OLD DOG, NEW TRICKS
Le Mans winner Richard Attwood never really stopped racing, while his current mount, a 39-year-old 928 S, never saw a circuit – till now. We watch the ace in action at Croft
The 928 never had a particularly long or exalted racing record: a singleton French car placed 22nd overall at Le Mans in 1983 and 20th in ’84, but the model was just not cut out for track action like its 911 sibling – or its four-cylinder 924 GT/R sisters, either.
On the other hand, our man Richard Attwood, who we’ve come to watch racing a 928 in the HSCC’S Road Sports event at Croft, has had an extraordinarily long career in top-line motor sport. He began racing Formula Junior Lolas in 1961, graduated to Formula 2 in 1964, and entered F1 with BRM the same year, as well as driving the works Ford GT40 and Ferrari P330-P3/4S from the mid-’60s onwards. He was a member of the works Porsche team from 1969 to 1971, helming Martini-salzburg and Gulf-jw-automotive 917s and 908s. In the midst of top-line successes, his sparkling career culminated in the legendary 1970 Le Mans win alongside Hans Herrmann in the famous red 917/023, and he retired (temporarily) in 1972. In the Croft paddock I notice a neat legacy from his crowded past, a Formula 2 Lola T60 he drove for BRP in the mid-’60s, waiting its turn for another historic race.
Richard has campaigned a 928 once before: at the 1984 Daytona 24 Hours, sharing a Brumos-entered car with ‘Quick’ Vic Elford and a couple of American drivers, placing 15th overall. More recently he’s been instructing punters at the Porsche Experience Centres at Silverstone and Millbrook, where he once mentored me aboard a Cayenne on the off-road course for 911&PW. This season he’s campaigning a freshly-fettled 928, a 4.5-litre 1978 car, in the eight-round HSCC Road Sports series. He’s enjoyed mixed fortunes. Round 1 at Silverstone was wet, and he brought the 928 home in 3rd place – on its race debut. Circuit knowledge doubtless enabled him to log 3rd at Brands Hatch, while Cadwell Park was not a great success due to the tightness of the Lincolnshire track’s twists and turns.
And so to Croft, England’s northernmost racetrack, run by the BARC, and one circuit Richard hasn’t raced on before, not even in the early years, probably because it’s always been more of a club racing venue that never hosted the more international events he competed in during the halcyon days. The irony is not lost on the chief marshal – who lets us shoot from the pit-lane gantry – is that in our midst we have a star of the Monaco GP and Le Mans, participating as a Croft virgin in an HSCC clubbie. ‘We don’t stand on ceremony here,’ he chuckles.
Resplendent in livery referencing the ’84 Brumos Daytona car, the 928 has arrived at Croft fresh from fettling at PC Leeds, and Jonathan Mannell from Porsche Cars GB explains the plan: ‘this car is being raced to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 928. We have four classic specialist centres at Glasgow, Swindon, Hatfield and Leeds, and they are tasked with getting the car through the season, and we’re rotating it so this weekend it’s Glasgow’s turn to crew it.’ The Road Sports series allows only minimal modifications, so the 928 is limited to a front strut-brace, stiffer dampers, straight-through exhaust and limited-slip diff, while the cabin is stripped out and equipped with roll-cage, fire extinguisher and race seat. ‘We’re running Pirelli Trofeos at the moment, but I think we probably need a slightly stiffer tyre so we may trial some other brands; Pirelli agreed to sponsor us, but even they’ve agreed the tyres are a little bit soft for the 928.’
It’s a big 47-car grid for the Road Sports race, and the 928’s opposition ranges from Elans and Lotus 47s to TVRS, TR4S, MGBS, a singleton 924 (Chris Baines), and Italian exotica like an Alfetta GT and Lancia Beta Monte Carlo. There are long, fast straights and demanding technical corners, including Tower, Complex and Hairpin, and Richard qualifies the 928 relatively well up in 16th slot. It’s also Croft’s Nostalgia-themed weekend, with a veritable army of military and vintage vehicles lining the infield access roads, plus a majestic Avro Lancaster fly-past, and that’s what many
spectators are here for, though a few fans realise who they’re dealing with and cluster for autographs.
Richard and I sit down at a paddock nosherie during the lunch break, and we discuss his prospects for the two heats. ‘At least the corners are open here, so if you look ahead you can see the corners coming up, whereas Cadwell Park, which I didn’t know either, was narrower and tighter, and you couldn’t see the corners, so it took me a lot longer to get a handle on that. But even here at Croft I’m about 5- to 7seconds a lap down on the front runners, so we’re not going to be challenging for the win. This is only my third time in the car, but we had an instant result in the first round at Silverstone because it was really wet, and a big, heavy car ploughs through the water better than the lighter cars, and we finished 3rd. But in the dry, these other nippy little cars with glassfibre bodywork – the Lotuses, TVRS and Datsuns, and much smaller cars like the Lotus 7 – will be snapping at our heels. There’s a curve into the chicane onto the straight and, well, I’m really struggling to get round that long righthand bit (Hawthorn); it’s not that fast, but it’s so big – the weight of the car just wants to take it out of the side of the corner, while all the other cars seem to be just driving round normally. So, it’s a bit of a square peg in a round hole, really, because the car’s so big. But we do quite well in the class, though we’re limited overall.’ I remind him of his outing in ’84 in the Daytona 24Hours. ‘That was good, though I don’t know who else raced them in that period; when you look at a 911, by comparison a 928 is completely not the right car for the job. This is not really what I’d call a serious attack on the championship; they’re running the car to show that it could race if somebody got down to it. I did one or two track days in 928s with Porsche dealers on different circuits; at Donington in an S4 you could drive round the corners on the throttle, and that was a fantastic drive because it had an excess amount of power for the grip, but for what we’re doing now, it’s difficult unless the conditions are bad, in which case we can make progress because we’ve effectively got downforce all the way under the car.’ Back in the day, Richard and his Porsche works teammates received 911s as their road cars – he recalls the 2.0 S from 1969 affectionately; ‘the others tended to swap theirs every year for the latest evolution, but I kept mine as I was rather fond of it.’ As for the 928, ‘I used to call the 928 the armchair Porsche, because it was a really fast, lazy cruiser.’
Come race time, Richard holds his own
as the field surges down the main straight and into turn one, Clervaux. There are individual challenges throughout the pack, and he emerges from the chicane wheel-towheel with a TR5, Lancia Monte Carlo and Lotus Éclat. The V8 power soon dispatches them, but a nimble-through-the-turns Lotus Seven S4 proves a tricky customer. ‘He’d got a cross on his back, so he was a novice and I didn’t want to upset him, but eventually I did get by on the straight, and I suppose I was being a bit too respectful because after that I galloped away from him, so I shouldn’t have been messing about so much.’ From 16th on the grid, the 928 is classified 10th overall. The scenario is remarkably similar in Race 2, with the Monte Carlo, Éclat and TVR 3000M pursuing the 928, which is itself mauling the little Lotus 7 again in a David-and-goliath scenario. At the front, a pair of Elans duke it out for the win, followed by a couple of Europa 47s, and a 240Z door-handling with another Europa. Then, all too soon, there are full course yellows, and after a couple of laps the race is red flagged. A Sunbeam Alpine has crashed and can’t be safely recovered by the marshals. Back in the paddock Richard is philosophical: ‘We were never going to make massive inroads, though at the start I overtook three or four cars, and I made about four or five places after that, so that’s where I made most gains, and then I only overtook one more car, and that was it.’ Once again, he’s credited with 10th overall, and everyone from Porsche GB and PC Glasgow seems gratified that the car and its star driver have played their respective parts satisfactorily.
There are more Road Sport rounds scheduled: firstly Oulton Park, then two at Silverstone and, the pièce de résistance, a race at the Spa Six Hours meeting. Richard will surely bump into some of his old mates there. ‘That will be two half-hour races, and Spa circuit will suit our car, being wide, and you’ve got the long Kemmel straight, and all the corners there are quite sweeping, and it’s fast back up through Blanchimont to the Bus Stop. So, it should have a good chance, because the engine is alright, the brakes are alright, it’s just that we never sorted out the ride. It handles, in that you can get it to point and oversteer, but we haven’t done anything much with the dampers and we’ve only once played with the springs when it was just bouncing everywhere, so we sorted that out, but really, we need to go testing.’
Coincidentally, the 928 is then trailered to the Nürburgring for the Old Timer meeting – as a display car. Had we known, we could have driven it there for them on our 928mile mission. A whizz around the Nordschleife? In a 928? Mmm…actually, we’d defer to Richard on that one. PW
It handles, in that you can get it to point and oversteer