Rally boss in drive for market

Power behind the Subaru team plans a £200m float
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The company behind Subaru's championship-winning World Rally team is planning a £200m flotation next year.

David Richards, chairman of Prodrive, was last Sunday celebrating in a wet and windy Wales with a glass of champagne as Richard Burns became England's first rally champion. Later in the week he was in London, locked in talks with his financiers, discussing the plans to float the business on the London Stock Exchange.

Mr Richards, an accountant turned rally co-driver turned rally magnate, believes Prodrive is worth between £150m and £200m. Mr Burns's victory for Subaru, he said, was a "wonderful shop window for us".

Prodrive is an automotive engineering company that prepares cars for competitive racing. It also manages professional teams and has worked with Subaru since 1989. The Subaru contract contributes around 25 per cent of the company's total revenue.

Prodrive hopes to capitalise on Subaru's rally success by next year, engineering around 5,000 souped-up Richard Burns-branded Subaru cars, even though Mr Burns is leaving to join Peugeot.

Some 49 per cent of Prodrive is owned by the venture capital group Apax Partners, with the majority of the business being held by Mr Richards and his fellow directors. Mr Richards estimates the company will next year make a £10m profit. A former Formula One team boss at Benetton, Mr Richards also has his eye on the Grand Prix arena. "It is a very powerful medium, but Formula One is suffering with an interesting set of problems at the moment [with a number of teams in financial difficulty]," he said. "Some teams need a strategic and proper management team, which we could provide along with engineering infrastructure."

Mr Richards refused to reveal when he planned to launch into Formula One or if he had held discussions with any teams.

As well as his experience running the Benetton team, Mr Richards is well acquainted with Bernie Ecclestone. Last year the Formula One supremo sold him the rights to the World Rally Championship through International Sportsworld Communications (ISC), which is now run separately from Prodrive. Earlier this year ISC sold the rallying television rights in the UK to Channel 4, which next week will announce its broadcasting strategy for its coverage of rallying events. ISC has also struck a deal with Fox in the US and is close to securing a deal in Germany.

Mr Richards has a collection of 15 cars and races an Aston Martin DB3S in his spare time. However, he still yearns for competitive racing: "It is very hard for me to turn up at rallies wearing a plain white shirt as an observer."