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The luckiest man alive, Part II

Submitted by on August 22, 2011

nothing leftMartin Donnelly’s accident at Jerez in September 1990 should – he admits – have taken his life. Thankfully it didn’t.

If you haven’t read part one already please click here. The trauma that he went through on that Friday means that his memories of the weekend are limited, but the people around him at the time build a great story.

First of all there is Ed Devlin from the infamous Ed’s Café at the Snetterton race track. “Ed normally fed all of the works Van Diemen drivers over the years,” says Donnelly, “including myself.”

“When I moved to England to race Formula Ford, I found some lodgings in Attleborough, close to Snetterton,“ he continues, “and we went to Ed’s for food. Ralph Firman and Ayrton Senna brought the guys together – people like Tommy Byrne, Roberto Guerrero, Roberto Moreno, Mauricio Gugelmin, basically anyone that drove for Ralph and Van Diemen.

“There was nothing else to do in Attleborough except go to Ed’s café and eat with the mechanics and play Space Invaders! That’s how I got to know Ayrton – at Ed’s.”

Having fed superstars of the future, Ed and Martin became friends, and he was a guest with his wife Jenny of Martin’s at Jerez that fateful September weekend.

Donnelly: “I’ve been told that we got on the Camel bikes with Ed and Jenny on one, me and my fiancé Dyanne on the other, and we did a lap on the bikes on Thursday. I was saying ‘this corner is second gear, this will be third gear.’ And we stopped towards the end of the lap and I said “this will be the best place for you all to watch, because you can see most of the track from here.

“So they went there to watch qualifying,” Donnelly adds. “Another Snetterton guy, Roberto Moreno was with Ed, as he had missed out in prequalifying with his EuroBrun earlier that morning.

“They are there watching, saw the crash right in front of them, saw me lying on the track. Ed was trying to get over the fence to come and help me. I’m told Roberto was saying ‘no, no, no, leave him alone he’ll be fine’. Just that thought makes me laugh….” smiles Donnelly. “Ed is a stocky well-built guy, and remember Roberto is the size of a school kid!”

Moreno remembers it well. “Yeah I was at the corner. I was looking at him all the way through. It was amazing because I saw he was coming, so I followed him all the way around the loop. I saw him from the slow corner, and coming up through the gears, and he was absolutely flat towards us, and then I could see he didn’t turn, and the engine did not stop. As a driver, I was driving with him almost with my eyes. I had seen that he had not turned before the corner and was on full throttle. The moment he didn’t turn, my breath stopped completely, because I knew what was going to happen next.

“I just saw this explosion, bits and pieces flying everywhere,” Roberto continues. “I saw him lying on the ground, and I closed my eyes, because I actually thought he was dead. That’s why I didn’t want Ed to go over the fence. I knew he was his good friend, so I convinced him not to go. I just turned away because I thought that was it. I had to walk away.”

Donnelly takes up the story: “Ed told me over dinner months later, that after they flew me to hospital, word came back that I was ok, severely injured, broken legs, but ok. ‘Martin’s alive’.

“Ed said to Roberto in the paddock after they got the news, ‘that’s so good – well not the broken legs – but just that he is alive….’

Roberto: “It’s true. Ed told me that and I said to him ‘no f***ng way…’ Because I was sure he was dead.”

Ed Devlin was Martin Donnelly’s best man at his wedding in 1991, months after he had survived the crash.

Come back for part three on Martin’s recovery, and do not miss part 4 with Senna’s comments and interview on it all – and a brilliant qualifying lap.

by Andy Hallbery

Read part one here

Read part three here

Read part four here

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