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Locked down in Tyrone, race ace Andrew Watson is back to basics



Andrew Watson is back where it all began

Andrew Watson is back where it all began

Andrew Watson on board a mighty Aston Martin GT3

Andrew Watson on board a mighty Aston Martin GT3

Andrew Watson is back where it all began

It was shaping up to be the biggest season of Andrew Watson's racing career so far with appearances scheduled across the world from Australia to America, Belgium to Bahrain, Silverstone to Sebring.

Instead, as Covid-19 brings motorsport to a standstill, he is hunkered down in Tyrone, rediscovering his talent for playing the piano, running, quad biking and tuning in to online yoga classes.

"It's frustrating but racing cars just isn't important in the circumstances," says the 25-year-old Aston Martin Junior team driver. "We just have to make the best of it and stay safe until it is over."

Watson had a dual programme of races lined up with the Garage 59 Aston Martin and Gulf Porsche teams and was especially looking forward to making his debut in the top sportscar race of them all, the Le Mans 24 Hour marathon.

But everything has been put on hold with a tentative re-start date scheduled for Spa in Belgium in August. A new date for Le Mans has been pencilled in for September.

"Hopefully we can get back to racing by the late summer but, until then, we just have to wait and see," says the Trinity College economics graduate, who has put a business career to one side to pursue his racing ambitions.

And, until coronavirus intervened, it had been going well, Watson steadily climbing the slippery motorsport ladder to reach the World Endurance Championship and the Blancpain European GT series, where his rivals include fellow Ulstermen Charlie Eastwood and Steven Kane.

Little known on the local racing scene - "I started in Junior Ginetta Ireland races at Mondello and Kirkistown in 2011" - his career has largely been spent in England and beyond, first coming to attention with impressive performances in the UK Ginetta Supercup in the team run by a former Ulster driver, Wayne Douglas.

That led to what he remembers as his biggest break, a call up to the McLaren Young Driver Academy and a chance to drive in the British GT Championship in 2015. He also got the opportunity to race abroad in the International GT Open, winning for the first time at Barcelona.

It has been onwards and upwards since then, Watson gaining a regular place with McLaren satellite team Garage 59 in the Blancpain European GT3 series, being promoted from the Academy to Junior Driver status with the iconic British manufacturer and, most recently, winning a shoot-out in Barcelona to secure a drive with the Gulf Porsche team in the World Endurance Championship.

Managed by ex-F1 driver Mark Blundell, it was all going so well until Covid-19 hit and he had to head back from his London base to the family home in Donaghmore.

"In a sense, I was fortunate that early in the year I got to race again at one of my favourite circuits, Bathurst in Australia, getting a podium finish, as well as the big races at Daytona and in Texas," says Andrew.

He should have begun his European campaign with Garage 59 at Monza last weekend, racing an Aston Martin against pal Eastwood, but, of course, it was called off.

"We all knew that was coming as the virus took hold in Italy and Charlie and I thought the best option was to head back home," he explains.

"So here I am back in Donaghmore trying to keep myself busy, doing jobs around the house and garden, running [he completed the Dungannon half-marathon before the lockdown kicked in] and doing yoga to keep myself as fit as possible.

"That's going to be important when we get back to racing. Some people think we just sit on our backsides and steer but you need to be extremely fit, mentally and physically, to maintain total concentration during long stints behind the wheel in endurance racing."

He has also been displaying his talent as a pianist on Facebook.

"My mother 'forced' me to take piano lessons when I was at school but with being away so much I had forgotten how much I enjoyed playing. Now with all this time on my hands, it has been fun to play again.

"And it is surprising how it helps with co-ordination which is vital when you are driving these very complex cars."

Andrew is, however, kicking himself that he hasn't been able to join in with Eastwood, Colin Turkington, Daniel Harper and others in the rapidly expanding virtual racing scene. Like every other driver, he uses a simulator to preview tracks and prepare for each race.

"But mine's still in London," he laments.

Belfast Telegraph