by Andrew Murphy - Motorsport - 17th May 1998

Life is hectic for Neil Shanahan at present. The teenager from Churchtown, who sits his Leaving Certificate next month, is finding it hard to combine exam studies with a racing programme that takes up all his spare time.

He swept all before him last season, his first year in single seater racing. His scalps included the coveted RIAC Dunlop Sexton Trophy and the DHL Star of Tomorrow championship. This year he sat down with his parents Liam and Mary and mentor Michael Merrigan before deciding to move up a rung to the Zetec class.

“I had it easy last year scoring nine wins from ten starts compared with this year. The sheer competitiveness of the Zetecs is awesome. I couldn’t believe it when I started in the class,” he said. “All the cars are evenly matched and any one of the four drivers could take the title this year. There is more pressure on you throughout the race. The Zetec is a more physical and faster car to drive and fitness is all important, so I go to Fiarsland Gym every second day to maintain the high level of fitness needed to be a winner. The two races I won this year had Chris Paul behind me all the way. He is vastly experienced and I’m a Zetec rookie yet I beat him”

It is ironic that Chris Paul showed Neil the lines to take at Kirkistown on his first visit to the track last year – and twice the pupil led the teacher home.

“The Irish Zetec class is just as competitive as the British class. Four hundredths of a second separated the first three in qualifying at Pembrey last month. You wouldn’t get much closer in any racing class. My main aim is to win the championship and be in the World Finals at Brands Hatch in October. But the championship is so competitive it could go down to the wire,” said the ginger haired student. “ My plan is to use of the Stena Line travel package I won last year and take in some British rounds. But that can’t happen until after the exams next month. It’s going to be hard as two of those rounds I’m looking at don’t really suit.”

He sees Philip Kehoe, Chris Paul, Peter Walsh and Mark O’Connor as his most serious challengers today.

“I have a reputation to live up to. Having No.1 on my car puts more pressure on me to continue winning. Rest assured no one will be trying harder,” said Neil.

Today is an important day for Mondello park as they mark their 30th anniverary and the opening of the new international 2.25 miles circuit. It will reverberate to the sound of Formula 1 and F3000 cars in the Superprix feature race.

Nigel Greensall is a favourite to take the honours in his Tyrrell-Judd, but he faces a strong challenge from last year’s winner Ron Cummings, Tony Worswick, Paul Stoddart and Rob Gray. Sarah Kavanagh is also listed to drive an F1 Jordon. The battle for F3000 honours will centre on Duncan Gray and Dave Shelton, both in Reynards.


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