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.


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