Motorsport: Why Richards's Heart is in GT Racing

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Steven Richards has won four Bathurst 1000 titles and will aim for a fifth this year alongside the legendary Craig Lowndes but his heart is in GT Racing now.

Steven Richards will drive the BMW at the Hampton Downs 500 in October. Photo / NZ Herald

The GT phenomenon has been felt all around the world as the category has grown significantly in recent years, attracting the biggest car manufacturers and a number of the best drivers.

Richards made the move to GT racing a few years back and will drive the BMW M6GT3 in the final two rounds of the Australian Endurance Championship at the Laser Plumbing & Electrical Hampton Downs 500 (October 28-29) and the Highlands 501 in Cromwell (November 10-12).

"People always ask how does a GT3 car compare to a V8 Supercar," the expat Kiwi said. "The GT3 cars are generally two to three seconds a lap faster than a Supercar. Their cornering speeds are unbelievable, they have a lot of downforce and the different sounds of the cars is something that people love. Walking down pit lane is like being at an exotic car show.

"I think one of the great things about the GT Championship is that if the teams aren't too busy, you can wander into the garage and you can touch and feel the cars. The grid walk before the start of the race is another highlight of the New Zealand rounds.

"The series brings together so many different cars with their own strengths and weaknesses but the balance of performance regulations means their overall lap time ends up pretty similar. All of the GT cars are aspirational. I remember when I was growing up I aspired to drive a Holden Commodore. Kids today are looking at Ferraris, Lamborghinis and BMWs and wanting to get behind the wheel of one of those. Having those cars go head to head in a series like the Australian GT Championship is pretty cool."

Richards hasn't had a particularly successful season to date in the Australian GT Championship. He lies in a share of 13th place in the championship and is 14th in the endurance championship.

But while a run at a title seems unlikely Richards is confident of success in New Zealand for the final two rounds.

"Both New Zealand circuits suit the BMW so it's a great opportunity to get some good results which have been hard to come by this season," he said. "Last year at Hampton Downs the car went really good. It's a demanding place to drive and there's not much room for rest. While it's quite tight out the back section, it's still really challenging with plenty of opportunities to pass which is always good.

"Highlands is a very different style of circuit to Hampton Downs. The corners are a lot faster and it's just a really exciting layout. I'll never forget the first time I raced down there and looking up and seeing snow on the mountains. It's a pretty special place to drive so coming to New Zealand is always a good way to round off the year."

Richards left Supercars racing fulltime at the end of 2010, while staying on as a highly-rated co-driver. He set up Steven Richards Motorsport and competed in the Porsche Carerra Cup in Australia and turned his focus to GT racing, starting out with a Lamborghini in 2014.

He has received backing by Laser Electrical & Plumbing for the past seven years and is hoping to repay the faith they've had in him with a big result in New Zealand where the company is the naming rights sponsor at Hampton Downs.

"It's basically a one-man show," Richards said of his operation. "I'm just a guy out there trying to have a go. I'm the only full-time employee so I guess I'm the chief cook, bottle washer and whatever else you want to call me. My wife is very involved in the organisation of the team and I work with a great bunch of contractors at race meetings, engineers, mechanics and whatnot. They're guys I've worked with for the last 25 years. We're a small team and we've got a tight budget we have to stick to. If that means I have to drive the truck to the race meetings so we can afford to buy an extra set of tyres then so be it.

"Hopefully I'll be able to expand on what we do in the next few years and bring on some young talent. At some point I'm going to stop driving. I love car racing, I love what I do and it would be great to help some young guys achieve their dreams in the sport."

 

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