The EV Powered Interview

David Richards, CBE: Championing the Future of Motorsport

We were thrilled to be able to sit down with David Richards CBE. From his early days as a rally driver over four decades ago to his current roles as Chairman of ProDrive and Chairman of Motorsport UK, David’s journey is nothing short of remarkable.

His extensive career has seen him transition from the thrill of racing to leading some of the most influential organisations in motorsport. Here, we delve into his experiences, insights, and vision for the future of motorsports, particularly in the era of electric vehicles and sustainability.

David, welcome. Can you share with us what has transpired in your incredible 40-year journey?

I was fortunate enough to start as a chartered accountant, then I ventured into rallying. I had some success and even won the World Championship with Finnish driver Ari Vatanen in ’81. After that, I started my own business, ProDrive. Initially, we focused on rally teams, which led us into sports car racing, touring car racing, and even Formula One for a period. We’ve since diversified into various automotive and non-automotive engineering fields. Today, we employ around 700 people across Banbury and Milton Keynes, with motorsports still at the heart of our operations.

EVP: Talking about motorsport being at the heart of it, you’re also the Chairman of Motorsport UK, the governing body of British motorsports. Could you give us your perspective on the current state of motorsports in the UK?

DR: Motorsport, to some extent, mirrors the economy of the country. It’s a discretionary activity and not cheap by any means. At the grassroots level, it’s very robust, partly due to the profile of Formula One and other motorsport activities. Many people are participating, and it’s our responsibility at Motorsport UK to promote the sport and make it more accessible. Our role is to encourage young people to experience motorsport early on, hoping we might discover the next Lewis Hamilton among them.

EVP: Given that we’re EV Powered, we should focus on electric vehicles in motorsports. How do you see the sport evolving with the rise of electric vehicles?

DR: Electric vehicles are just one category within motorsports. Many historic cars are still active, and they’ll remain for a long time. We need to make motorsport more sustainable, which involves focusing on environmental credentials. This includes not just electric vehicles but also sustainable fuels for internal combustion engines. At ProDrive, we’ve been running our cars on sustainable fuels for the last three years. While electric vehicles offer a platform to promote new forms of transport, motorsport has always been about pushing technological boundaries. Formula E has done well in showcasing the performance potential of electric vehicles, and more touring car series are emerging to promote this technology.

EVP: Aston Martin, where you were previously chairman, has seen a significant uptick in interest when their safety car appears in F1 races. How does this reflect on motorsport’s influence on consumer behaviour?

DR: It proves the point of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” Motorsport can certainly enhance the credentials of electric vehicles as performance vehicles. Formula E, for example, has seen technology trickle down into road cars. Although much of this technology is subtle, such as improvements in battery performance, it’s beneficial for consumers. Initially, Formula E had restrictions on technology, but it’s becoming more open, allowing manufacturers to develop powertrains that eventually benefit road cars.

EVP: Speaking of sustainability, how is Motorsport UK addressing environmental concerns and working towards net zero?

DR: We’re implementing various initiatives. At ProDrive, we’re working towards the ISO standard for sustainability, and we’ve installed solar cells covering two football pitches on our roof. Motorsport UK is accrediting motor clubs with environmental credentials and ensuring circuits meet specific criteria. It’s a long journey, but there’s a clear commitment from us and the motorsport community to act responsibly.

EVP: How about ProDrive’s use of sustainable fuels? Is it a straightforward swap, or are substantial modifications required?

DR: Some changes are necessary, such as different calibration for engines. In motorsport, we have the capability to adapt, and it shouldn’t be a barrier. For example, modern fuels like E10 can be challenging for older cars, but in motorsport, we can manage these transitions effectively.

EVP: ProDrive is celebrating its 40th anniversary. What does the future hold for the company?

DR: It’s more about diversification. We have a strong foothold in motorsport, representing Aston Martin in GT racing and working on new projects like the Dakar project for Dacia. We’re also restoring many of the old cars we’ve built. Beyond motorsport, we’re exploring other areas, leveraging our expertise to push boundaries. We’re working on projects from lightweight folding bikes to last-mile delivery vehicles and even solar-powered refrigeration units for trucks. Innovation is at the heart of everything we do.

EVP: Wearing your Motorsport UK Chairman hat, where do you see the progression of women in motorsports?

DR: We currently have around 8% female licence holders, which is too low. Encouraging young girls to participate in motorsport from an early age is crucial. Initiatives like Susie Wolff’s are helping, and societal changes are necessary to treat girls equally in this field. I’m hopeful that future generations, like my granddaughter, will benefit from these efforts.

EVP: Lastly, where do you see motorsports evolving over the next five years?

DR: The opportunity lies in promoting new technologies and developing new championships that incorporate these advancements. Whether it’s Formula E, hydrogen series, or other innovations, we must stay relevant and environmentally conscious. By doing so, we ensure a strong future for motorsport, making it accessible and enjoyable for everyone.

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Richard Alvin

Managing Editor of EV Powered who has a passion for electric converted classic cars - currently converting Lottie the Landy a 1965 Series II ex RAF Land Rover to electric power and the person responsible for two wheel reviews at EV Powered.