by Andrew Murphy - The Title - 17th January 1999

When Neil Shanahan signed to drive for the Van Diemen works team this year he followed a trail set by Eddie Jordan 25 years ago. Jordan started the Irish invasion of Formula Ford in Britain when he raced a Lotus 61 at the Formula Ford Festival at Snetterton in 1973.

Derek Daly, David Kennedy, Kenny Acheson, Tommy Byrne and more recently Eddie Irvine are among the many Irish drivers who followed the Jordan path and cut their teeth in Formula Ford, the most competitive of the junior classes, to go on to race in Formula 1.

“I’m very excited about the coming year and looking forward to the whole British racing scene. It will be so different to the home scene,” said the red-haired teenager from Churchtown. “I will be a full-time racer for the first time and based in England the whole season. There will be no part time jobs for me so I can devote more time to my fitness programme. It will be necessary for me as the British championship starts at Donington Park on April 5th and takes in 14 rounds and I will also be contesting the Eurocup series taking in about six rounds at European circuits.”

Shanahan joins 18-year-old Australian James Courtney who is managed by Alan Gow BTCC chief executive and expects the third driver will be Riccardo van der Ende who spent the winter helping develop the new car.

“I’m looking forward to my first drive in the new 1999 car,” Shanahan said after signing with Van Diemen at the Autosport International Show last Thursday. “ I learn circuits quickly and straight away expect to be on pace. I know I’ll have no problem keeping up with the front runners throughout the season.”

Shanahan expects the car will be immediately on pace. “It’s a completely new car and considerable time has been spent over the winter developing and testing it. Last year’s championship winning Mygale will still be very competitive and although they haven’t got a new car they have done plenty of testing over the winter so I expect fierce competition between us. Add in teams like Andy Welch Racing, ADR, Haywood and Alain Menu’s new team and it points to the strongest and most competitive Formula Ford championship ever.”

If Shanahan’s hope of winning the championship and the Eurocup comes true, he’s following in the path of Eddie Jordan into Formula 1 although approaching it from a different angle..


by Jacqueline Taylor - Evening Herald - 12th January 1999

At an announcement during the open day of Autosport International Show at the NEC Birmingham, Irish Sporting sensation Neil Shanahan was confirmed as a driver for top team Van Diemen International Racing.

The Deal will see the 19 year old Dubliner, compete in both the British and European Formula Ford Championship. The 1998 “Ford of Ireland” Formula Ford Zetec Champion and current RIAC Dunlop Driver of the year, follows in the footsteps of Irish Grand Prix star Eddie Irvine.

In 1987 the current Ferrari driver drove for the factory Van Diemen team and went on to win British Championships and the prestigious Formula Ford Festival.

That achievement sent Irvine on the road to F1 and is one which Shanahan will be hoping to emulate this season.

Entering only his third season of car racing. Neil has quickly risen to the top of his sport making a name for himself both at home and abroad. Neil will announce full details of his 1999 campaign and sponsors at a reception in Dublin in March before heading off to compete in his first race of the year at Donington Park on April 4th / 5th.


by Declan Quigley - Irish Independent - 10th December 1998

Neil Shanahan, the RIAC Dunlop ‘Driver of the Year’, has confirmed that he will contest both the British and the Irish Formula Ford Zetec Championships next season.

The Churchtown teenager is gearing himself up for a full-time assault on the two prestigious series for up and coming racers after bearing of the challenges of five other nominees to scoop the prestigious ‘Driver of the Year’ award for the second year in a row. Shanahan impressed the judging panel by winning six of the 12 rounds in this year’s Ford of Ireland Formula Zetec series. And following a stunning international debut in the end of year Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch, he is now ready to take his talents overseas on a permanent basis.

The factory Van Diemen Formula Ford team is favourite to land the Bachelor Inn/Palfinger Ireland backed driver who is close to signing a major sponsorship deal with a leading soft drink manufacturer.

The works Van Diemen is the most coveted drive in British Formula Ford racing and, after watching Shanahan startle the British regulars by challenging for a front row position in the Brands Hatch event, Van Diemen boss Ralph Firman is set to give Shanahan the chance to follow Irishmen Michael Roe and Eddie Irvine into the works Van Diemen outfit.

To that end, Firman invited the red haired Dubliner to be a guest at the test session at Le Mans last week, through there was no opportunity for him to drive the car after another driver crashed and rain interrupted the following days running.

At the reception in the Plaza Hotel, Tallaght, to announce the winner of the RIAC Dunlop Driver of the Year, Shanahan was circumspect about where he would be driving in ’99 but he made it clear that he would be focussing on the British and European Formula Ford titles during the coming season.

“I looked at a number of championships including, Formula Palmer , Audi, Formula EFDA and Formula Three, but I think I can make an impact in Formula Ford next year,” he said.

Shanahan will have a cheque for £2,000 form Dunlop and free travel from Stena Line to put towards his budget for next season after scooping the RIAC Dunlop Driver of the Year award for the Walter Sexton Trophy for the second year in succession.

The other nominees for the award were Ray Moore (Formula Vee), Gavin Smith (Fiat Uno), Mark Kershaw (Formula Opel), Matthew Gilmore (Formula Ford), and Brian Hearty (Formula Vee).


by Declan Quigley - Irish Independent - 29th October 1998

Rising star Neil Shanahan thrust himself into contention for a top drive in Britain next season with a scintillating drive in last weekend’s Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch. Dubliner Shanahan, the new Ford of Ireland Formula Ford Zetec champion, travelled to the Kent circuit for the annual festival of international single seater racing with high hopes of a top ten finish. However, while fate intervened to snatch away the chance of a top finish, Shanahan had already done enough to get his name in all the top team managers’ notebooks.

The 19-year-old from Churchtown qualified third for his semi-final of the 100-car knock out event, an impressive result for the privately entered Bachelor Inn Van Diemen RF98. Neil then quickly wowed the racing establishment by forcing his way into second place as the race got under way.

A place on the front row of the prestigious final beckoned as he challenged the leader, Robert Collard, but it was not to be. A fuel pump failure on the normally reliable Michael Merrigan Motorsport machine forced his retirement.

Afterwards, Neil was not too despondent with the outcome, secure as he was in the knowledge that he had made the right impression with the professional racing team managers present.

“Initially I was gutted,” admitted Shanahan, “but the reaction to the weekend has been amazing and I have to say that although I’m sure victory was possible, I’m reasonably pleased with the way it turned out. The Swift and Mygale works teams have each offered me a test and the Van Diemen factory are interested in talking to me, so there’s a very strong chance of me driving with a top team in Formula Ford next year. There;s even been interest from F2000 in the US,” he added.

Top Irish finisher in the festival was Mark McKenna in eighth place, while Shanahan’s Republic of Ireland World Cup team-mates Mark O’Connor and Philip Kehoe were both out of luck. O’Connor spun out of his semi-final after qualifying third while Kehoe crashed out of his heat while lying fifth in treacherous conditions.


John Kenny - Irish Daily Star - 28th October 1998

Mick Merrigan, manager of Irish Formula Ford champion Neil Shanahan, is negotiating a new deal for his driver to move to a full season of international racing. Shanahan will more than likely avoid moving to the Irish Formula Opel series. Ireland’s only slicks and wings class, as he attempts to take his racing career up to another level in pursuit of a possible Formula One drive in the future.

The 19-year-old Dubliner suffered massive disappointment in last weekend’s Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch when his fuel pump failed while in a semi-final second place in his Van Diemen.

However he did enough over the weekend to impress many of the team owners present at the Kent circuit and Merrigan now has a list of opinions for Shanahan next year.

Two Formula Three teams are talking to Shanahan about testing with their team. Alan Docking Racing and the Rowan Motorsport team.

There is also talk that the ’98 Irish champion could move to the States to contest the US Formula Ford 2000 series which supports many of the Champ car races.

The thinking behind that is possibly the fact that getting a drive in Formula One is becoming more and more difficult and that a better option would be to aim for the Champ Car series won for the past two seasons by Alex Zinardi.

“At this moment in time the decision as to where Neil will race next year will have to wait as I work out with his family about were we want to go for ’99” said Merrigan. “I will think about getting him to run in Formula Ford 2000 in America. Irish American companies would hopefully come in to support him for next season. But Europe is the place to race and England especially is the place to go racing next year possibly with one of the Formula Ford teams. A drive in the International Formula 3000 series in two years time is also a possibility. Neil won six races in ’98 and the Irish Formula Ford series is a very competitive class. As a result of that I have every confidence that he can go all the way and race at the very top of international motorsport,” added Merrigan.

Eddie Irvine is the only Irish driver running in Formula One this year while Johnny Kane, Dino Morelli and Kevin McGarrity all ran in the F3000 in ’98 before budgetary problems cut short their seasons. Kane won the Irish Formula Ford Series in 1992.


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