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From MG to Nissan
Readers may have watched and been entertained by the recent TV series The Long Way Down, in which Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman travelled from John O'Groats to South Africa, on motorcycles.
The duo's back-up team used Nissan Patrol vehicles, prepared and supplied by Oxfordshire's Nissan specialist Bob Neville, the founder of the RJN Racing team based at Denchworth, near Wantage Bob's involvement with motor racing started in the late 1960s when, during his engineering apprenticeship with the Nuffield Organisation, he transferred to the MG Car Company at Abingdon. At the time, Abingdon was the centre of all the motorsport activities for the British Motor Corporation.
"I was very fortunate," said Bob. "John Thornley, who was the managing director of MG cars, encouraged would-be engineers into motorsport and sold me a brand new MG Midget shell for just £5 for use in club racing."
That first MG Midget was built into a race car which Bob drove at all the circuits throughout the UK. He was a little disappointed when during the last year of his apprenticeship a decision was made to close the BMC competitions department where he was working at the time.
In the end however it worked out well, as he was transferred to the development department which was also heavily involved in circuit racing and he ended up driving the well-known works MG Midget 138 DMO in the Freddie Dixon Championship as well as many other races. Results included the occasional win and many class wins.
As it became harder to win outright with the Midget, Bob concentrated on the new MGB GT V8, introduced to the public in 1974.
The first MGBV8 race car proved to be very good. Some early outings resulted in class wins and in 1976, driving with Derek Worthington, eighth overall in the 1000k World Championship race at Silverstone and scoring world championship points for MG, believed to be the last time this happened for the MG Marque.
In 1977, Bob drove the MGB GT V8, built and run by the Stratstone company (as featured in the painting) alongside team-mate Tim Goss. Although this BV8 had more power than the earlier car it was not able to achieve the same success rates but it did finish the Sportscar World Championship round at Brands Hatch.
Bob continued to drive with Stratstone in the Triumph Dolomite Sprint during the British Saloon Car Championship.
In 1978 Bob Neville had a number of outings in the Porsche Carrera RSR and the car in the painting finished in the points during the Silverstone round of the Sportscar World Championship when he shared the car with Peter Lovett.
The preparation of historic cars during the 1980s lead back into motor sport in the mid-to-late-1990s as Bob became the team manager at Nissan Motor Sport, based at Didcot. During his time as manager for the team, of the many interesting races was the 24-hour event at Spa Francorchamps on the Grand Prix circuit in the Belgian Ardennes, where in 1988 his drivers were Oxfordshire residents Anthony Reid and the late David Leslie, driving a Nissan Primera.
When Nissan Motorsport closed in 1999, Bob's company RJN Motorsport continued racing the Nissan Primera and in 2001 had a particularly good season in the FIA European Touring Car championship where the Blue Primera in the painting, driven by Norwegian Tommy Rustad, gained four pole positions, two wins and came third overall in the championship.
RJN Motorsport then became directly involved with Nissan's Rally Raid programme and in 2003 scored Nissan's first Rally Raid victory on the Moroccan Rally with Geniel de Villiers and in 2004 competed in the Dakar Rally with Ari Vatanen, Geniel de Villiers and the late Colin McRae.
From 2004 onwards, RJN has been building the Nissan 350Z race cars - driven by Alex Buncombe, the car in my painting had a particularly good season last year with two second places at Spa and two wins at Nogaro in the European Cup for GT cars.