By Dave James – Eastern Daily Press – 1st June 1999

The Norfolk motor racing community was in mourning last night after Hunstanton driver Neil Shanahan died following a 100mph three car collision at Oulton Park.

The Irish-born teenager, widely regarded as one of the most promising racers in the business, died on his way to the hospital after being airlifted from the Cheshire track where he was competing for the Attleborough-based Van Diemen team in the Formula Ford Zetec championship.

An investigation was launched into the accident which took place on the second lap of the 12-lap race in front of a 25,000 crowd which included the 19-year-old’s mother and father who had flown over from Dublin for the event.

It is understood his car went off the track at Clay Hill where the drivers would have been building up to their 120mph top speed.

Jon Williams, motorsport brand manager of Ford of Britain, which sponsors the championship, said: “Medical officers were called immediately to the scene where it was discovered that Neil had suffered a massive trauma which included a cardiac arrest. He was resuscitated at the scene and immediately airlifted to the Countess of Chester Hospital, but tragically died before arriving. The cause of the accident and subsequent injury has yet to be established, this was a deeply tragic incident and our thoughts are with Neil’s family, friends and team at this moment.”

The race was eventually restarted and ironically won by Shanahan’s teammate. Attleborough-based Ricardo van der Ende.

Yesterday’s fatality was the third racing death at the Cheshire track in the last decade. Paul Warwick, brother of former Formula One ace Derek, was also killed at the venue in a Formula 3000 race in 1990. Richard Rodgers, media and promotions manager for the championship, paid tribute to Shanahan, who lived on his own at Hunstanton, having moved to Norfolk from Ireland to pursue his career.

He was in the first season in the event having excelled in kart racing in Ireland in the early 1990s, as well as winning the Ford of Ireland Formula Ford title and the Irish Formula Ford Zetec crown last year.

“He was a very popular driver. The mood here is very sombre and very sad,” said Mr Rodgers. “All the drivers have become very good friends. Neil had ambitions to enter Formula One. He died doing what he loved. Motor racing was always his dream.”

Mr. Rodgers went on: “I got to know him very well. Neil was the sort of guy everyone warmed to and he was very genuine, always willing to stop and chat. He had his best result in the last round of the championship at Brands Hatch, when he finished fourth, and was also named the Motoring News Race Ace. He was really chuffed about that and his spirits were very high for the rest of the season.”

Team boss Ralph Firman, who founded the Van Diemen team 25 years ago, was told of the tragedy and was returned to his Attleborough home last night from the United States. The team has always been regarded as a training ground for the stars of the future.

“It really is a plum drive,” said Mr Rodgers. “They have been the best cars. Eddie Irvine used to race with them back in 1987.”

The conditions at Oulton Park yesterday were dry and sunny which boosted a crowd drawn to the circuit to witness the popular British Touring Car Championship.

Shanahan’s other teammate, James Courtney, who finished fifth yesterday, also paid tribute.

“We got to know each other very well,” he said. “He was a really nice bloke. But what has happened hasn’t hit me yet.”


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