Q&A: Richards explains early retirement

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 08/12/2019
  • By Stefan Bartholomaeus

Steven Richards’ decision to retire from Supercars co-driving duties has come a little earlier than expected, even to the man himself.

After 27 Bathurst 1000 starts that have netted five wins, including two in the last five years, Richards had been set to race on for at least one more year.

But on Friday, Team 18 announced the 47-year-old will step back to take on a full-time ‘relationship manager’ role with the squad, as it expands to two cars in 2020.

Although hoping to race on in some form, Richards - the son of seven-time Bathurst-winner Jim – is also pulling out of the Carrera Cup and shutting down his Steven Richards Motorsport operation.

Richards spoke to Supercars.com about retiring from Supercars, closing SRM, what it means for the next generation of Richards coming through and his proudest career achievement.

Steve, take us through the decision and how it came about.

In the first part of this year I went and had a chat to Charlie [Schwerkolt, Team 18 owner] about not only his team, but within the Waverley Forklifts business, whether there were opportunities there.

There are some realities to my age and how long I’m going to drive for and what that meant for the future.

I spoke to him about some sort of transitional role and what we ended up with was a two-to-three day a week thing for next year alongside co-driving, that would possibly lead to more in the future.

But all of a sudden with the expansion to two cars and everything that’s going on, that role quickly developed into more of a serious opportunity.

To be honest it’s one that might have come a year or two earlier than I’d hoped, but one I felt is exciting enough not to let go of when it’s been presented to you.

It evolved quickly because of the enormity of what’s happening at the team and how full-on it is for Charlie day-to-day.

Was it a hard decision in the end?

It was a bit of a shock a week or two ago to come to the reality of what the situation was looking like, but I spoke to my wife Ange and to Dad and it just started to make more and more sense.

I understand that the age [of drivers] is getting younger in the sport and I’ve always wanted to finish on my terms.

For me, if I was going to do something beyond driving I’d want to be in a role within a team that could make a difference.

The amount of recruitment that’s gone on at Charlie’s in the last 12 months and the people he has involved there, I’m so comfortable with where that sits.

It might have been something I had to dwell on for 24 hours, but that was it. I was in hook, line and sinker from there. It was too good an opportunity.

Tell us more about what you will be doing at Team 18. The title is relationships manager, which suggests a commercial focus.

That’s exactly right. It’s about solidifying the commercial partnerships that already exist and looking for new opportunities.

I’ll also be assisting in an active role with [team manager] Steve Henderson and [technical director] Phil Keed with structure and acting as another sounding board for engineering.

Hopefully I can be an asset to Frosty [Mark Winterbottom] and Scotty [Pye]. That’s what it’s all about.

I’m really going to be looking into the briefcase of all the things I’ve learned over the past 25 years and bring those to the table.

I also hope to still be doing a bit of driving as well [outside of Supercars]. For sure it’s a big role, but I still enjoy driving and get a lot out of it.

I’ve got some great partnerships I’ve been involved with for many years and I’d like to continue those, I’m exploring all options, but first and foremost I’m getting into this role, there’s a lot to do.

You’d said at Sandown you couldn’t afford to do Carrera Cup again next year. Is that part of this decision, that you may not be sharp for the enduros without that program?

No, not at all. There’s 100 percent a reality about all of that sort of stuff, but for me it’s all about looking to where my future is at.

Sure, I probably thought I could drive as a co-driver for another three to five years and do something else on the back of it like Carrera Cup or Touring Car Masters.

I 100 percent agree that driving something else is incredibly important to having a good co-driving position.

Will you continue your race team in any fashion?

No, I don’t think so. We’ve been there and done that. Unless you take it on as a full-on customer-based racing program, it’s very difficult to make the numbers stack up.

We’ve managed to do it for a few years, we’ve run customers, we’ve been involved in Australian GT with support from a manufacturer, we’ve tackled the 12 Hour as a team; I’m over the moon with some of the things our team have been able to do.

Now we’ll get on with it and move forward.

Now that you’re earning money and don’t have a Porsche to spend it on, is this good news for [19-year-old son] Clay’s career?

That's certainly an element of what I’d like to see in the future, to help Clay, and he’s keen as mustard.

You’re dead right, it’ll still all be about how you can fund it and how do you go about it, but I’d love nothing more than to give him a couple of years of driving to see how he goes.

Formula Ford is the path we’d like to take there, from my perspective it’s still a great category that gives young guys everything they need to prepare for a career in Supercars.

He actually raced an Excel on the weekend with a mate who built a car. It was great, he was having a good battle with Stevie Johnson for most of his stint!

It’s like anything, it’s easy to underestimate these young kids. He continually impresses me with how he tackles things.

Back to your own career, when you look back at your time behind the wheel in Supercars, what are you most proud of?

I’ve had a bit of time over the last week or so to consider it.

I love driving the cars now because they’re such good cars to drive, they do everything really well, they’ve got good aero and great power.

But I think in the mid-2000s, around the Perkins era, Paul Dumbrell was a young guy getting up to speed and there was a lot of weight on my shoulders.

We were battling against six Holden Racing Team cars [including two K-Mart Racing and two PWR entries], two Stone Brothers cars and the emergence of Triple Eight.

Through that period of 2003, ’04 and ’05 with the Castrol sponsorship, in all three of those years we led the championship up until that kind of Bathurst/Gold Coast period.

We never quite got a championship, but I look back on those as great times.

Any regrets? As you say, you were close to winning the championship, and had a good run with a couple of teams, but never quite got there.

No regrets, but probably the disappointment was 2009 and a lot of 2010 [at Ford Performance Racing], where we just couldn’t make it work.

But then I was really pleased with the last three months of my full-time career, where we qualified on the front-row at Gold Coast and finished second at Homebush in my last race.

I look back on those things a little bit, but they don’t mean anything to anyone else.

I’ve never really looked upon anyone else’s opinion, I’ve only looked to satisfy myself with the way I’ve driven and the way I’ve done things.

The relationships I’ve built, the friendships I’ve kept, I can honestly say I don’t have too many off-track enemies through my on-track performances over the time.

Some people don’t care about that stuff, but to me that is actually more important than probably anything else I’ve done, is to maintain a good respect from people and to always do the best I can.

And are you happy with where the Bathurst win tally sits? Five is an incredible achievement, but you’re unlucky not to have the most at the family dinner table!

What do you say? It’s not bad. Someone brought it up a while ago that a Richards has stood on the top step of the podium at Bathurst for the last five or six decades.

That’s not going to be repeated. Hopefully in some context Clay can have a crack at continuing that, but how can you complain?

Back in 1996 when I started this whole thing, if someone said one day you’d win Bathurst and drive with the best teams and drivers not only in the country but the world, I’d have said 'you’re kidding'.

For more from Steven Richards about his stellar career, revisit Supercars.com's Saturday Sleuthing feature, first published in August.

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