A team of injured servicemen are joining forces to make history on the racetrack – and nothing’s going to get in their way. Team BRIT founder Dave Player and team member Jimmy Hill tell Advance’s Lindsay Cochrane about their high-speed journey so far
When Dave Player set up KartForce in 2010, he knew it would be a success – but he could never have envisaged the level it would go to.
The charity introduces injured Service personnel to the world of endurance karting – giving them a chance to try out the adrenaline-fuelled, competitive sport in a fully accessible environment, complete with advanced hand controls that enable anyone to get behind the wheel and get driving.
But this isn’t your typical whirl round a track on a Saturday afternoon with your mates. Endurance karting is exactly what it sounds like – you’re racing for long stints, sometimes up to 24 hours.
“The whole idea is to let the lads race on a totally level playing field in mainstream karting,” says Dave, a former Army man himself, serving in the Royal Engineers from 1983 to 1988. “So we’ll do anything from two-hour to 24-hour races
at tracks all over the country and even abroad.”
In 2015, some of the men Dave and the team were working with asked if they could move things up a gear and try out endurance racing. Team BRIT was born.
“It’s not a charity – it’s a limited company,” Dave explains. “It’s owned by the KartForce charity, but the reason we set it up as a company is because one of the things we want to do is teach the lads business skills. Karting’s great – and it’s free with us. But the lads are going to have to work for their seat in Team BRIT. And if they don’t work, they don’t race. You could be the best racing driver in the world, but if you don’t work, you won’t race.”
Endurance racing takes driving to the next level. In teams of two, drivers take to the road for long periods, trying to avoid any damage to their car in the process. Until now, the sport hasn’t been an option for drivers with amputations or mobility issues – the push-pull hand controls used in everyday cars simply don’t work for this type of competition. Which is why Dave has come up with an alternative.
“We’ve now got the world’s most advanced set of race hand controls, that allow anybody with a disability to race using their hands only,” Dave explains. “It’s really, really technologically advanced. A normal everyday car has an ECU, a computer. Just the brake system in our hand controls has seven EPUs.”
With the technology in place, the next issue was identifying the talent to take it on. Team BRIT have two cars at present, and four drivers – Warren McKinlay (former lance corporal in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers), Tony Williams (former corporal, Queen Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corps), Andy Searle (former rifleman in the Rifles Regiment) and Jimmy Hill (a serving Royal Marines corporal).
Jimmy, above, is the newest member of the team. The 34-year-old is looking to transition to civilian life this year, following an injury in Afghanistan in 2013. His unit came under fire, and he was hit seven times by a machine gun. Five shots hit his legs, resulting in a fractured femur, damaged calf and damaged sciatic nerve. With the support of Headley Court, he’s made a good recovery – but still has a semi-paralysed ‘dropped’ foot.
“I’m not from a racing background, so it’s been a bit of a steep learning curve,” Jimmy admits. “I was into contact sports, but because of my injury, I can no longer do that. But racing has that competitive edge, it’s a challenge.”
And the biggest challenge is yet to come. Dave and the team have set themselves a mission – to become the first team of disabled drivers to make it to Le Mans, the 24-hour French race hailed as the biggest in the sport.
“We looked at that as a massive, massive challenge,” says Dave. “We know where we want to go. We know how to get there. So we have a four-year plan. This year, we’ve got two cars competing in the Fun Cup series – four six-hour races and a 25-hour race in July. Then, next year, we’ll step up to GT4 racing,
and the year after that, GT3. You can’t just enter Le Mans – you have to qualify.”
And the team are working hard to make that a reality, getting together to train three times a month at tracks across the country. The four men have already formed a strong bond, crucial in the sport
“In the Royal Marines, you are part of a family,” Jimmy says. “And you do lose that camaraderie, the bond, the brotherhood. Being part of a team again is great. You’re surrounded by people in a similar situation. Not just injuries, different circumstances. Good days, bad days, family situations, day-to-day struggles – they get it.”
For now, the focus for all of the men is on training hard – and trying to make history in the process. As well as giving him a new hobby, Jimmy says that racing has helped him in his recovery and dealing with his impending transition to Civvy Street.
“It’s definitely unknown territory,” he admits. “But it’s taking my mind off it. Playing football, you lose yourself. Nothing else matters apart from chasing a ball. And driving is very much the same. You turn up at eight o’clock in the morning, you get your racing brief, then you’re out on the track. It’s a day where you forget the situation that you’re in. It does help mentally. You’re one of the drivers on the track. It gives you a bit of pride as well. I don’t want to just turn up and take a seat, because a lot of people would love to be in my position.” n
To keep up to date with the latest from Team BRIT, head to www.teambrit.co.uk