The V8 Supercar series is leading the tributes to Jason Richards, who has succumbed to the cancer that sidelined him for the 2011 season.
The popular Kiwi slipped away peacefully on Thursday night after a long battle with Adreno Cortical Carcinoma. The disease was first discovered just over a year ago and, despite a brief return to the cockpit in Melbourne this season, Richards had been confined to fighting off-track throughout 2011.
Born in Nelson, New Zealand in 1976, Richards made his V8 debut with Team Kiwi Racing at Bathurst in 2000, but quickly established himself as a popular frontrunner, nicknamed 'Racin' Jason' by his peers for his ability to pull out amazing pace over qualifying laps.
In his brief career, Richards starred at 131 V8 Supercars Championship rounds, comprising 284 races, and appeared for Team Dynamik, Tasman Motorsport and Brad Jones Racing/Team BOC as well as Team Kiwi. His last championship appearance came at Symmons Plain in 2010 before the Kiwi took leave to fight for his health. Although he took just one series victory - at Winton in 2006 - and six podium finishes, he finished as runner-up at Bathurst three times in 13 starts.
"In the competitive world of V8 Supercars, Jason was a rare breed – a driver that could tread the fine line between rivalry and friendship," a statement from Brad Jones Racing read, "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 frontrunner, 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."
Despite the open battle he was facing, Richards could not keep away from the track and added to his non-championship appearances with an emotional return at the Australian GP in April, remarkably qualifying in fifth spot before leading race two and eventually finishing second on the road.
As well as taking part in a number of co-driver practice sessions earlier in the year, the Kiwi also won on a one-off appearance in the Fujitsu V8 Supercar Series in Adelaide, and appeared in both the Australian GT and Touring Car Masters series, claiming second at Bathurst in October in the latter.