Eastwood's star quality set to land leading role
It's been over a decade since Eddie Irvine was challenging for the Formula One world title, but Ulster may now have another driver racing right to the very top.
Teenager Charlie Eastwood is blazing a trail across Europe and America, taking karting by storm.
The south Belfast youngster is already a world karting champion and is set to make the switch to cars.
Eastwood's bid to win European and British karting titles recently got off to a superb start with victory in the opening round of the Euro Max Challenge in Genk, Belgium.
Building on a remarkable year in which he triumphed at the Rotax Grand Finals – the karting world championships – in Portugal in December, the 17-year old from Four Winds carried his rich vein of form into 2013 with victory last month in the Florida Winter Tour.
The prestigious series attracts entries from 28 different nations and takes place over three rounds from January to February.
Eastwood faced stiff competition from 60 drivers – including ex-F1 star Nelson Piquet Junior – in Palm Beach, Miami and Ocala.
Eastwood – who drives for Sheffield-based Strawberry Racing – then took the chequered flag in Genk.
The globetrotting youngster was soon back at the wheel of his Italian-made Tony Kart, putting points on the board in the opening fixture of the prestigious Super One championship at one of Britain's fastest circuits, Three Sisters in Manchester.
Eastwood managed third overall, with 10 races remaining until the finale in October.
"It's been a great few months," said Eastwood (right).
"Winning the Grand Finals was a dream come true and to do it wearing the colours of Ireland was extra special.
"I was invited to take on nearly 60 other drivers in America off the back of my victory in Portugal which was an amazing experience," he explained.
"Everyone knows the connection that exists between Ireland and the USA but I was still surprised by the response I got in Florida. It was like being a rock star!
"Everyone was so welcoming, enthusiastic and helpful.
"Even when I beat their top drivers they kept on cheering for me."
As a result of his success in the States, Eastwood is considering building his career over there when he graduates from karts to cars.
"There is such enthusiasm and passion for motorsport over there and I think my being Irish could be a big help.
"I am proud to represent both parts of the country and would like to be a brand ambassador for Irish firms operating in the States, using my racing as an opportunity to promote companies, products and services – even Ireland itself."
Before that, Eastwood – whose family runs a leading karting circuit at Nutts Corner, Crumlin – is targeting a successful defence of his world crown and aims to land the Euro and British titles for the first time.
"It would be nice if I could do the treble. Winning the Euro Max, Super One championships and retaining my world title would be awesome, as these are three of the hardest karting championships anywhere in the world," he said.
"So far, I'm in a strong position and have a great team behind me, plus lots of support from my family and friends. It's all to play for!"