Peter Riches will retire from his post as the British Touring Car Championship’s technical director at the end of this season, after 320 events, 820 races and 30 seasons policing the paddock as both the teams’ best friend and worst enemy.
He’s the series’ own Charlie Whiting, ensuring each car is legal and safe, and would be equally as difficult to replace as Formula 1’s late technical director, were it not for son Sam who is on hand to fill the breach.
Riches Jr has 20 seasons of BTCC experience himself as understudy to the old man, which should ensure a seamless transition – especially as Peter’s retirement will be carefully phased. He’s promised to stay on as a consultant for as long as he’s needed.
The move is something series boss Alan Gow has been trying to delay for years, such is Riches’ importance to the smooth running and success of the BTCC. “It was something we planned to do earlier, but then I agreed to stay and then Covid came along,” says Riches, who turned 70 this year.
“We thought we’d get to 30 seasons. Alan has always said he doesn’t want me to go, so he kept making me put off the decision. He was stuck with what to do because getting somebody from outside might have been like reinventing the wheel. There’s so much history with these jobs. You see what’s happened in F1.
“Not many cross over to the dark side, as the joke goes, and most soon head back to the white side. In F1 you had Laurent Mekies” – who joined the FIA in 2014, became deputy race director, but then headed to Ferrari in 2018 – “and Marcin Budkowski” – who joined the FIA after time with Prost, Ferrari and McLaren, then courted controversy by moving back to a team role at Renault.
“They were geared up as Charlie’s replacement and it never happened. It is difficult. Alan’s fear is a team engineer taking the job, changing their mind and then two years down the road he’d be looking for somebody else. In-house was his preferred option and Sam has taken the challenge on.”
The right timing
Beyond neat anniversaries, Riches’ imminent departure makes sense now the BTCC has made its successful transition to hybrid power, which has replaced weight ballast as the means of balancing the performance of an intensely competitive grid. “There are still a few teething problems but we’re basically all right,” says Riches.