The local motorsport scene is reeling at the tragic news that V8 Supercars driver Jason Richards has succumbed to his battle a rare form of stomach cancer. He was just 35 years old.
A statement from his family confirmed that he passed away peacefully last night with his wife and two young daughters by his side.
Richards was diagnosed with the rarely-diagnosed Adreno Cortical Carcinoma (ACC) last November. He immediately withdrew from his full-time driving duties to focus his energies on fighting his illness.
His initial chemotherapy treatment had shown some encouraging signs, and he was back testing the Team BOC Holden Commodore between treatment sessions in the pre-season.
But his joy would be short-lived, with further tests confirming that the cancer was not abating.
But Richards refused to be beaten. He remained optimistic about his prognosis, and his constant warmth and enthusiasm belied his own personal struggles on every occasion that he visited the V8 Supercars paddock.
His attitude utterly galvanised the entire championship fraternity, and the series rallied together to raise funds to help his ongoing treatment and ensure his family was supported in the toughest of times.
No doubt knowing he would never be well enough to make a full-time return to the sport he loved so dear, Richards took hold of the opportunities when he was well enough to get behind the wheel.
Shortly afterwards, he made his last race appearance in the top flight during the non-championship support races for the Australian Grand Prix, where he claimed a tearful podium to the raptures of the crowd and the entire motorsport fraternity who was present at Albert Park.
A fixture on the V8 Supercars scene for the last decade, Richards made his championship debut in 2000 with Team Kiwi Racing as a co-driver at Bathurst, after several years of tearing up his rivals in his homeland.
He stayed with the Team Kiwi outfit until the end of the 2002 season, when he moved to Team Dynamik. After a year, he joined the Tasman Motorsport outfit and spent five years with the team before most of its crew (and he) moved to Brad Jones Racing in 2009.
A driver with excellent one-lap speed, Richards was regularly at the pointy end of the field in qualifying, although he only achieved achieved one pole position and one race win.
Many more would have come his way, but it was his fierce loyalty to his team and support staff that meant his obvious talent was at times masked by less-than-competitive equipment.
“In the competitive world of V8 Supercars Jason was a rare breed – a driver that could tread the fine line between rivalry and friendship,” his last team boss, Brad Jones, said in an emotional statement issued by the team today.
“He was never secretive, selfish or bad-tempered and had endless enthusiasm and energy for his job and team. The history books will not do him justice. Given the right equipment JR was easily a front-runner but chose team loyalty over personal gain, determined to work with his crew to reach the front of the grid together.
“Through the highs and lows of racing, JR’s uplifting presence and casual, self-effacing wit were unwavering and his effect he had on team morale is irreplaceable. He will forever be a member of the Jones family and this is a tragic day in the team’s history.”
“There was not a single person in Australian sport, or indeed Australia and his native New Zealand, who did not admire his enormous courage as he battled the last 14 months and his determination to fight in every way he could,” added V8 Supercars chairman Tony Cochrane.
“He will be dearly missed by all in the V8 Supercar family.”
The entire RichardsF1.com team sends its deepest condolences to the Richards family, their friends and the broader motorsport community at his passing.
[Images via The Australian and Fox Sports]