NEIL CUNNINGHAM: 1962 – 2016
A smile was never far away from Neil's face on a race weekend – Photo: Jakob Ebrey
The BRSCC is saddened to hear of the passing of former racing driver and Club member Neil Cunningham following his battle with Motor Neurone Disease. Neil was seen by many as one of the nicest and most genuine figures in motorsport throughout his 27 year career and beyond.
Born in New Zealand, he eventually made his way over to the UK, where he began racing in touring cars and single seaters, flitting between Formula Ford and Formula Renault. A win in the World Teams Cup at the Formula Ford Festival in 1992 helped him push forwards, as well as a spell as Indian Formula Ford champion.
A move into our own V6 Eurocars followed in 1995 which soon saw him as champion a year later before progressing to the short lived V8 class in 1997. Cunningham decided to make the move into GTs and sports cars in 1998, competing in the British Marcos Mantis Championship and a selection of French GT rounds before settling into British GT in 1999. Neil ended up competing in a vast range of machinery, starting in a Chrysler Viper before taking to the wheel of a GT2 Porsche and a Morgan Aero 8. The switch to a Corvette with Embassy Racing was made in 2004 where he was partnered throughout the year by former BTCC privateer Paula Cook, ex-Top Gear “Stig” Ben Collins and Richard Hay.
The team changed to a Porsche in GT2 for 2005 with Collins driving the full campaign and with wins at Knockhill and Silverstone, Cunningham did enough to become overall British GT drivers’ champion. Another switch quickly beckoned as Neil then made his way to the Beechdean Motorsport outfit in the Ferrari 360 Modena Challenge in the GTC class, seeing him drive alongside Nigel Greensall and now multiple British GT champion Andrew Howard. Neil also brought his British GT career full circle in a Viper in 2007 in his final year in the championship.
During this time Cunningham had begun to develop his GT career in Europe with sporadic appearances in FIA GT with RJN in their Nissan 350Z, a return to the Morgan, a solitary race in the Balfe Motorsport Saleen S7-R and finally the Jaguar XKR GT3 in 2007. Neil was also prominent at Le Mans, progressing through the GT ranks until eventually landing himself drives in the LMP2 class with Barazi Epsilon in the 24 Hours and a reunion with Embassy Racing in ELMS in their Radical.
He was also brilliant to watch aboard a historic racing car, particularly shining at the wheel of a 1957 Jaguar D-Type in the Woodcote Trophy 500 at Silverstone, claiming a stellar victory and setting fastest lap along the way. After his racing career, he briefly took his talents to the silver screen as one of the High Performance Drivers for the James Bond film Quantum of Solace in 2008, along with stunt driving duties for Top Gear Live events.
Other one-off highlights included appearances in DTM, the American ARCA stock car series and the ASCAR/SCSA Championship here in the UK, runs in the 24 hour races at Spa, the Nürburgring and Bathurst, the sole Interactive Sports Car Championship race at Donington in 2001 and the Radical World Cup.
After being diagnosed with MND in 2010, Cunningham worked hard to help raise funds for research into helping treat and hopefully eventually curing those who suffer with the disease. Setting up Racing4MND.org in conjunction with the Heaton-Ellis Trust, Cunningham helped to raise over £100,000 for the charity.
Tributes have already come through from friends, colleagues and drivers as they pay respects to a man who was not only incredibly likeable but also a real talent behind the wheel and at times was spectacular to watch. On behalf of all its members and those involved with the Club, the BRSCC wishes to extend its deepest and sincerest thoughts and condolences to Neil’s immediate family of his wife Rachel and his children Bo, Teddy and Jaime, along with his friends and colleagues at this difficult time. He will be sorely missed in paddocks across the motorsport community.
If you want to help Neil’s cause, then you can head to the website Racing4MND.org to find out how you can support and even donate.