24th March 1962 - 1st November 2013
Friday 1st November 2013, Vince Michael Mitchell
- known to most simply as either 'Bobble' or
'Vinny' - passed away after a lengthy battle
with cancer. He was universally considered
to be one of the kindest, most genuine and
open people in the intense and stressful world
of motorsport, and he will be sadly missed.
was born in 1962, but his passion for motorsport
wasn't really kindled until 1976, when his
uncle took him to spectate at a stage of
the Texaco Tour of Britain. It was
a mixed stage that gave the fourteen year-old
a taster not only of the grit and gravel of
rallying, but also his first sight of
circuit racing. In his own words, "It
was brilliant, and I was hooked for life!"
lived then at Newbold Verdon, just a few miles
from Mallory Park in Leicestershire. He started
to cycle over to the circuit whenever he could,
just to catch a glimpse of the cars, either
testing or at weekend race meetings.
"The first event I remember watching was
a round of the Super Saloons series. Seeing
the likes of Gerry Marshall throwing 'Baby
Bertha' (a legendary V8 engined Vauxhall Firenza)
round the track was simply awesome."
did well at Market Bosworth High School, and
armed with a generous handful of GCSEs, went
on to take his City
& Guilds as a Motor Vehicle Technician
at Charles Keene College, Leicester. He started
his career as an apprentice mechanic in 1979
at a local Mazda dealership, fettling road
cars, and worked his way up the ladder. He
moved on to become Service Manager at Robinsons
Garage in Leicester. These were all jobs
like any other, but servicing a Mazda Luce
or the occasional RX-7 wasn't exactly where
his heart lay. Vince wanted to get involved
in the pacier world of motorsport.
so many engineers, he also fancied his chances
as a driver, and between 1989 and 1993 he prepared
and raced a Talbot Sunbeam in Super Road Saloons
and Modified Production Saloons. He wasn't
half bad at it either. In those five years
he finished twice as overall Champion, and
three times he closed the season as runner-up.
was enough to get him noticed, and to open
a few doors in a new career path. Vinny joined
Andy Rouse Engineering, helping to prepare
the team's Ford Sierra and Mondeo racecars
to a series of wins in the British Touring
Car Championship. He moved from there to take
up the position of Second Mechanic at Audi
Sport UK, where he stayed long enough to
make his Le Mans debut, engineering the team's
Elleray-designed R8C coupé for the 24
Hours in 1999. It was while he was
there that he also acquired the nickname of "Bobble",
initially from Yvan Muller - a reference, apparently,
to Vinny being "a bobble hatter" because
of his extensive knowledge and passion for
anything to do with cars.
arrived at Ray Mallock's Wellingborough
outfit in February 2000 during an exciting
time for the company. RML was in the process
of developing a brand new supercar for Saleen
in America, and would go on to perfect the
Saleen S7 - not only as a high performance
road car, but also as a very competitive GT
racer designated the Saleen S7-R.
worked on the development side of the Saleen
project, and spent most of his time in the
company's workshops in Wellingborough, but
he also found time at the weekends to help
engineer Michael Mallock to the youngster's
first title in the 2000 National Supersports
Championship at the tender age of 17.
2001 Vince was moved more permanently trackside,
and worked on RML's entry in
the European Le Mans Series. The #41 Saleen
S7-R, entered in the GTS category that season,
won four out of the season's seven races (driven
by Bruno Lambert, Ian McKellar Junior and Chris
Goodwin), and paved the way for the link-up
with Mike Newton and AD Group. Vince, though,
was moved sideways in 2002 and 2003,
and assigned to engineer
RML's venture into ASCAR racing, coaxing Kelvin
Burt to second in 2002, and then engineering
Ben Collins to a dominant title win in 2003.
It was Vince's first season working with The
Stig, but it wouldn't be his last.
the meantime, RML's involvement in GT racing
had developed into a two-car squad contesting
the FIA GT Series, with Tommy Erdos and Mike
Newton pairing up for the first time in a Saleen
S7-R. Vince joined the squad for the Le Mans
24 Hours in June 2003, and set out upon a path
that would see him become Number One mechanic
for Mike and Tommy for a total of five
in 2003 Mike Newton purchased the first of
what would eventually be both the ex-works
MG Lola EX257s and instructed RML to prepare
the car for competition in the newly-created
Le Mans Endurance Series. The car would make
its debut that autumn in the 1000 kilometres
at Le Mans.
(still proudly wearing his Audi Sport UK wooly
hat!) would engineer the car, not only for
that first race, but also through the following
year's full season of the LMES. That included
the 24 Hours at Le Mans in 2004 where the car,
moved from the LMP675 class to LMP1, would
be quick, but ultimately fragile.
following year, 2005, saw the team return to
the 24 Hours with the MG Lola EX264, and win
the LMP2 class. Vinny was there, and he was
back again in 2006, taking special delight
in not only helping Tommy, Mike and Andy Wallace
to a successive class win, but also by being
a member of the RML crew that picked up the
prestigious ESCRA award for best technical
assistance at the 24 Hours.
Le Mans twice, and being part of the team that
won the ESCRA award, was very, very special," he
admitted. It would remain among the highlights
of his career.
left RML for three years at the end of the
2006 season, first moving to Spain to become
for the Ascari resort racetrack, and then returning
to the UK to take on the role of chief mechanic
at Gary Pearson Engineering.
saw him preparing Jaguars and Ferraris to race
in historic championships, as well as Michael
Schumacher’s B192 Benetton, but
while he evidently enjoyed the work, he hankered
to be back at the cutting edge. He returned
to RML in 2010, initially part-time (to assist
the team at Le Mans), and then full time, resuming
his role as Number 1 to Mike and Tommy, and
seeing them through to the Le Mans Series LMP2
title in 2010.
would be the final year of the RML AD Group sportscar
programme, and Vince was there all the way.
He remained as Number One to Mike and Tommy,
but was also especially pleased to be reunited
with Ben Collins once again. He was later chuffed
to bits when he discovered that he'd earned
a mention in Ben's book about his life as The
Stig; The Man in the White Suit.
"How cool is that!" he said.
the end of the sportscar programme, Vince moved
across to RML's highly successful Touring
Car squad, and a close association with yet more
World and British titles followed.
this period - and in the years since - Vince
faced the additional challenge of being diagnosed
with cancer. He underwent a first operation
in the summer of 2010, and scans
in the months that followed suggested that
the procedure had been successful. Regrettably,
it was a reprieve that lasted less than a
year. Despite the prognosis,
Vinny remained for ever cheerful, good humoured
and, above all, generous. He will be sorely
missed, but very fondly remembered. Our thoughts
are especially with his parents and family,
his son Michael, his grandchildren, and
"It was a very sad day to hear that Vince Mitchell
had passed away after losing his fight with cancer.
The world is a lesser place without him, and
he will be missed by many - especially all those
that worked and shared successes with him."
"We were all so pleased to see him back at RML,
coping so well with every challenge ahead of
him, working on the cars he loved, with the people
who loved him around him."
“Vinny was my Number 1 for almost the
entire time that I drove for RML. When Vinny decided
to move to Spain, I was really sad that we would
be going racing without him. I knew that he would
miss racing with us terribly. It's what
he lived for. I have never met a person in our sport
with so much passion for his job. Vinny simply
lived for his racing."
was no one who could touch him on a pit-stop
wheel change. He was so fit and extremely fast.
I never forget one time at Le Mans when the Team
was practicing pit stops in pit-lane and one of
the lads was trying so hard to keep up with Vinny
on the wheel changes that he made himself ill.
The crew practiced
all morning and the lads were all very tired,
but Vinny was in his element!"
is especially hard to accept that someone so
committed to his fitness would be struck so heavily
with this dreadful disease...Just not fair..."
trust I had in Vinny as my Number 1 was
such that no matter what obstacles he had to
overcome to get the car prepared, I knew he would
not release it until he was satisfied the
job was done properly and the car was ready to
win again. This gave me so much confidence that
I was always willing to push it to the very limit.
We had a start-line accident in Istanbul,
when the car was struck by an over-enthusiastic
Frenchman trying to win a six-hour race in the
first corner. The damage was substantial, and
most teams would have retired the car, but not
Vinny. He and the rest of the crew got on with
the job and we were ready to go
racing again just 45 minutes later. I radioed
and asked; “ Is
the car repaired to your satisfaction?” The
reply came back; “Yes, it is good to
go, Tommy!” I
went out and set fastest lap of the race on my
second flying lap (or was it the first?).
The car was simply perfect."
have lost a dear friend and a Le Mans Champion,
and the motor racing world has lost one of the
best race car mechanics in the business. Vinny's
dedication and passion for his chosen profession
have been an inspiration - to me and all the
RML crew who have had the privilege to work with
him. His legacy lives on with young Adam Hughes,
who was his protégé and is now
a highly rated No.1 mechanic for RML. Vinny
passed on his high standards to Adam and I’m
sure it rubbed off on everyone who ever worked
you Vinny, you’ll be sorely missed. I’ll
always think of our winning years together as the
best of my life. Rest in peace my friend.
first met Vinny in 2003 when the time had come
for me to "turn left" for a
living in the European Ascar Series. The car
resembled a tractor at first sight and the thought
of hugging concrete with it at 180mph was daunting,
until I met the man in charge of the machine.
expression: "you could eat your breakfast
off it" applied to every car that Vinny's hand
graced. The racecar positively glistened and it
went like a ballistic missile. His attention to
detail knew no bounds, he worked tirelessly and
his enthusiasm fuelled everyone around him. Thanks
to Vinny, who was also a "golden gun" when it came
to wheel changes, his car won nearly every race
Vince came to Le Mans with the rest of the RML
family I wondered how his enthusiasm would endure
over 24 hours. Well . . . the glint in his
eye never dimmed, and his soul was completely
at home with the people who shared his passion
for competition and the place that put resolve
to the test. I will really miss Vinny. He was
a true friend and, as he might have said about
something he really admired: he was "the bollocks".
Norstrom, AD Group:
"We are very sorry to hear Vince Mitchell has been
taken so soon by the cancer we hoped so much he'd
beaten. He had an infectious enthusiasm for the cars,
the sport and winning in the face of adversity we
all shared through the highs and lows of the LMP
programme. Most of all, Vince's warmth and kindness
will be sadly missed."
photos (unless credited otherwise) by Marcus Potts.
Please click thumbnails for enlargements.