A warm and slightly damp welcome to Silverstone, where for the next sleepless hours TopGear.com is following Mission Motorsport as they attempt to conquer the Britcar 24 Hour with the help of Nissan and RJN Motorsport.
If you saw Jeremy, James and Richard’s attempt at the Britcar in 2007, you’ll already know Britain’s biggest endurance race is a grueling and emotional test for the most resolute of teams. But for Mission Motorsport, it’s something more. Mission is entirely crewed by serving and former service personnel, many of whom have suffered life-changing injuries in the line of duty.
Well, we say entirely. This weekend they’ve made their job even tougher by inviting TopGear.com to join their pit crew. That’s me. Following TG’s somewhat emotional TV film in which the boys, supported by the Stig (some say that where he comes from, “days” are two weeks long - so a 24hr race isn’t exactly a hardship…), achieved their third-in-class result after a clutch of turbulent hours, they’ve got high hopes I might be some use. Unfortunately, my mechanical knowledge hovers between ‘dangerous’ and ‘non-existent’.
Unlike the Mission guys. The team are using motorsport as a catalyst for the rehabilitation of wounded servicemen. Mission was started by Major James Cameron, a petrolhead who wanted to do something for his lads who’d been severely wounded in the line of duty. If there was such a career as “professional great bloke”, Major Jim would be a shoe-in. He thrives on finding opportunities for his beneficiaries - and if his current successes are anything to go by, British motorsport will be entirely militarized by 2020.
And with the Britcar, Mission are definitely diving in at the deep end. The charity didn’t even exist a few months ago, and three of the five drivers only received their full race licenses - necessary for them to compete at a professional level - a month or so ago. And one of them only has one leg.
So let’s meet the team. 23-year-old Tpr James “Jimmy” Gillborn stood on an IED in Afghanistan in June 2011. After doctor’s advice, Jimmy’s right leg was amputated below the knee. Though he’s able to drive the team’s unmodified 370Z, he’s unable to roll his ankle, which means switching from the accelerator to the brake requires a deliberate and time-consuming effort. L/Cpl Martyn “Copey” Copleston’s vehicle struck an IED towards the end of his first tour - leaving him a severe laceration to his right leg. Now declared fully fit, at only 22, he’s Mission youngest pilot. Sgt Gary “Gaz” Dunning started his military career in 1991, and has toured the Falklands, Iraq and Northern Ireland. Gaz suffers from severe post traumatic stress disorder, although he’s regaining confidence quickly with Mission’s help.
If they’re showing any pre-match nerves, I can’t detect them. Unlike me. I really don’t want to let these guys down…
Words: Tom Harrison
Pictures: Tom Harrison / Mission Motorsport