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Richard Attwood – eight decades young and still going strong

Richard Attwood relaxing between stints in the Drivers’ Paddock during the 2013 Goodwood FoS
Richard Attwood relaxing between stints in the Drivers’ Paddock during the 2013 Goodwood Festival of Speed

On 4 April this year, Richard Attwood will celebrate his 80th birthday, but speaking to him just a few months back about his win at Kyalami in ’69, you would not have thought as much. Attwood still oozes with enthusiasm and he will tell you just what happened and when it happened. I have interviewed Richard Attwood on numerous occasions, and he is always quick with a smile and keen to get on with the interview.

Jürgen Barth and Richard Attwood sign autographs at the 2016 Silverstone Classic
(From L-R) Jürgen Barth and Richard Attwood pose for a quick snap between signing autographs in the Porsche Club GB enclosure at the 2016 Silverstone Classic

Richard Attwood began his motor racing career back in 1960 when he regularly drove a Triumph TR3 and a Lotus Elite. His big break came in 1963 when he piloted a Lola Mk. 6 GT at Le Mans, and although that race ended prematurely with an accident, he would drive Cobras and the Ford GT40 over the next two years. He got his first taste of Ferrari in 1965 when he drove a 365 P2 to victory with David Piper in the Kyalami 9 Hour that year. Attwood was then behind the wheel of various Ferraris and GT40s through the ’65 and ’66 seasons, winning the Kyalami 9 Hour again with Piper in ’66. He scored a third-place finish in the Spa 1000 Kilometres in 1967 driving a Ferrari 412 P and then won the Wills Trophy in a Ferrari 250LM in July of that year.

Richard Attwood, circa. 1969
Richard Attwood, circa. 1969

Attwood’s driving career in a Porsche seat began on 20 August 1967, when he finished second overall with William Bradley in the Zeltweg 500 Kilometres driving Bradley’s Porsche 906 Carrera 6. He continued driving Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Ford prototypes through the first half of the following season, but as from July onwards, he had several outings in Porsche 908s.

Brands Hatch 500 Miles, 13 April 1969: Richard Attwood finished in second place with Vic Elford in a Porsche 908/02
Brands Hatch 500 Miles, 13 April 1969: Richard Attwood finished in second place with Vic Elford in a Porsche 908/02

As from 1969 Attwood was contracted by Porsche to drive in the World Sportscar Championship, and from then on, he was retained under contract as a works driver. He raced in the World Championship for Makes in a Porsche 908/02, and came second at both Brands Hatch and Watkins Glen together with Vic Elford. In the season finale at Zeltweg, he finished third with Brian Redman in the 917. Although not a championship race, the Kyalami 9 Hours was a regular favourite with many of the top drivers as it allowed them to race in summer conditions in the south while the northern hemisphere endured the winter months. Richard Attwood partnered with David Piper to win this in the 917.

Richard Attwood and David Piper drove the Team Perfect Circle Porsche 917 K to victory
Kyalami 9 Hours, 8 November 1969: Richard Attwood and David Piper drove the Team Perfect Circle Porsche 917 K to victory

Together with Hans Herrmann, he took part in the Nürburgring 1,000 km driving a Porsche 908/03 in 1970, finishing in second place. Many folk forget that Attwood almost pulled off consecutive wins at Le Mans when he, together with Herbert Müller, finished second in the #19 Gulf Porsche 917 K in 1971, two laps down on the winner. Attwood and Pedro Rodriguez racked up another victory in the 1000 Kilometre race at the Österreichring in the Gulf Porsche 917 K.

Björn Waldegaard and Richard Attwood finished fifth in the John Wyer entered #36 Porsche 908/03 Spyder
Targa Florio, 3 May 1970: Björn Waldegaard and Richard Attwood finished fifth in the John Wyer entered #36 Porsche 908/03 Spyder

[full_width]INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD ATTWOOD
History will show us that Richard Attwood and Hans Herrmann gave Porsche their first win in the 1970 Le Mans 24 Hours, when the famous #23 red/white Porsche 917 K took the chequered flag. But it was not as simple as it might seem at first glance, as Attwood was not keen on the 917 in the early days. He takes up the story:
“Brian [Redman] and Jo [Siffert] did not want to drive the car, everybody did not want to drive the car because they knew it was not right. Gerhard Mitter and Udo Schütz had the first race with it at Spa [1000 km] earlier that year and it must have been horrendous at Spa, and for the race it was raining which of course made it just about impossible.

Richard Attwood relaxes in the Drivers’ Paddock after an interview with the author at the Goodwood FoS on 12 July 2008
Richard Attwood relaxes in the Drivers’ Paddock after an interview with the author at the Goodwood Festival of Speed on 12 July 2008

“The next time it raced was at the Nürburgring where again none of the factory drivers would drive it there because they knew they could win the race quite easily in a 908, so what was the point in driving something different. The factory realised that and they got Frank Gardner and David Piper to drive it there, and that’s the first time it finished a race. But it was on a different type of circuit and it was the short tail version of the car anyway, so it did not have quite the same aerodynamic problem as the long tail. The next time it ran was at Le Mans [in 1969] and that’s when I drove it.

Richard Attwood enjoying a drink of water after his stint in the 1969 Le Mans 24 Hour
Le Mans 24 Hours, 14-15 June 1969: Richard Attwood enjoying a drink of water after his stint – directly above Attwood’s helmet in red Porsche jacket is Anatole Lapine, while to his left stands Hans Mezger

“Elford started the race, he did a double stint and then I did a double stint. And after that double stint I was deaf, totally deaf because the exhaust exited under the door on either side. I got massive neck ache because of the huge G-force from acceleration, I had never driven a car which such power before. In the end, I was resting my head on the bulkhead at the back. I was in such discomfort and that was after the first two hours and eventually the car broke with three hours to go. I can tell you, I was happy to get out of that car because I was still alive. It was a truly frightening, frightening car. It’s an absolute fact that when I got out of the car it was a relief, it was the worst racing experience I have ever had in my life.

Richard Attwood (white helmet) and Vic Elford (silver helmet) discuss their progress in the 1969 Le Mans 24 Hour
Le Mans 24 Hours, 14-15 June 1969: Richard Attwood (white helmet) and Vic Elford (silver helmet) discuss their progress – they would retire after 21 hours in the #12 Porsche 917 LH Coupé

“The factory rung me in February time and they said what car would you like to take to Le Mans? And I said, well a 917 would be handy and they said, no seriously. What would you like? So, I said I want short tail and the small engine because the gearbox had broken in the other four, so I did not want a big engine because that would put more stress on the gearbox. But in fact, they had strengthened the gearbox anyway and so now instead of a 5-speed box it was now a 4-speed box and that’s where the ratio choice was so restricted because we only had three gears, because we couldn’t use first gear. So that’s why we were so slow in practice.

The #23 Porsche 917 KH of Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood calls into the pits
Le Mans 24 Hours, 13-14 June 1970: The #23 Porsche 917 KH of Hans Herrmann (left with white helmet) and Richard Attwood (with silver/grey helmet) calls into the pits

“And it was just a race of attrition, much of it through driver error, but it was very wet. After 10 hours we were in the lead which was totally ridiculous, and from there on we had to defend that lead to the end with a lot of rain, which was really nerve racking. It was a question of not making mistakes but we still had to drive with total concentration in those conditions, and that was the difficult part of the race.

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