Rickard Rydell was born into a motorsport family. His father Roger competed in rally in his youth and brother Jens raced karts.”It was logical for me to try out karting even though I was doing other sports. At the time the age limit to compete was 10 years but I practised a year before my first race.”Results were improving and at the age of 16 and 17 Rickard won the Swedish Championship title in the Class A 100 cc, the career class at the time
”I did not have big plans to continue in motorsport but Dad came in contact with Picko Troberg who became my manager. Without Picko’s work with teams and sponsors, there would never have been a racing career for me.”
Picko placed Rickard in his Formula 3 team in 1986. Coming from karting to F3 was a big step. Prior to his first race Rickard hadn’t even seen a real car race. The season was a learning year but it was soon to be better. In 1987 he was second in the championship and in 1988 Rickard was heading for the gold as he retired in the final race and had to settle for silver.
After three seasons in domestic racing Picko brought his protégé to Eddie Jordan Racing in the British Formula 3 series in 1989.
”Eddie Jordan was always fair to me and we got along well. In the F3 championship, I was fourth overall and best of the Reynard drivers. I finished the season with a pole position at the FIA Macau World Cup race but unfortunately crashed in turn one. The results this year laid the foundation for a long professional career.”
In 1990 Rickard drove in the British Formula 3000 series, finishing fourth after missing a couple of races due to an accident at the Snetterton race. The season also included races in other categories. He made his first start in the Le Mans 24 Hours and also competed in Japan, for the first time as a paid driver in his career. In the Japanese sportscar championship he shared the car with Johnny Herbert and Bob Wollek.
”Toyota contacted me and I drove four races in Japanese F3 for TOM’S and on top of that four races in Group C for Team Schuppan. Group C was incredibly fast and in qualifying at Fuji, I drove 364 kph in qualifying mode with a Porsche 962.”
As a Toyota factory driver, he was sent to Britain in 1991 to drive TOM’S own F3 racer in the series. The 1991 season is considered to be one of the best years in the championship’s history with drivers like Gil de Ferran, David Coulthard and Rubens Barichello. TOM’S chassis was very good, but the engine was lacking power. There was just one win, in the first race, and a sixth place overall in the championship.
The following two years Rickard raced for TOM’S in the Japanese F3 championship. He finished third in 1992 and second in 1993. At that time it was popular for Europeans to compete in Japan. Mika Salo, Eddie Irvine and Tom Kristensen were a few of those who raced against Rickard, but also Canadian Jacques Villeneuve. In addition to the Formula 3 commitments, there was a couple of races in Formula Nippon too, Japan’s equivalent of Formula 3000, as a team mate to Irvine.
”It was a tyre war in Formula Nippon and the times we did in qualifying at Suzuka were good enough to line up in 15th on the grid for the Formula 1 race in 1992.”
In 1992 Rydell clinched his greatest success to date when he won the Macau Grand Prix. The race was the FIA World Cup for Formula 3. Rickard was about to repeat the success in 1993, when a small rock damaged a cooler. However, while leading he managed to set a lap record that stood for a long time.
”After the victory in Macau we had an offer to drive for Jordan in Formula 1 in 1993. A lot of money, at least for us but not compared to today’s budgets, was needed. The interest in F1 in Sweden wasn’t big – the races weren’t even broadcasted on TV.”
Although the Jordan drive never materialized, Rydell still had his mind set on Formula 1.
”Before the 1994 season, I had an agreement with a Formula Nippon team but health problems with a collapsed lung made me rethink my situation when I received an interesting offer …”
It was Tom Walkinshaw who asked Rickard to race with Volvo in the British Touring Car Championship. Volvo was back on track and they had brought in top team Tom Walkinshaw Racing, TWR, to run two cars.
”When I signed for TWR, I did not know that we would compete with an estate car, but the choice was a smart move as it was always going to be a learning year.”
The first season, 1994, was not a great success in terms of results but at least Volvo won the PR race. For the second year the team came more prepared and Rickard set a new qualifying record with 13 pole positions of a possible 25. Unfortunately, there was only four wins since the Dunlop tires, run by the Volvo Team, could not match the Michelin, run by most teams, in the races. The television program Race on Swedish TV, that covered the BTCC, made Rickard Rydell a household name in Sweden.
The highlight of the BTCC years were the championship win in 1998, probably the best ever year in the history of the BTCC. Eight manufacturers invested large sums of money in the series and the competition was stiff. Rickard’s season was crowned with victory in the Australian classic Bathurst 1000 together with Jim Richards.
Late 1999 Volvo withdrew from the BTCC. Rickard had a contract for two more seasons and was loaned to Ford, which now owned Volvo, during the 2000 season. It was also to became Rickard’s last year in the championship. The years in the UK were successful with championship finishes 14-3-3-4-1-3-3 between 1994 and 2000. In total Rickard took 21 victories and 47 pole positions.
”It was very fun in the BTCC! I learnt a lot from working with the professional TWR and Prodrive teams and to be involved in developing a car became one of my strengths as a racing driver.”
With Volvo and Ford gone from the BTCC new opportunities arised. 2001 was spent developing the Volvo S60 for the new ETCC regulations. It was Prodrive who was responsible for the program but most of Rickard’s time went to another project in the same company – a Ferrari 550 for GT racing. In addition to extensive testing, Rickard and his co-pilots Alain Menu and Peter Kox did five races in the FIA GT, including two victories. With the same car Rickard did one Sebring 12 Hour race and two Le Mans 24 Hour races.
In the 2004 Le Mans Rickard shared the car with Darren Turner and world rally champion Colin McRae (1968-2007).
”We finished third and were more competitive than we thought. Darren set the fastest lap in class and I was the second fastest so we had the speed to win. Colin did a great job and was not far behind in terms of pace. He said it was the hardest race he’d done, worse than the Paris-Dakar.”
Volvo returned to racing in the ETCC 2002. The season was promising and resulted in eight podiums and one pole position. Late 2002 Volvo suddenly pulled out of the championship and let independent Italian team ART Engineering run the cars in 2003. Rickard had a year left on his contract which he honoured despite an offer from Opel in the DTM.
The season with ART Engineering was not what Rickard had hoped. The cars from BMW and Alfa Romeo developed rapidly and it was difficilt to bring home strong results. In the same season Rickard also did two races in Australia with Ford in the V8 Supercars where he shared the car with former BTCC rival Paul Radisich.
”It was great to come back to Bathurst, definitely my favorite circuit. At the finish, after 6.5 hours of driving, we finished in seventh position not far behind the winners.”
The contract with Volvo ended and it was a long winter waiting for the 2004 season. Rickard successfully tested for Alfa Romeo but ended up with SEAT, only a few weeks before the ETCC premiere, and a long collaboration started.
SEAT were about to start their second season of racing when Rickard joined the team. Despite coming in late it was going to be a successful season. In early autumn Rickard secured his and SEAT’s first victory in the ETCC at Oschersleben. Before that, he took his first victory in the STCC at a guest apperance at Mantorp Park.
In 2005 the ETCC earned World Championship status and changed its name to the WTCC. At Silverstone Rickard managed to bring home SEAT’s first victory in a race with world championship status.
”I already knew in the first race that the car was fast enough to win in the second. In race two I was behind Andy Priaulx and waited to attack when he slowed down. Even if he had not had the puncture I would have been able to overtake him.”
The following year, SEAT made a big effort with six cars in the WTCC. Rickard qualified best of all drivers in the championship. However it was not a good season for Rickard who was hampered by collisions and blown engines. Even so, he had shot at the world title at the finale in Macau.
Confirmation on SEAT’s plans for 2007 took a long time and Rickard chose to sign for Aston Martin and its Prodrive run factory Le Mans team. The team conducted extensive pre-season testing where Rickard had a key role. In the race, there was a tough fight within the GT1 class. After 24 hours of racing, the drivers in car number 009 – Rickard Rydell, Darren Turner and David Brabham – crossed the finish line as winners of the GT1 class and fifth overall.
”For a long time we were eight cars running for GT1 class glory. It was pure qualifying pace during the first 18 hours. To get to the top step of the podium in front of a vast crowd was quite an amazing experience.”
A few weeks later Rickard jumped into Chevrolet’s factory team when the WTCC visited Anderstorp in Sweden. The weekend resulted in a victory on home soil.
The season ended with another apperance in the WTCC, this time with SEAT in Macau. Soon afterwards Rickard announced he had signed a two-year contract with the team.
SEAT was now racing with a diesel-powered Leon and Rickard contributed to two World Manufacturers’ Championship titles. When SEAT withdrew its factory team from the WTCC after the 2009 season, Rickard chose to temporarily leave racing and become an expert commentator on television in Sweden.
During his sabbatical Rickard was called in helping the Chevrolet STCC team with the car setup.
”The test went very well and RML had done a fine job with the design of the Chevy Cruze. It was fun to drive and had the qualities I like in a touringcar.”
Rickard did two years in STCC with the Swedish Chevrolet team. He won the championship in 2011 and finished second the following year.
”It was great fun to race a championship in Sweden for the first time since 1988, and of course pleasing to win in a year when the competition was so fierce.”
After the STCC years Rickard never competed in a full season of racing again. He took part in a WTCC race in Shanghai in 2013 and raced in the WTCC in the early part of 2015.
Rickard is currently working as an expert commentator for Swedish “Viasat Motor”. He is also helping young drivers through the ”Rydell Special Award” delivered at the Bilsport Gala each year together with the magazine Bilsport.