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Gerard O’Connell

Gerard O’Connell

Gerard O’Connell

Putting distance between yourself and your closest rivals has always been the aim of motor racing but it will take on a new meaning as motorsport gets up and running this weekend with meetings locally at Kirkistown and south of the border at Mondello.

The season had barely started when the coronavirus shutdown put everything on hold in early March but now it is gradually getting back on track again and race drivers will be the first to experience the new normal.

Spectators will be barred from both circuits, of course, but things will be different too around the paddock with Covid officers on hand, PPE for scrutineers and marshals, drivers asked to observed social distancing when out of their cars and the bar remaining closed.

Kirkistown circuit manager Richard Young said: "There will be a different feel to the place on Saturday but at least we are racing again.

"We are putting all the practices recommended by UK Motorsport, who sent us a package of equipment last week, in place. Covid-19 officers will be on hand to monitor competitors and ensure they stick to the rules but social distancing shouldn't be a problem. We have 80 acres of space to move around in here."

But drivers will be restricted to just one crew member for the 11-race programme, which includes three for karts.

The car races will include double-headers for Formula Fords, saloons and GTs, roadsports and a combined Ford Fiesta/Mazda MX5 field.

Former Martin Donnelly Trophy winner Alan Davidson, in Hugh Reid's venerable Mondiale M89, heads the line-up for the two Northern Ireland Formula Ford races where the opposition will include Robert Johnston in his Van Diemen RF99 and the Parks, Robbie and David, up from Ballina with their Rays.

The saloons and GTs have the largest grid of the day but former hillclimb champion Gerard O'Connell should be among the quickest in his space frame Ford Escort.

Stephen Traub is also in the line-up in the Honda Civic which took Stephen Potter to the ITCC Championship in 2019.

Although no spectators will be in attendance, all cars and karts carry electronic transponders and these interact with a web app called MYLAPS Speedhive.

Live timings and results can be watched on most mobile devices at https://speedhive.mylaps.com

Meanwhile, Andrew Watson returns to racing this weekend as he rejoins the Garage 59 Aston Martin team for the World GT challenge at Imola in Italy, the first of four rounds to be tackled by the Tyrone driver including the 24 Hours of Spa.

Watson, who will share a GT3 Vantage with Valentin Hasse-Clot and one other driver for the four-hour race on Sunday, said: "It has been a while but I'm happy to be back."

Belfast Telegraph