A CYCLE challenge by former British Touring Car Championship racer Paul O’Neill to raise vital funds for Halton Haven Hospice has raised £24,250.

The cancellation of a fundraising walk across Morecambe Bay in late June due to the coronavirus pandemic left Halton Haven Hospice facing a shortfall in vital funds.

Paul has been a long-time supporter of Halton Haven after they cared for his late brother and decided to try and do something to help - asking seven friends to join him on a 2,000 mile cycle ride covering the same distance as the 250 people who would have taken part in the Morecambe Bay event.

Team O’Neill initially aimed to raise £2,500 but that target was soon raised to £5,000 - a figure that was quickly surpassed after one local resident donated that amount in its entirety.

The challenge over 77 days, was split into eight sections of 250 miles. With participants in England and in Switzerland each section has taken over nine days.

Supported by celebrities from the motorsport world the last leg has begun and he will be joined by team members and GT driver Rob Bell for the grand finale.

Paul said: "As the final leg starts it really has been an incredible journey for everyone involved. We set out to raise what we could for the Hospice but the by-product of this has been new friendships, community spirit and love.

As the ride has gone on, a number of guest riders have joined the team to complete 25 miles in support including racing drivers Jade Edwards and Jack Goff, Olympic cyclist Chris Hoy and Paul’s sister former Spice Girl Melanie C. TV commentator Steve Rider even auctioned some of his most prized possessions from a long broadcasting career to boost funds.

Paul will now be completing a further seven rides of 25 miles before takes a short break from action ahead of a grand finale on Sunday, June 28 - the day that the Morecambe Bay walk was due to take place.

That finale will see Paul and three of the original Team O’Neill members cycle the 75 miles from Morecambe back to Halton Haven Hospice alongside championship winning GT driver Rob Bell, who will be the latest guest addition to the line-up. Rob is cycling in memory of his nan who passed away in a Hospice in the North East.

Mark Rowse, originally from Widnes, but now living in Switzerland will complete the Union Cyclist Internationale at the same time as the team are completing the final leg in the UK. Mark is riding in memory of his mum who also used the services of Halton Haven.

Paul added: "We set out to raise what we could for the hospice but the by product of this has been new friendships, community spirit and love.

“Let’s give it the final it deserves.”

Fundraising Lead, Ann Hedley said: "Paul and the team have done an amazing job. The Halton community and the motorsports community have truly come together to raise almost £25,000. That’s an incredible amount of money for us. We’re a small charity and this is actually a game changer for us. I can’t thank them enough."

The full cycle route can be found at: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/33021139 and people are invited to clap them on from the pavement along the route back to the hospice, with social distancing regulations being adhered to.

To donate to Team O’Neill’s challenge, visit the JustGiving page at: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/paul-o-neill29.