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.


Leave a Comment