Formula 4: Charlie Eastwood on track
Charlie Eastwood will steer a racing car out onto the Silverstone circuit for the first time this weekend and, no doubt, dream that one day he will be at the wheel of a Formula One car, readying himself for the start of the British Grand Prix.
Eastwood is the Belfast teenager who enjoyed a stellar karting career, becoming the youngest winner of the World and European Rotax championships as well as being named champion in the Winter Tour in Florida .
But now Eastwood takes what he calls "a massive jump" by moving from the karts he has raced for the best part of a decade to a racing car to begin a new career in the British Formula 4 championship. It is the first step on a road he hopes will eventually take him to F1.
"To be an F1 driver is the dream of virtually everyone who steps into a racing car and it has been mine since I started driving karts when I was eight or nine. It is my ultimate goal," says the 18-year-old.
"But everything I achieved in karting is behind me now and to switch to racing cars is a massive jump.
"Now I am the novice, the rookie, with a whole new skill set to learn whereas over the past few years in karting I was in my comfort zone. I went into every race confident I could win. No one can be sure how the transition will go.
"Many top karters in the past just couldn't adapt but lots of others from Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher to Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton did. I believe it will work for me but these are early days and I don't expect to set the world on fire. I have a lot to learn."
He will begin the tuition under the guidance of fellow Ulsterman Wayne Douglas, a former British Formula Vauxhall champion who now runs a successful race team – another of his Ulster drivers, Andrew Watson, is joint leader of the Ginetta SuperCup series – and driver coaching programme in the UK.
And he is confident young Eastwood will adapt quickly to the new F4 cars.
"Charlie has been very impressive for a newcomer to cars," he said.
"I've known the Eastwoods for many years and enjoyed a lot of success in karting with them in the early days of my own racing career.
"We've always kept in touch and we all feel that the time is right for Charlie to make his move."
Eastwood believes being part of the Douglas set-up will be beneficial.
"Wayne has been a big part of my family since before I was even born," he explained.
"So it is great that I have this opportunity to race with his team. He's got lots of experience and I have a lot of respect for him. He's a very quick driver in his own right which allows him to easily help people like me to make this transition."
Eastwood comes from a racing family in which both his father John and brother Johnny were competitive drivers and it has helped, too, that his dad and mum Suzanne own the Nutts Corner kart centre where he could test and practice to his heart's content.
He won't be able to do that with his new F4 car which comes under strict regulations of a championship which is just starting its second season.
The cars, all identical and all built by the RFR company which was responsible for the legendary Van Diemen Formula Fords, all use the same two-litre Duratec engine.
Eastwood had his first serious taste of what is to come when he took part in the official pre-season test last week at Snetterton where he was 10th fastest. But he points out: "I was about a second off the pace but quickest of the rookies.
"Most of the guys ahead of me raced in F4 last season and one of my Douglas Motorsport team-mates, Diego Menchacais, who is into his fourth year of racing, was seventh, two-10ths quicker than me, so it wasn't so bad – and we had some issues with the brakes.
"Overall it felt good and I'm feeling confident. Sure, I feel a bit of a novice but I don't get nervous and I know once it starts I'll just get stuck in and call on all the racecraft I've built up over the years in karts.
"Who knows if I'll ever achieve my dream but I can't wait to get started."