Eastwood braced for testing Italian debut
Charlie Eastwood will be the fresh face alongside fellow Ulster drivers Steven Kane and Andrew Watson for the opening round of the Blancpain European GT Endurance Championship at Monza this weekend.
Watson and, in particular, Kane have seasons of experience in the GT3 cars which feature in the series but it will be Eastwood's first time tackling a three-hour race following his switch from the GB Porsche Carrera Cup championship.
The 22-year-old Belfast driver won the Carrera Cup title in 2017 and is moving on to a dual campaign with the TF Sport Aston Martin team in the World Endurance Championship and the Blancpain series.
He has already been testing with the Surrey-based TF team and last weekend completed a six-hour race at the Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit, winning the production class and, importantly, qualifying for the FIA permits that allow him to take part in the first round of the WEC championship at the fearsome German track next month.
There he will drive a GTE Aston Martin Vantage in company with Salih Yoluc and Euan Hankey, but first up is a trip to Italy for the three-hour Blancpain race at Monza.
Eastwood is part of the TF Sport's Oman Racing team and will share a GT3 Vantage with Pro-Am Cup champion Ahmad Al Harthy of Oman and Scotsman Euan McKay.
Ballynahinch-born Kane again leads the Bentley challenge - they won the teams category last season - and will be on board the latest version of the GT3 Continental with Guy Smith and Jules Gounon.
Watson remains with McLaren but switches teams to Garage 59 after the decision of Strakka Racing to move to Mercedes after a disappointing 2017 season.
The move means Jonny Kane is absent from the race and from a Strakka team he has been involved with for the best part of a decade.
Watson, however, is retained by McLaren - he is part of their driver development programme - and the 23-year-old race winner from Donaghmore will share a 650 S run by affiliate team Garage 59 with Come Ledogar and Ben Barnicoat.
Qualifying takes place on Sunday morning with the race starting at 2pm.