TIM Birks and lifelong friend Darren Hand will begin an eight-day charity rally through 11 countries on Friday, with the aim of raising thousands of pounds.

Tim, 42, an IT worker of Rycote Close, Grange Park, first got involved with Rally For Heroes two years ago, when he was asked by a friend to tag along for the ride.

The rally will start out from the Top Gear test track at Dunsfold Aerodrome, where 50 cars, with at least two fundraisers in each, will set out on a 3,000-mile journey around mainland Europe.

Each participant must pledge to raise at least £1,000 to secure their place on the scenic drive, with all proceeds going to the Soldiers’, Sailors’ and Airmen’s Families Association.

“It just captures your heart,” said Tim. “You know you are doing your bit, raising a bit of money for them.

“A friend needed a co-driver in 2012, the last time the event was held, and I agreed. “It provided some quite emotional moments going around the memorials of Europe.

“I met a great load of people helping the charity.

“When the opportunity came up again I jumped at the chance.”

Tim and Darren, who works for a car hire company and lives in Haydon Wick, have been friends since they were four, when they met at Haydon Wick Primary School.

The former will act as lead driver in his own lime green Ford Focus RS, with Darren as co-driver. They will each donate more than £1,000 to SSAFA, but must pay out of their own pocket for the trip itself.

An entry fee of £1,500 each pays for nine nights in hotels as well as the ferry crossing they must take. Fuel and food for the eight-day trip comes in on top of that.

There are expected to be some emotional times on the trip, with visits to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest retreat and some jaw-dropping mountain passes in Switzerland.

The 50-car convoy will travel five miles for every life which has been lost in Afghanistan since the conflict started in 2001.

The rally first started out in 2010 when a small group of ex-Army servicemen went on a road trip in aid of Help For Heroes. They raised £32,500.

Two years later £123,000 was raised.

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