Braintree soldier who thought he had died will race at Le Mans

Warren McKinlay with wife Sarah, daughter Katie, 11, and son Frazer, five

Warren McKinlay with wife Sarah, daughter Katie, 11, and son Frazer, five - Credit: Archant

An injured soldier from Braintree who suffered such extreme damage after a motorcycle crash that he thought he had died and was in purgatory will join a racing team at Le Mans.

Warren McKinlay

Warren McKinlay - Credit: Archant

The team of four is set to make sporting history as the first-ever disabled drivers pack to compete in Le Mans.

Warren McKinlay is a driver for Team BRIT, who will start with the Fun Cup in 2017 and progress through the racing series to the finale in 2020.

Warren joined the army in 1999 at 19 and worked as a mechanic. In 2005 the then 23-year-old was in a motorbike accident while based at RAF Honington in Suffolk.

The crash left him with traumatic brain injury, a broken back and pelvis. At the time, his wife Sarah was five months pregnant.

He was diagnosed with “walking corpse syndrome” (Cotard’s) because for 18 months, he believed he was dead.

He believed he didn’t need to eat or speak to his wife and that the injured troops he saw in Headley Court, the military rehabilitation unit where he was being treated, were also dead.

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He said: “I didn’t feel anything, just numbness. The more I saw other guys coming in with their arms and legs blown off, the more I was convinced that we were all dead. My weight went down from 90 kilos to 65 kilos but I always drank tea. There were weeks on end that I didn’t speak to Sarah.

“If anything, it was harder for Sarah than it was for me. I didn’t understand what was going on. I was fortunate my memory of it is sketchy but she saw everything. The doctor told her it was lucky that she was pregnant because I might not be able to give her any more children. It’s really strange talking about it now, it’s like something I read in a book.”

Warren and Sarah had met at junior school and married young. He used his motorbike to get to and from work but he had promised that he would stop biking once they had children.

He says: “The accident happened the last time I was going to ride the bike. By the end of that day my insurance would have run out and I had put my bike up for sale. I was out riding with a friend along a road with awesome, sweeping bends. I hit a tree at 60 miles an hour.

Wayne started to recover his confidence and begin to manage the depression left by the accident after Sarah persuaded him to start racing with KartForce. This was what led him to join Team BRIT.

He says now he wants to help other people: “Because not everyone has their own Sarah.”

“My brain injury means I suffer anxiety. It’s hard for me to concentrate on one single task, which makes it very difficult to get things done. I struggle to process information given to me and get over loaded quite easily.

“Racing has given me an escape from this. As soon as I’m in the car, all of these issues go away and my only focus is driving. I am 100 per cent committed to the challenge we have set ourselves and hope that I can inspire other people with brain injuries or disabilities to try something new and see what they can achieve.”

The team’s four drivers are all former or serving troops who have suffered serious physical or mental injuries and are disabled.

The event was launched at Lloyds in London today with racing legends Damon Hill OBE and Johnny Herbert. The project will be sponsored by insurance giant Brit in a multi-year deal that will kickstart their journey to the pinnacle of endurance motorsport.