Billions watch businessman at Dakar Rally

WHERE ARE WE?: Justin Birchall (far right) with his navigator Tom Neathway and Road2Recovery crew

WHERE ARE WE?: Justin Birchall (far right) with his navigator Tom Neathway and Road2Recovery crew

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A GLOBAL television audience of one billion people have seen a Hapton businessman hit top gear in the world famous Dakar Rally.

Justin Birchall, operations director at Birchall Foodservice in Hapton, crossed the starting line of the world’s toughest motorsport event as part of Race2Recovery – the first disabled team ever to enter the rally.

The team mostly comprises British and American servicemen who have been wounded in action, and has set out to prove that serious injuries are no barrier to achievement, and to raise money for the Tedworth House Personnel Recovery Centre in Wiltshire.

Justin said: “This really is the race of a lifetime. I’m loving every minute of it and I’m now realising why we needed so much training before we came out here. It has been invaluable.”

The team has entered four Wildcat rally raid cars into the race, which spans 15 days and 5,000 miles. Justin’s navigator is triple amputee Tom Neathway, a member of the Parachute Regiment since 2001 and a veteran of tours of Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tom said: “It’s all a bit surreal. We’ve had so much attention – spectators want our autograph and just about every news agency in the world wants to talk to us. It’s nuts – a heck of a lot bigger than I thought it would be.”

A host of celebrities have sent good luck messages to the team, including Olympic and Paralympic superstar Oscar Pistorius, England rugby captain Chris Robshaw, Dame Kelly Holmes, Robbie Williams and Theo Paphitis.

The Dakar Rally covers 9,000km over 15 days on a route through Peru, Argentina and Chile. Only 40% of those who enter finish the race. The first day of the race involved a 187km road stage plus 13km through the Peruvian desert, where one of the team’s cars became stranded.

Justin has been cheered on back at home in Middop, near Gisburn, by wife Louise and daughters Courteney, Sigourney and Alicia.

You can follow Justin on Twitter @Dakar_Justin and follow the team at @race2recovery. You can also make a donation online by visiting http://justgiving.com/Justin-Birchall.