It has been announced that the widow of motorsport legend Barry Sheene will fulfil a role her husband had been invited to perform last year, but was too ill to do; wave the chequered flag as the winner crosses the finish line in the Australian Grand Prix.

Two-time world 500cc motorcycle champion Sheene lost his fight with cancer at the age of 52 last March 10, the day after the 2003 Australian Grand Prix.

"I'm not a person who seeks the limelight, but I was very touched when the Australian Grand Prix Corporation invited me to wave the flag at the end of this year's Formula One race in Melbourne," said Stephanie Sheene. "Motor racing was Barry's life and passion and he had been looking forward to this honour last year, but unfortunately he wasn't well enough to do it. I'll feel very proud and humble to 'do the honours' for him on March 7.

"I was shocked when Ron Walker (chairman of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation) rang me with the invitation, but it was very touching," she added. "It was lovely, and when I had time to think about it I felt a sentimental sense of duty to do it."

The Sheenes came to Australia from Britain in the late 1980s and settled on Queensland's Gold Coast.

The racing superstar's huge popularity grew even further through his television commentary, initially on SBS, then Channel 9 and finally Channel 10 when it became the "home of motor sport" in the mid-1990s.

Sheene was as much at home in the Formula One Paddock as among the MotoGP community. He mingled with all the stars from both sports - many of the younger ones had grown up worshipping him, he was a contemporary of others and just as much admired by older generations for the profile he gave motor sport.

Thousands of motorcycle riders remembered Sheene in a 300km ride last October from Bairnsdale in regional Victoria to the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix at Phillip Island, where they rode a tribute lap.

Sheene's world title-winning Suzuki bikes from 1976 and '77 were displayed at the Phillip Island track, and thousands of commemorative pins bearing his famous No. 7 were sold to raise money for cancer charity CanTeen.

Stephanie Sheene was delighted at the response then and is now looking forward to playing her part in the Australian Grand Prix.

So the obvious question is who she expects, or hopes, she will greet with the chequered flag after more than 300 kilometres of racing at Albert Park on March 7?

"I've got to say Jenson Button, because he's the favourite driver of my daughter Sidonie, son Freddie, and I," Stephanie said. "Jenson's a friend and it would be lovely to wave that flag as an Englishman won his first Grand Prix. He's been going very well in testing in Europe (with the BAR team) and Barry would be so thrilled to see him win.

"I'd love to see Mark Webber, the Aussie, do really well, too - especially as he's racing for Jaguar, a great British name," Sheene continued. "But I'd also be very happy to see Michael Schumacher win again because he's just the superstar."

Stephanie will take her place on the high platform beside the start-finish line in the closing stages of the 58-lap event.

Previous flag-wavers at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne have included Sir Jack Brabham, Alan Jones, Mick Doohan, Peter Brock, Bob Jane and last year Olympic 400-metre gold medallist Cathy Freeman.

 

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