by John Kenny – Irish Daily Star- 2nd June 1999

I knew Neil Shanahan. I’m glad I knew him.

Motorsport is a dangerous sport and it was doing what he loved that ultimately cost him his life. Neil Shanahan was destined for big things. Last Monday his passion and spirit were snuffed out, the candle of the best prospect in Irish motor-racing since Eddie Irvine flickered and died.

This year his first season with the Van Diemen works team in the British Formula Ford championship, the 19-year-old Dubliner was playing catch up.

Most of the other drivers had a season or two behind them in the series, Neil was still learning the tracks and it was taking time in an uncompetitive car.


A 4th place in the 4th round at Brands Hatch was a sign that he was getting on the pace. It didn’t follow on the 5th round at Oulton Park in Cheshire last Monday., the Van Diemen just wasn’t up to the speed of the faster Rays and Mygaels.

He was 10th on the grid for the Bank Holiday race, there was work to be done. It happened on lap 2, a tangle and a crash. Most drivers walk away, bruised, battered egos, recriminations in the bar.

Neil never climbed from the wreckage. The sport that he adored took his life and for those of us who knew him it has robbed us of one of the best drivers ever to leave these shores.

I was glad to call him my friend. I met him for the first time at the Formula Ford Festival and world cup at Brands Hatch in 1997. He was with Mick Merrigan who was to become his manager, all the positivity of youth, smiling happy, mouth full of braces, taking it all in, looking to get on the next rung of the motorsport ladder.


He started racing in Ireland in 1993 in junior karting and by 1996 had risen to Formula A where he was second overall in the National Championship. In 1997 Shanahan, helped in no small way by his adoring parents, decided that Neil had the talent to go further and he raced in the Stars of Tomorrow Formula Ford 1600 championship.

It wasn’t the most competitive of classes further down the field but he had some memorable races at the head of affairs with Michael Keohane. His championship success also gave Shanahan the distinction of being chosen as the 1997 Dunlop Driver of the Year. In 1998 Neil earned yet again the Dunlop Driver of the Year accolade.

Neil Shanahan is no longer with us and the world is a sadder place. Neil Shanahan R.I.P.


By Dave James – Eastern Daily Press – 1st June 1999

The Norfolk motor racing community was in mourning last night after Hunstanton driver Neil Shanahan died following a 100mph three car collision at Oulton Park.

The Irish-born teenager, widely regarded as one of the most promising racers in the business, died on his way to the hospital after being airlifted from the Cheshire track where he was competing for the Attleborough-based Van Diemen team in the Formula Ford Zetec championship.

An investigation was launched into the accident which took place on the second lap of the 12-lap race in front of a 25,000 crowd which included the 19-year-old’s mother and father who had flown over from Dublin for the event.

It is understood his car went off the track at Clay Hill where the drivers would have been building up to their 120mph top speed.

Jon Williams, motorsport brand manager of Ford of Britain, which sponsors the championship, said: “Medical officers were called immediately to the scene where it was discovered that Neil had suffered a massive trauma which included a cardiac arrest. He was resuscitated at the scene and immediately airlifted to the Countess of Chester Hospital, but tragically died before arriving. The cause of the accident and subsequent injury has yet to be established, this was a deeply tragic incident and our thoughts are with Neil’s family, friends and team at this moment.”

The race was eventually restarted and ironically won by Shanahan’s teammate. Attleborough-based Ricardo van der Ende.

Yesterday’s fatality was the third racing death at the Cheshire track in the last decade. Paul Warwick, brother of former Formula One ace Derek, was also killed at the venue in a Formula 3000 race in 1990. Richard Rodgers, media and promotions manager for the championship, paid tribute to Shanahan, who lived on his own at Hunstanton, having moved to Norfolk from Ireland to pursue his career.

He was in the first season in the event having excelled in kart racing in Ireland in the early 1990s, as well as winning the Ford of Ireland Formula Ford title and the Irish Formula Ford Zetec crown last year.

“He was a very popular driver. The mood here is very sombre and very sad,” said Mr Rodgers. “All the drivers have become very good friends. Neil had ambitions to enter Formula One. He died doing what he loved. Motor racing was always his dream.”

Mr. Rodgers went on: “I got to know him very well. Neil was the sort of guy everyone warmed to and he was very genuine, always willing to stop and chat. He had his best result in the last round of the championship at Brands Hatch, when he finished fourth, and was also named the Motoring News Race Ace. He was really chuffed about that and his spirits were very high for the rest of the season.”

Team boss Ralph Firman, who founded the Van Diemen team 25 years ago, was told of the tragedy and was returned to his Attleborough home last night from the United States. The team has always been regarded as a training ground for the stars of the future.

“It really is a plum drive,” said Mr Rodgers. “They have been the best cars. Eddie Irvine used to race with them back in 1987.”

The conditions at Oulton Park yesterday were dry and sunny which boosted a crowd drawn to the circuit to witness the popular British Touring Car Championship.

Shanahan’s other teammate, James Courtney, who finished fifth yesterday, also paid tribute.

“We got to know each other very well,” he said. “He was a really nice bloke. But what has happened hasn’t hit me yet.”


by Nick Phillips – Irish Daily Star – 1st June 1999

The death of a rising Irish motorsport star Neil Shanahan was caused by a freak “trillion-to-one” accident, according to his Van Diemen team boss Ralph Firman.

The tragic teenager was killed during a Formula Ford Championship race at Oulton Park in Cheshire, England last Monday.

He was chasing his dream of becoming Ireland’s next Eddie Irvine and had been thrilled to secure a drive in Formula Ford with the Van Diemen team. Irvine raced with the same squad in 1987 and won the British Championship.

Although the official investigation into the accident is still continuing, Firman is certain Shanahan was killed when a broken front wheel entered the cockpit. The Van Diemen boss said: “It is a trillion-to-one situation. If it had hit the cockpit 2mm one-way or the other, the wheel would have bounced away.” Firman also led the praise for Shanahan’s unique driving skills. “He was a young driver with a great deal of potential talent,” he said.

His co-manager, Oisin O’Briain, said: “Shanahan’s death was a huge blow.”


by Nick Phillips – The Independent – 1st June 1999

The promising Irish racing driver Neil Shanahan died on his way to hospital after a crash in the Formula Ford Zetec Championship race in the supporting programme for the British Touring Car Championship rounds at Oulton Park yesterday.

The 19-year-old was involved in a three-car accident on the Clay Hill section of the circuit when his car left the track and hit a barrier. Shanahan suffered a cardiac arrest, but was resuscitated at the scene, before being air-lifted to the Countess of Chester Hospital. He died before he arrived.

Shanahan’s death followed another incident at the circuit the previous day, when a BTCC car, driven by Russell Spence, left the circuit and went into a spectator area.

The crash provoked criticism of the circuit’s safety standards.

“We shouldn’t race here. It’s a track from the old days,” said the reigning BTCC champion, Rickard Rydell, who, together with another former champion, John Cleland, intends to write to the sport’s governing body – the Motor Sports Association (MSA) – to raise concerns about the safety at Oulton Park.

Speaking after Spence’s crash on Sunday, the former Formula One driver, Derek Warwick, whose younger brother Paul was killed at Oulton Park in 1991, commented: “I don’t think it’s safe enough. I think the spectators are at risk.”

A spokesman for Brands Hatch Leisure Group Ltd, which owns Oulton Park, said: “The circuit is fully compliant with all the safety criteria as laid down in the terms of our MSA license.”

The Formula Ford championship, which Shanahan was contesting, is one of the most important training grounds for young drivers pursuing a career in motorsport, and the vast majority of current Formula One drivers, including all the Britons currently at the top level, competed in previous versions of this category.


by Martin Walsh – Irish Examiner – 1st June 1999

Neil Shanahan, one of the brightest prospects in Irish motor sport, was tragically killed in Oulton Park, Cheshire in England yesterday, whilst competing in the fifth round of the Slick 50 Formula Ford Zetec Championship.

The 19-year-old was involved in a three-car collision on the second lap at Clay Hill corner and died as he was being airlifted to hospital.

Neil Shanahan began his motor sport exploits in Junior Karting in 1993, three years later, he finished runner-up to Michael Keohane in the Formula Karting Championship. He was also second overall in the Southern Karting Club Championship and third overall in the Irish Karting Club Championship. The same year, 1996, he was awarded the Philips Trophy by the Royal Irish Automobile Club for the most improved Driver of the Year. Neil made an immediate impact in his move into single seater racing the following year and won the DHL Star of Tomorrow Formula Ford 1600cc Championship. The Churchtown teenager won a total of ten races en route to success. He was also a winner at the Phoenix Park Races in the same category and was the dominant force in the Ford Zetec Championship in 1997.


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