Anglesey circuit feels like it’s on the edge of the world. Situated on cliffs overlooking the Irish Sea, there is nothing to prevent the wind from whipping in and chilling you to your bones. However, over Remembrance weekend I was there for a purpose and a worthwhile cause. I am a supporter and volunteer for Mission Motorsport, the Forces motorsport Charity. Their aim is to use motorsport as a stepping stone for Wounded, Injured and Sick former Armed Forces personnel to develop civilian skills with a view to having rewarding careers in the automotive industry. In addition to the obvious scars of war (missing limbs, paralysis, brain injuries), many of them carry mental health issues such as PTSD. Regardless of their infirmities, they find purpose and develop confidence through learning and applying new skills, and adapting their valuable military abilities to a new field.
Throughout the year, they expand and apply their technical knowledge (Mission Motorsport have their own training facility), and take part in many race and track day events. This extends to competing in 24 hour races, attending stunt driving schools, and some fortunate beneficiaries will pass through ARDS training to become licenced racing drivers.
The culmination of all their efforts is the Race of Remembrance, held over Remembrance weekend at Anglesey Circuit in North-West Wales. The centre point of this is a 12-hour endurance race, split into two 6-hour segments on Saturday and Sunday, with the Sunday session being halted just before 11am for a Service of Remembrance in the pitlane. In addition to this, they entertain visiting former military personnel by giving high-speed passenger rides in various sports and supercars (“Supercar Saturday”) around the twisting and scenic coastal circuit. Organising and running such an event is a major undertaking, so they need plenty of volunteers to turn up and get stuck in. It was for this reason that I climbed in my car and headed to Wales for the weekend. My assigned tasks centred around the Supercar Saturday part of the event, but I was available to assist with many sundry tasks to ease the burden of the full-time staff. In addition to British Military members, the race teams and beneficiaries were joined by their Canadian and US counterparts (the North American organisation is called “Operation Motorsport”).
The Heroes Dinner on Friday evening was a definite highlight of the weekend. Two of the MM beneficiaries spoke very well, with heart-wrenching descriptions of what they’d been through. The first speaker was in the RMAC (Royal Medical Auxiliary Corps), assisting in daily surgeries on people with horrific injuries. Another was an RAF flight Engineer on Chinooks, ferrying soldiers into battle and bringing back the wounded, dying and dead. Neither of them had personally walked into minefields or ambushes, but they carried unimaginable injuries and scars that working with Mission Motorsport had helped to heal. It took extraordinary courage for them to get up there and bear their souls, and it took everyone by surprise. The love and camaraderie extended to them by their comrades was also beautiful to see. I just about managed to hold it together, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear than none of the 300 people in there went through the evening without shedding a tear or two.
Qualifying for the main race took place on Friday evening and Saturday morning, followed by the 2 minute Armistice Day silence at 11am. Straight after this, it was time for 3 hours of Supercar Saturday. 30 cars turned up, with a diverse selection of engines from turbocharged four cylinders right up to a V12. McLaren were kind enough to provide 3 of their press vehicles I was supposed to be helping people in and out of cars and fastening harnesses, but ended up marshalling customers, helpers and cars in and out of the Pitlane. One of the Canadian volunteers asked if he could help, so I asked him if he knew how to fasten race harnesses. “No, but I was a parachute setter for the Airborne” was a sufficiently reassuring answer…
Canadian and British volunteers strap Beneficiaries and Marshals into McLarens during Supercar Saturday
Once that part of the day was finished and all the helmets tidied away, there was enough time to join the Gridwalk and see the start of the race. After viewing some of the action at various points around the circuit, I finished off the evening in the pit garage, watching the Honda CR-V and Citroen C1 teams complete the first half of the race and pack everything away for the night. There was a definite feeling that things were going well, although the C1 mechanics had to do some emergency repairs on the rear brakes. On the other side of the garage, the second C1 had suffered an engine failure, so they decided to fit the spare. This took them until 4am on the Sunday, but they were back in the race!
On Sunday morning, the race re-started at 9am, and all the cars stopped on the pit straight at 10:45, so everyone could gather under the control tower for the Remembrance Service. It was very unusual to be conducting it surrounded by military people in race suits, but it was a very poignant, emotional and effective act of Remembrance.
The race resumed at 11:15, and was completed at 3:30pm. Watching how the Mission Motorsport teams coordinated and worked seamlessly together was quite a sight to behold. Their motley crews of inexperienced and injured men and women had become dedicated and flawless professionals. The C1 team had a bit of a problem with the brakes catching fire during what should have been their final stop, but their never-completely-give-up attitude meant that they were very keen to push it across the line (uphill, with one of their drivers sitting on the roof). What a great bunch.
The prize-giving was fun, with armoured vehicle track links (NOT TANK) being handed out as prizes, along with dog tags. And champagne.
What a weekend. What an experience. I am very much in awe of the people and accomplishments of Mission Motorsport, and I will certainly take time to help out when and where I can in whatever capacity I am required.