Motorsport broadcaster and journalist Larry Carter recalls when some major celebrities descended on Croft in 2007 to watch their kids race – but sadly one famous dad was missing

WHEN it comes to sporting prowess, being the prodigy of a successful parent can either be a help or a hindrance.

If t‘ord lad or t‘ord lass had excelled in their chosen sporting field, then it may help their offspring by opening a few doors or giving them a head start up the ladder of opportunities to shortcut many of the pitfalls which the lesser fortunate may encounter. Nepotism can always be worked to your advantage and sport is no different.

But on the flip side, the burden of expectation can weigh heavily on a young person’s shoulders with inevitable comparisons to their family peers. Barry Sheene’s son Freddie raced under an alias in Australia to save the correlation between him and his rather famous and successful dad, thus the media hadn’t a clue who he really was.

Cricketer Stuart Broad has done particularly well following his England opener dad Chris. Kasper Schmeichel (once on loan at Darlo) and his legendary father Peter. Fellow soccerites Johan and Jordi Cruyff, Cesare and Paolo Maldini, Harry and Jamie Redknapp and Frank and, err, Frank Lampard too.

What about Princess Anne and her fellow Olympic medallist daughter Zara Phillips or athletes Liz and Eilish McColgan? Daughters following successful mums too. Motorsport is no exception and is littered with hereditary ancestral roots.

Rally driver Jimmy McRae and his sadly missed son Colin. World 500cc champions, Kenny Roberts Senior and Junior, Ron Haslam, and World Superbike ace Leon. The Earnhardts, Dale and Dale Junior, both NASCAR legends and even local speedway aces Brian and 1992 world champion son, Gary. If it’s in the blood…

Formula One can boast the names of Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve, Keke and Nico Rosberg, Graham and Damon Hill and, of course, the sad plight of Michael Schumacher, whose very talented son Mick moves into F1 this season.

Back in 2007, the prestigious British F3/GT Championship visited Croft in September with some other famous family connections. Nigel Mansell had won the F1 World Championship in 1992 setting numerous records which stood for many years.

His two sons, Leo and Greg, were contesting the series for Fortec Motorsport that season and as ever, dad Nigel was in attendance at Croft. As British F3 was the main route into F1, the field was both strong and international with 29 drivers from 17 countries including future F1 star Sergio Perez from Mexico. Nineteen-year-old Greg, in only his second season in the class, arrived at Croft having already scored two podiums earlier in the year whereas elder brother Leo had struggled somewhat.

Greg Mansell scored a podium, which pleased his dad Picture: TONY TODD

Greg Mansell scored a podium, which pleased his dad Picture: TONY TODD

With advice from their father ringing in their ears, Greg qualified his two-litre Dallara on row four of the grid with Leo six rows further back but at the end of the opening 24 lap race, Greg scored a magnificent podium behind runaway series leader Marko Asmer from Estonia and Britain’s Sam Bird. Leo drove well to post a tenth-place finish.

However, neither could improve in race two with Greg finishing sixth and Leo in 14th, much to the disappointment of the old man who confessed to me (as I was conducting the pit lane interviews and podiums for the circuit PA) that it had been a bitter-sweet weekend – but race two was a little disappointing for both of his lads. Sadly, both the careers of Greg and Leo petered out over the next few years and didn’t match the heady heights of dad’s success in auto racing. Greg now is a professional cyclist and Leo runs the family car dealership and motor museum in Jersey.

There was another famous face at Croft that weekend watching the progress of the number 37 car driven by Viktor Jensen and that was his dad David. Known as ‘The Kid’ to a generation of Radio 1 listeners, the familiar Canadian accent was as prominent as ever on the pit wall that weekend as I chatted on air with him too. Viktor, Icelandic courtesy of his mother, retired in the opening race before finishing last of the 23 drivers in race two and he too faded into obscurity a year or two later.

That wasn’t the last of the famous dads who had a presence in North Yorkshire that weekend, only this one was sadly not there in person. Freddy Hunt was competing in the British Formula Ford races on the track where his F1 world champion dad James had a lot of success 40 years previously. However, the season went from bad to worse for the youngster, who retired in both races and after a couple more years in the sport, and under mounting pressure to perform, he hung up his helmet in 2009 and left the car world behind. He was planning a comeback at Le Mans last year until you-know-what struck so it may not be the last we’ve seen of him on the track.

Freddie Hunt was out of luck that weekend Picture: TONY TODD

Freddie Hunt was out of luck that weekend Picture: TONY TODD

The aristocracy was also represented at Croft with Lord Paul Drayson partnering local ace Jonny Cocker (who lived in the Teesside area for a while) in the Barwell Motorsport Aston Martin DBRS9 in the British GT Championship races. Drayson was a member of the House of Lords as well as being a serving cabinet minister in Gordon Brown’s Labour Government at the time. With the evolutionary biofuel technology running the car, the pair scored a podium in the Sunday race after finishing fifth the day before.

Middlesbrough aces Paul and Dan Gibson were also competing in the GT races in their Team Berlanga Ascari and claimed an impressive seventh on Sunday after retiring during Saturday’s race. Bill Addison from Yarm was also in action during the weekend, and he scored a best result of eighth place in the Caterham Superlight Challenge at a track he would go on to enjoy lots of success over the following years.

Touring Car ace and now ITV commentator Paul O’Neill, who is nearly as famous for having Spice Girl Melanie C as his half-sister, was also competing that weekend as too was future Le Mans winner Nick Tandy. And talking of Le Mans, the winner of both GT races that weekend at Croft alongside Hector Lester was Dane Allen Simonsen who tragically lost his life at the 2013 event on only the third lap.

Just goes to show, you never know who you’ll bump into next.