A military veteran from Torquay who suffered extreme injuries while serving in Afghanistan will be joining a team aiming to race their car at the legendary Le Mans racetrack.
Andy Searle, 24, is a driver for Team BRIT, a motor racing team of disabled ex troops – who are on the road to making sporting history thanks to a new sponsorship.
On Thursday the team announced that insurance giant Brit Insurance will support them in a multi-year deal that will kick start their journey to the pinnacle of endurance motorsport.
At a launch event, the team is also supported by patrons and Formula 1 legends, Damon Hill OBE and Johnny Herbert.
Team BRIT aims to be the first ever team of all-disabled drivers to compete in Le Mans in 2020, a feat they will achieve after progressing through racing series starting with the Fun Cup in 2017.
The team's four drivers are all ex or serving troops that have sustained serious physical or mental injuries and are disabled.
Andy, a former rifleman in the Rifles Regiment, was just 19 years old in 2011 when he was injured by an explosive device while serving with 1 Rifles in Afghanistan.
His unit had been tasked with providing outer protection during the search of a village when he was hit by the explosion.
As a result of the blast, Andy lost both legs, part of his right hip and the index and middle finger on his right hand.
Andy spent five years in Headley Court Military Rehabilitation Centre before returning to his home in Torquay and has undergone more than 50 surgical operations.
A keen petrol-head with a life-long passion for motorsport, he accepted Team BRIT's invitation for a trial at Silverstone and has never looked back.
Andy, from Barton, said: “After my injuries, I never felt I would be able to compete in sport again. The nature of my disability means that it's difficult for me to drive usual racing cars as I struggle to hold myself upright. KartForce karts and the team BRIT cars are designed in a way that allows me to drive comfortably.
“The steering technology means that when I'm racing a team BRIT car I'm on the same level as every other driver. My disability is forgotten, it's just about driving ability.
“This is something I never thought I'd have the chance to do. Joining Team BRIT has given me a focus, something to challenge and inspire me, and something I can be proud of."
The drivers compete against able-bodied drivers on a completely level playing field. Advanced hand control technology allows drivers with injured legs or feet to compete.
The team is a branch of KartForce, a charity set up to inspire, challenge and motivate injured ex-troops through motorsport. It aims to show injured military personnel that they can achieve what they never thought possible, that they can compete at the highest level, and to equip them with a wide range of personal and professional skills through understanding the business of motorsport.
Team BRIT's season begins on Saturday April 8 at the opening race of the Fun Cup series at Silverstone and will take part in the Fun Cup series beginning at Silverstone in April, including the 25 Hour endurance race at Spa-Francorchamps in July 2017.
The team has now acquired two Fun Cup cars, numbers #158 and #312.
As each driver acquires the knowledge and experience required to progress through motorsport, the team will continue to aim higher to get ever closer to Le Mans. They aim to move to racing in a GT4, then a GT3 before they reach their endurance racing target.
Andy's team mates are:
Tony Williams, 32, from St Helens in Lancashire, who was shot six times whilst serving as a medic in Afghanistan in 2010. Whilst giving life-saving treatment to an injured soldier he was attacked by gunfire and and suffered injuries including a broken hip, torn bowels and a broken spine, paralysing him from the waist down. Despite a prognosis of paraplegia and having less than 5% chance of fathering children, Tony can now walk and is the proud father to two children.
Jimmy Hill, 34, from Bournemouth who was shot five times in the leg whilst serving in Afghanistan as a corporal in the Royal Marines. Jimmy has made a full recovery but lives with a semi-paralysed 'dropped foot'. He is still serving in the marines but based at Headley Court Military Rehabilitation Centre.
Warren McKinlay, 35, from Braintree in Essex who was involved in a motorbike collision in 2005 whilst serving as a recovery mechanic in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. Warren suffered a broken back, broken pelvis and traumatic brain injury resulting in him suffering from 'walking corpse syndrome', making him believe he was dead and living in purgatory.
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