Sean Edwards: England's first winner of the Nürburgring 24 Hour Race
Wednesday 16 October 2013
Sean Edwards, who has died aged 26, was a motor racing driver who in May won the Nürburgring 24 Hour race with his Black Falcon team, the first Englishman to do so. At the time of his death, in an accident at the Queensland Raceway in Australia, he was leading the Porsche Supercup series and had been expected to win the championship.
Edwards was born in London in 1986, the son of Guy Edwards, the Formula 1 driver who had famously rescued Niki Lauda from his burning Ferrari following a crash at Nürburgring in 1976. With the sport in his blood, by the age of 11 he was racing go-karts and joined a team to drive in the French Karting Championships. Wanting to get into real cars as soon as he could, Edwards drove for Formula Ford during the 2003 season and with Formula Renault UK the following year. In July 2005, aged 18, and just after finishing his "A" levels, Edwards tried a Porsche 996 at Silverstone. He was instantly hooked and went on to win the GP2 hour British GT event at Silverstone a month later.
His father introduced him to the Tech9 Motorsport team, where he found immediate success. Phil Hindley, founder of Tech9 Motorsport and Edwards' former manager, told The Independent, "Working with Sean was the highlight of our career here. He raced with us in 2006 when we were very successful and won the FIA GT3. He was an amazing guy and amazing driver. He had been racing in the Formula Renault Series and decided he wanted a career in GTs. I was managing him for a couple of years until we struck a deal with the Porsche Supercup. He was a fabulous character and everyone he met only said good things about him."
Edwards entered the Porsche Supercup series, the most competitive Porsche series in the world, in 2008, and had taken part every year since. After second places in the Porsche Carrera Cup last year and the previous year, and an 18-point lead in the Championship, he had been on target for victory in 2013.
In January he and his team won at the Dunlop 24 Hours of Dubai and had followed it up in May with a win at the Nürburgring 24 Hours, one of the most gruelling races in the sport, together with his colleagues Bernd Schneider, Nicki Thiim and Jeroen Bleekemolen. They brought in their Black Falcon Mercedes SLS 2min 39sec ahead of the closest rival, making Edwards the first Englishman ever to win this race.
Edwards was one of the first professionals to make use of – and support the development of – "sim racing", training drivers using computerised simulators, similar to those used in flight training. Sim racing has gone on to become a sport in its own right. Also away from the track, last year Edwards played the role of his father during the filming of Ron Howard's Rush (2013), which portrays the fierce rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt.
Edwards was a passenger in a Porsche 996 taking part in an informal practice session at Queensland Raceway in Willowbank, Australia, when the car hit a tyre wall at 130mph and burst into flames. After two hours of efforts by rescue services he was declared dead at the scene. The driver of the car, Will Holzheimer, was taken to hospital with serious burns.
Martin Brundle, the former racing driver with Benetton, McLaren and Jordan, said via social media, "Terribly sad news re the death of Sean Edwards, a very talented racer ... Motorsport can be too cruel." The Motor Sports Association said: "Sean was a hugely promising young racer who came through the junior formulas in Britain, before making a career in international sportscar racing."
Allan McNish, a three-time winner of the Le Mans 24 Hour Race, also paid tribute, saying "This was a breakthrough year for him. He was showing what talent he had, but had maybe never had the opportunity to actually display it. Apart from that, he was a guy who loved life, loved racing, loved cycling, was strong and fit. He was just a really nice, young guy who was making his mark on the sport, and socially a really good guy to be around."
Sean Edwards, racing driver: born London 6 December 1986; died Willowbank, Queensland, Australia 15 October 2013.
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