Belfast Telegraph

Circuit of Ireland challenge thrills Kesh driver Jon Armstrong

By Sammy Hamill

If Jon Armstrong finds himself short of a co-driver for this year's Circuit of Ireland, he has a willing volunteer in Belfast Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon.

The 20-year-old Kesh driver is embarking on an ambitious step up to the European championship starting with the Rally Liepaja in Latvia next month. After that he heads back to Northern Ireland for his home round of the Eurosport-supported series which will again be centred on Belfast.

The ceremonial start will be at the City Hall with the rally headquarters and service area in the spacious surroundings of the Titanic Quarter.

Lord Mayor Mallon, helping to kick-off the build-up, pointed out that she will no longer be in office come Easter and tweeted: "So @JonArmstrong84 have I a job as your co-pilot come 1st April when I'm no longer Lord Mayor?"

It is an offer Armstrong will have to refuse as he throws his hat into the ring for the important ERC Junior championship after a year on the sidelines. He had an impressive first season in the British championship in 2013, highlighted by his flying start to the Ulster Rally in his native Fermanagh where he was fastest on the second stage in his little R2 Ford Fiesta.

He was in the thick of the battle with R2 champion-to-be Daniel McKenna, now the overall British champion, until he crashed out on the second day but Armstrong had still done enough to earn himself a coveted Pirelli Star Driver award. The past year has been spent re-grouping but now he is planning his ambitious move onto the European stage with an R2 Peugeot 208.

The Circuit being part of the series was an important factor in his decision to step up to the ERC.

"I've been watching the Circuit for as long as I can remember and I'm excited about taking part for the first time," he said.

"Driving in an event at home is always nice as the fans are always great and I'm hoping that will help me stay relaxed and focused."

Getting an early preview of Armstrong's new Peugeot at City Hall, Lord Mayor Mallon said: "It's fantastic to see Belfast now recognised as one of the world's premier sporting venues. Our reputation for hosting events continues to grow as we also look forward to welcoming the start of the Tall Ships races this summer."

Event Director Bobby Willis said the organising team were keen to build on the huge success of the 2014 event.

He commented: "Last year's ceremonial start at Belfast City Hall created an amazing atmosphere and provided a great welcome for rally stars so we're thrilled that Belfast City Council is partnering with us again."

The rally, round three of the ERC series, takes place on April 2-4.

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