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.


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