Matters of Moment, October 2012

We’ve been inspired this summer by athletes from all nations in both the Olympic Games and the Paralympics, not just for the gold medals and world records won, but also for the spirit in which they were chased. Cynicism and economic gloom were briefly parked as Britain basked in the glow created by genuine people achieving extraordinary things. It was totally infectious and so refreshing for a sporting nation usually obsessed by the grubby antics of selfish, millionaire footballers.

Such wholesome inspiration is all too rare, but every now and again motor racing can throw up the odd example, too. Take Mission Motorsport, a charity dedicated to the recovery and rehabilitation of those affected by military operations. In September it’s sending a trio of brave servicemen into action of a different kind, as they race a Nissan 370Z in the Britcar 24 Hours at Silverstone.

James Cameron, a major in the Royal Tank Regiment, is the director of Mission Motorsport. He returned from his tour of Afghanistan in May last year and has since worked tirelessly with colleagues who have come straight from Headley Court and Tedworth House, the centres dedicated to injured servicemen and women.

“I saw 10 per cent of my squadron return from tours with life-changing injuries, the most obvious being amputees,” he says. “The change in confidence we see in those taking part in the programme is incredible. It could be any sport, but in this case motor racing is making the difference.”

Even more than Olympians, these men manage to be both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. Trooper James Gillborn, 23, served in the Royal Lancers, Princess of Wales Regiment and is a veteran of Afghanistan. In June last year he stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device) and his injuries forced doctors to amputate his right leg below the knee.

Martyn Copleston, 22, was also injured in Afghanistan while serving with the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment last year when the ‘Warthog’ armoured vehicle he was driving hit an IED. The crew escaped with their lives and ‘Copey’ has since made a full recovery, to become Mission Motorsport’s irst racing driver to gain his National B licence.

The third member of the team is Sergeant Gary Dunning, who has been in the job for 20 years. After serving in Iraq, Gary was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2004. “He was responsible for recovering the bodies of British servicemen killed in action,” Cameron says, “and was then seriously injured in a motorcycle accident.”

All three men are now using motor racing to rebuild and kick-start the rest of their lives. Mission Motorsport was only launched on March 1 this year, so the trio, with no previous racing experience to draw on, have been up against it to prepare. “One of them, Jimmy, had to prequalify for his licence by doing four sprint events because of the nature of his injury,” says Cameron. “We’re now giving them as much experience as we can in different cars, including the 2CV 24 Hours at Snetterton, plus simulator time at Darren Turner’s facility in Banbury.”

As Cameron admits, the Britcar 24 has grown beyond its ‘clubbie’ foundations. It’s our own Nürburgring 24 Hours and the Mission Motorsport boys are determined to make the grid on September 22. Whatever the team’s fortunes, their stories are already far beyond the worth of any gold medal.

A week ahead of the Britcar 24, the Goodwood Revival promises a feast as sumptuous as any we have tasted since racing returned to the Sussex circuit in 1998. The AC Cobra 50th anniversary celebrations, marked in this issue, will be topped by a dedicated race for the Anglo-American racers – speaking of which, it’s always a joy to see Dan Gurney, the honoured star of the meeting. But it’s the Silver Arrows that should steal the show. Will Goodwood yet again provide the highlight of our motor racing year? We suspect it will.

In August, something else drew me to Goodwood – and it’s Lord March’s best-kept secret. The Goodwood Road Racing Club open day was held this year on a warm and sunny Sunday as the Olympics drew to a close. Next year, look out for it. Goodwood doesn’t promote it heavily because it is essentially a day for GRRC members, but entry is free for all and the members’ cars on show outside the house will captivate you. There was everything from a bright orange 1979 Chrysler Horizon, of which apparently only four survive in the UK (rust must have done for the rest) to the last of the 50 Jaguar XJR-15s ever built. Families picnicked on the lawn among classics of every era, and typically the car park was just as fascinating as the collection in front of the house.

To find out more about the club and its events, email [email protected] or call 01243 755057. Subscriptions aren’t cheap and there’s a two-year waiting list to join, but members tell me the FoS and Revival ticket discounts are enough to justify the price.

He came to work here by mistake, as Richard E Grant’s Withnail almost said, but somehow he never got around to leaving. This summer it occurred to us that deputy editor Gordon Cruickshank must be approaching the 30-year mark at Motor Sport, although he couldn’t be sure himself. So we checked with former editor Simon Arron, who’d started at Bonhill Street just a few weeks earlier. Yes, Simon confirmed: a youthful, red-bearded Scot had indeed pitched up in August 1982, having applied for a totally different job – and was pitched straight in, more or less single-handedly running a magazine that commanded the respect of the automotive world. He had zero publishing experience at the time.

Three decades and 360-odd issues later, GC barely raised an eyebrow when we told him it was a landmark we thought worth noting. But he agreed to join us for our latest online audio podcast and, in his deadpan way, left us chuckling with tales of life at Standard House under the Green ’Un’s ‘ (un)holy trinity’:Wesley J Tee, Bill Boddy and Denis Jenkinson.

If you can spare an hour, visit our website and listen in. You’ll enjoy it. The deputy ed’s contribution to this magazine has been, and continues to be, immense. As my predecessors would echo, I don’t know what I’d do without him. Thank you, GC.

Once you’ve listened to the podcast, stick around and click the ‘Hall of Fame’ tab at the top of the homepage. You’ll discover a treasure of articles on the greatest names in our sport, as we continue our digital expansion and ramp up our preparations for what promises to be another glittering Hall of Fame event next February. More news on this anon.

You’ll also discover our latest online poll to join in with, too. Last month we asked who you think will win this year’s Formula 1 World Championship. Emphatically, you answered Fernando Alonso. Lewis Hamilton just edged Mark Webber as a distant second-favourite for the title, but most remarkably more of our online readers reckoned Kimi Räikkönen a better bet than Sebastian Vettel. As we discuss on page 16, predictions are futile this year, but in the spirit of good-natured debate I’ll stick my neck out: I’m going for a Vettel hat trick. But would I put money on it? I’m not that daft.

Damien Smith