Free Wheels - February 1999

Ralph Firman of Van Diemen confirmed 19 years old Neil Shanahan would drive for the works team this year. Firman has kept a watch on the young Dubliner since he first took the racing scene by storm in 1997 – the year he took the Formula Ford 1600 title and the prestigious Dunlop RIAC Sexton Trophy as the Driver of the Year.

He moved up to the senior Formula Ford Zetec class last year and won six of the 12 championship races to take the title and with it the prestigious Sexton Trophy Award for a second year.

In addition to the Trophy, he received a generous support package from Dunlop, Stena Line and Castrol, allowing him to race in Britain.

Neil follows in the footsteps of Eddie Jordan, the first Irish driver to race regularly in Britain 25 years ago. He will try and emulate the success enjoyed by Ferrari F1 driver Eddie Irvine who drove for the works Van Diemen team in 1987 and going on to win the British championship and the Formula Ford Festival that year.

Van Diemen’s decision to sign the Churchtown teenager came as a result of a strong showing at the Formula Ford festival in Brands Hatch last October.

“I’m very excited about the coming season. Going on my Festival performance, I know i will be on pace straightaway and will be able to keep up with the front runners, even though they have more experience of the British circuits.,” said Neil. “I will be a full time racing driver for the first time this year, with no part time job to pay for my racing. As a result, I will be spending more time working on my fitness. I’m under no illusion, but this year will be very tough in the Formula Ford. I expect it will be the strongest Ford championship for years. There are several teams which will give the Van Diemen works team plenty to work for but, I’m confident of matching the top runners and getting the results.”

Neil’s season starts at Donington Park on Easter weekend and will take in all the British championship rounds, as well as the Euro Cup, which is expected to visit Mondello Park at some stage during the year.


Sportswrite - February 1999

Neil Shanahan is the young kid on the block, a fresh faced teenager yet to face the pitfalls of first class professional sport but brim full of enthusiasm, talent and no little confidence.

The carrot topped 19-year-old from Churchtown has hogged the limelight so much in domestic single seater racing in the past two years since he made the step up from karts that some people have been heard to wonder whether it was justified.

Is he really as quick as his glowing press reports suggested, his rivals wanted to know. Well every time the question has been asked, Shanahan has responded on the track with blistering pace and much marked upon racecraft.

He’s twice been voted Dunlop Driver of the Year for the Sexton Trophy after winning the DHL Star of Tomorrow Formula Ford 1600 championship and the Ford of Ireland Formula Ford Zetec championship. He won six races to his nearest rivals two in last year’s Zetec series and, if he did have to wait until the last round before clinching the title, then he did it in style with a convincing in front of live TV cameras at last September’s Leinster Trophy meeting.

Then he went to the prestigious Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch, a knock out tournament of races for 100 of the world’s best Formula Ford racers. It’s a big meeting in the careers of aspiring F1 drivers which has been won in the past by current F1 star Eddie Irvine and Johnny Herbert while other Irish drivers on the role of honour include Derek Daly, Michael Row and Tommy Byrne. It was Shanahan’s first venture in big time racing and he did not disappoint.

Having qualified on the second row for his semi-final he stunned the factory outfits in his privately run Bachelor Inn MMM Van Diemen by forcing his way into second place where he was challenging for the lead and a front row start for the final when his fuel pump suddenly failed.

No matter, the point had been proven. The team managers of the factory outfits were suitably impressed none more than Ralph Firman, the boss of Van Diemen, who ran the incomparable Ayrton Senna in his early days.

Shanahan is now set to follow in his footsteps and those of Irvine and Roe, having scooped the plum drive in the Van Diemen ‘works’ team in the British Formula Ford Zetec championship this year. It’s a big break and he knows it but Shanahan is not lacking in confidence or discipline. He knows what he has to do.

“It was a fantastic year last year, couldn’t have been better. There was a lot of hype after last season and I must admit I did feel a little pressure to justify the expectations. But I think in a way it helped me because what I did last year, winning the championship and then being voted Dunlop Driver of the Year for the Sexton Trophy I was under pressure to live up to it and I think that pushed me even further. If I was just some guy coming out of Formula Ford 1600 who hadn’t won I’d maybe have taken my time to get used to Formula Ford Zetec but with the reputation I had then people were expecting me to win the races so I just got out there, did my best and it worked.”

The expectations will not stop there. Thanks to the double Driver of the Year award Shanahan is the most hyped driver to leave Ireland in some time. Well balanced and determined he seems well placed to deliver on the promise. Whether he can go all the way depends on him and the imagination of the right people in corporate Ireland.


by John Kenny - Irish Daily Star - 17th March 1999

Driver Neil Shanahan perhaps the brightest Irish motor-racing prospect since Eddie Irvine has launched his 1999 season, where he will contest the British Formula Ford Championship.

Shanahan (19), from Churchtown in Dublin has been signed up by the works Van Diemen team, an outfit that are expected to challenge for the overall drivers title.

The Dubliner will team up with Richardo Van Der Ende of the Netherlands, who is in his second season in the UK series, and James Courtney of Australia, the double world Karting champion.

Shanahan started racing in 1993, in junior karting, and by 1996 had risen to Formula A where he was second overall in the Irish National Championship. In 1997, it was apparent that Neil had the talent to go further and he raced in the Star of Tomorrow Formula Ford 1600 Championship. His championship success gave Neil Shanahan the distinction of being chosen as the 1997 Dunlop Driver of the Year.

Last year Neil moved up to the ulta-competitive world of the Ford of Ireland Formula Ford Zetec series with the Mick Merrigan Motorsport outfit.

A season-long battle with the likes of Chris Paul, Philip Kehoe, George McAlpin and Mark O’Connor meant the series went down to the wire in the last round of the championship.

There, before the RTE Live TV cameras, Neil stamped his authority on the ’98 season with a win to cement a brilliant year and to earn yet again the Dunlop Driver of the Year accolade.

In between Neil went to the Formula Ford Festival and World Cup at Brands Hatch last October where he made the semi-finals but suffered a blown fuel pump at the end of the opening lap – which possibly cost him a place on the podium.

However, he had done enough to convince Van Diemen that this driver was to be taken seriously and he was offered the ’99 drive in the works car.

The car and driver are now good enough to win the British Championship and hopefully, will be a springboard to a successful motor-racing career.

The new Irish circuit motorsport season gets underway at Mondello Park on Sunday with the 1999 Ford of Ireland Formula Ford Zetec Championship.


Lifetimes - 7th May 1998

Irish motor racing fans may soon have a real Dublin hero to support in Formula 1.

For while Dalkey is already home to two of motor racing’s biggest stars, Eddie Irvine and Damon Hill, south Dublin could have a Formula 1 star it can call its very own. For Churchtown teenager Neil Shanahan, 18, is this year taking the Formula Ford Zetec Championship of Ireland by storm. Neil, who drives for the Mick Merrigan Motorsport team, has won two of the five races completed to date and lies in joint first position in the champion.

This type of success is nothing new to Neil, however as in 1996 he was the Irish Formula A Karting vice champion and last year he was the recipient of the RIAC Dunlop Driver of the Year Award, as well as becoming the Formula Ford 1600 – DHL Star of Tomorrow champion.

“I take motor racing very seriously and have the ambitions to go as far as I can and hope someday to make it into Formula 1” Neil says.

Neil is currently studying for his leaving certificate in St. Mary’s College, Rathmines, but still finds the time to practice in his bid to win the championship.

“I go to the gym every second day to keep myself as fit as possible and I get in two days of practice before every race” he says. “After my leaving cert I would like to go to Britain to compete in the races over there and it is possible that by next year i will be competing in a championship of some sort in Britain.”

In the meantime, however, Neil is just concentrating on the next race in the Championship of Ireland in Mondello Park on Sunday may 17th when he will endeavour to take outright lead in the championship.

“It should be a great day at Mondello next week, and it could be made even better if I manage to win the race.”


by Matt James - Motorsport News - 24th May 2004

It was a sunny day, and there was a huge crowd as there inevitably is at Oulton Park for a British Touring Car Championship event. The racing was good – another factor that the Cheshire venue never fails to deliver.

Despite the pressures of it being a Bank Holiday Monday – which means Motorsport News journos have to write copy in a handful of minutes to catch the evening deadline for the paper- it was an enjoyable day. Until the Formula Ford race, that is. I was near the pita rea, ready to rush to my keyboard when the chequered flag fell and file my report.

The race began,and the jostling pack disappeared around Old Hall corner to begin the second lap. It was only the fifth meeting of the 1999 season on May 31 and a Zetec pecking order had yet to be fully established. Ricardo van der Ende’s Van Diemen was fighting with Nicolas Kiesa’s Mygale to establish who was the man -and which was the chassis – to beat

Then things went quiet. The red flags were shown, and the cars filed back to the pits -all except those of Neil Shanahan, Craig Murray and Greg Caton. A friend, who was watching around the back of the circuit, phoned me and told me there had been a serious accident and that I should tell my editor the race report would be late. Shanahan, who was only 19,was released from his works Van Diemen by medics and taken to Countess of Chester hospital. He was pronounced dead on arrival.

I’d only met Neil on a handful of occasions -at a few tests and at the opening five races. Despite this, the warm and laconic Irishman was immediately approachable with a welcoming smile and a spark in his eye. I could already count him as a good friend. We’d built up a working relationship – which meant we’d started taking the piss out of each other. His vibrant ginger hair was usually the topic; and we’d struck a bet that as soon as he won his first British championship round, I would shave off my (very slightly) ginger goatee. After he’d led his first British round at Donington Park in April, I was sharpening my razor …

Sadly, it never happened and a career that had already shown so much promise ended there at Oulton Park that afternoon.

Neil’s name lives on through the annual award for the Overall winner at the Formula Ford Festival. It’s an accolade he would have been one of the main contenders for later that season. To any one who had the good fortune to spend time in his company, there is so much more to remember him by.

Of course it is shocking when anyone when anyone is killed taking part in the sport we all love – and it is particularly painful when it is someone close. I had been to race meetings where people have perished before, but this accident seemed to be one of the cruelest of blows.

Walking into a silent paddock that afternoon,l snuck into the Van Diemen awning. Van der Ende was sitting alone on a pile of tyres and weeping. You don’t see racing drivers cry. And that’s the point I stopped caring about the oppressive deadline. A friend had been taken away.

This journalist will not forget Shanahan – and, five years to the week since he passed – he is still very much in our minds.


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