bell, Brian Redman, Jochen Mass, Martin Brundle, Kenny Brack, Tom Kristensen, Arturo Merzario and many, many more, rarely feeling more like a total imposter.

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The car had been a nightmare all weekend. We lost third gear in one session then couldn’t get the engine to run properly. It was already an old and tired motor so feared it was suffering some terminal trouble until someone, I think Gary Pearson, asked what fuel we were running it on, to which we replied we’d forked out vast amounts for Sunoco’s on site jungle juice because only the best would do. ‘That’ll be your problem them,’ he said. ‘Get some out of the pump at Sainsbury’s and it’ll be fine.’ And it was.

So though we had only qualified mid-field, we had high hopes for a decent finish, even with our elderly engine. But rain threatened and I knew already the car was incredibly sensitive to set up and could be made to handle beautifully in wet or dry conditions, but not both. What should we do? I was going first so it was my choice, and I chose to play the weather we had, rather than the weather we might be getting.

Usually, that is the right thing to do, because one is certain, the other is not, but not on this occasion. I think it started to drizzle on the out lap. When the race started I squeaked past a few on the first lap then had a considerable moment going off line into Madgwick on the next, trying to gain another place. The rain was still not heavy and I found that if I just kept on the racing line where the track was driest, the car was manageable, but any attempt to go offline to overtake was doomed, possibly to disaster.

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I came in a little before half distance and handed over to Richard with a few choice words about the way the car was handling. But it turns out I had it easy. As soon as he was aboard the nuisance drizzle stopped and proper bucketing began. How Richard maintained the pace while keeping it on the track in such conditions was beyond me. You may remember two years later a late downpour denying the same car (albeit with a new motor) an outright TT win when the heavens opened late in the race and Anthony Reid left the track trying to keep up the softer, heavier, far better suited to those conditions Aston Project 212. We finished 11th, glad more than anything else to be one piece.

I still see Richard from time to time. Most recently it was at last year’s Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard when as I was trying to clamber into another Porsche 917, this time the 1,100bhp Can-Am version. As I did I was aware someone in a race suit holding its flip up door open for me with one hand, while extending the other, clearly demanding payment for services rendered. Looking up I saw a familiar face grinning away at me.

So happy birthday Richard. I hope you had a wonderful time and, more than anything, we get to meet and mess about with fast cars again soon.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images

  • Revival 2011

  • Richard Attwood

  • Thank Frankel it's Friday

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