2017 has been the year I began my career at Overtake Motorsport as their Formula E correspondent. And what a year of highs and lows the motorsport world has provided us with.
For me, the highest moment was Lucas DiGrassi taking the Formula E title in Montreal. The lowest moment was, undoubtedly, the passing of MotoGP champion Nicky Hayden, who has been a hero to me for many years.
But one moment, above all others, has shone brighter than all others and I believe it to be the most inspirational motorsport moment of the year.
On the 16th of April, the Formula 4 grid were racing at Donnington Park. The conditions were tricky, to say the least, with the young-guns battling slick tyres on a wet track. With 15 minutes left of the race, 17-year-old, Billy Monger was trying to charge past his nearest competitors when a stationary car, on the racing line, stopped him in his tracks.
All racing fans know the horrors that unfurled. Monger lost both his lower legs as a result of the impact. But the achievements of this young Brit, over the 8 months that followed, are the stuff of legends.
But who is Billy Monger? – or Billy the Whizz as he is affectionately known. Gatwick born and bred, Monger has been karting from an early age. After a successful Ginetta Junior career, Monger made the move to Formula 4 in 2016.
Monger spent just two testing sessions behind the wheel of the JHR Developments car before he managed to throw himself to just three tenths of a second behind the fastest time. Once his first F4 season began, Monger had secured three podium finishes in no time at all.
Billy was quickly making a name for himself in the world of single-seater racing and he had caught the attention of many bigger and better teams. This guy was on a path to incredible things.
And incredible things are certainly what Monger has achieved this year. It just hasn’t been following the path we all expected it to.
After spending a month in hospital, recovering from his injuries, Monger made his intentions for the future plainly clear. “I’ll be back racing as soon as I can. All the support just makes me more determined.” was the statement he made to the media.
And it only took Monger 11 weeks of recovery before he found himself behind the wheel again. Monger completed a testing session at Brands Hatch, in July 2017, with Team BRIT who specialise in getting disabled service men behind the wheel. This test gave Monger his first experience of driving a race car with steering wheel mounted controls.
Just days after receiving his prosthetic legs, Monger was able to take part in his charity walk at Brands Hatch, during the BTCC race weekend. He was joined by around 1,000 people as he walked 200 metres of the track, all in aid of the Air Ambulance, who played a key role in helping Billy in the aftermath of his accident.
Monger’s lasting achievement will be the changes to the FIA rulebook that he has enforced. Previously, no disabled driver was allowed to compete in any single seater racing championship. However, this is no longer the case thanks to Monger’s hard work and dedication to the cause.
This change in ruling has allowed other drivers, who also face an uncertain future within their sport, to fight with their fellow competitors once again.
So, what does the future hold for Monger? His intentions to race have been made very clear. But he has commented that “I’m not 100% committed to anything yet”. Monger explains that his team are “just looking at different options to see what’s best for me in the future. There’s a lot of work involved in what’s going on with my own rehabilitation, but that’s all going well, so hopefully we’ll be back out on track soon.”
Monger has expressed a wish to join Frederic Sausset in his target to reach the Le Man 24hr. Sausset is hoping to bring together a team of disabled racing drivers to compete in the world-renowned endurance race in the near future. Undoubtably, Billy would be a phenomenal addition to such a team.
Billy Monger has been a true inspiration to countless motorsport fans and future racing drivers everywhere, including myself. And yet, his outlook remains simply grounded and beautiful.
“People keep saying I’m the inspiration,” Monger explained, “but I think all these people coming together to support someone who has gone through an accident like this, they’re the true inspiration.”
Feature Image Credit: “Billy Monger’s first day back behind the wheel of a race car at Brands Hatch“