Touring car challengers join trackside tribute to fallen heroes

Soldiers from 2 Royal Tank Regiment are trained to trundle over every type of terrain from muddy plains in Germany to the deserts of Afghanistan – but had to tread warily when they lined up on the grid at Thruxton race track this weekend.‘Tankies’ from the regiment’s reconnaissance troop based at nearby Tidworth camp brought a Scimitar Light tank to meet leading drivers from the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship and thank them for their support of the Afghan Heroes charity.

Corporals Kevin Embleton from Newcastle, Daniel Hinchcliffe from Hull and Adam Creese from Weston-super-Mare also paid tribute to former comrade Lee Scott, who was killed in action in July 2009 while serving with 2RTR during its last deployment to Afghanistan.Lee’s mother Denise Harris is a founder member of Afghan Heroes, which supports troops returning from Afghanistan as well as the families of the fallen.  RSM Pat Burgess from Wells – who was Lee’s sergeant major during his last deployment – said the troops had brought their eight-ton Scimitar light tank along rather than their 70-ton Challenger II main battle tank to avoid tearing up the tarmac at Thruxton.RSM Burgess said: “We were delighted to be invited down to Thruxton - although the lads were a bit disappointed they weren’t allowed to take the Scimitar for a test lap or two! “We all remember Lee and all the other personnel who have given their lives in Afghanistan. For us this is personal.”Military charity Afghan Heroes were selling branded items and collecting donations during the latest rounds of the British Touring Car Championship, which were held at the circuit over the course of the weekend.Leading British Touring Car Championship drivers including Gordon Shedden from Fife, Tom Onslow-Cole from New Malden, Tony Gilham from Dartford in Kent, Adam Morgan from Whalley, Lancashire and Ginetta GT Supercup front-runner Andrew Richardson from Grantham took time out of their race preparations to meet and greet the troops – and take a closer look at one of the army’s oldest runabouts.In service since the 1960s, the three-man Scimitar is the eyes and ears of the UK’s armoured regiments. An upgraded version of the Scimitar with uprated armour protection against the daily menace of IEDS - is still in the thick of fighting in Afghanistan and is expected to remain in service until the end of the decade.Fitted with a Cummins BTA 5.9 diesel engine the Scimitar is capable of around 60mph and returns a few miles per gallon depending on conditions.Driver Corporal Kevin Embleton said the semi-automatic six gear Challenger II’s fuel consumption was reckoned in gallons per mile rather than the other way around. He said: “The Scimitar takes a bit of know-how when it comes to getting behind the wheel and is actually more difficult to drive than a Challenger. For a start if you go over a bump you feel it, you have to know when to manoeuvre and when to change gear if you want to avoid stalling it.“Everything is done for you in a Challenger and the controls have more in common with the track cars than the Scimitar  - the gunner’s grip is practically identical to a PS controller.”The Scimitar lined up on the track alongside Andrew Richardson’s Ginetta G55, Gordon Shedden and Tony Gilham’s Honda Civics, Tom Onslow-Cole’s BMW and Adam Morgan’s Toyota Avensis – although any resemblance to the road-going versions of the cars is purely coincidental.The Richardson race team is running three cars in the Ginetta GT Supercup this season, all bearing the Afghan Heroes livery. Up and coming driver Andrew Richardson said the charity was close to his heart as his father Group Captain Gwyn Richardson had served with the RAF in many of the world’s conflict zones. Afghan Heroes founder Denise Harris said she had been delighted with the support from both the BTCC teams and the troops from Tidworth.She said: “It was great to see the racing drivers climbing into the Scimitar and I know the lads from 2RTR enjoyed a closer look around the touring cars.”Thruxton marketing manager Ben Norton said they were hoping to organise a special thank you event where the troops would be given a chance to experience the thrills and spills of the fastest racing circuit in the country. Afghan Heroes provides support to troops on the front line, those returning and the extended families of those who have fallen. They hope the event will help raise the profile of the charity which is now planning to open a post services facility where wounded soldiers will be able to re-train, helping them adjust back in to the community and to a normal civilian life.

For further information or to donate please visit http://www.afghanheroes.org.uk