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Eastwood carries title hopes into crucial Le Mans meeting as Watson prepares for debut at historic track

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Revving up: Charlie Eastwood

Revving up: Charlie Eastwood

Revving up: Charlie Eastwood

One of the planet's toughest car endurance events takes place next week - and Northern Ireland will be represented in the GTE Am class by Belfast's Charlie Eastwood and Donaghmore's Andrew Watson.

The next seven days are significant for both drivers, but for very different reasons. Eastwood travels to Circuit de la Sarthe with TF Sport - Aston Martin's official race partner - still in contention to win the FIA Endurance Trophy.

With just two rounds to fight out, he and team-mates Jonathan Adam and Salih Yoluc trail the Ferrari trio of Emmanuel Collard, Francois Perrodo and Nicklas Nielsen by 12 points.

Eastwood is targeting a win not only to strengthen his title aspirations but to finally get the monkey off his back having endured retirement at Le Mans in 2018 and mechanical troubles the following year.

"I really hope it will be third time lucky," says the 25-year-old.

"I really don't think we will have a better chance to win at Le Mans than this year. Unfortunately, as I have seen in the last few years, so much can go wrong in the race, but I believe we have learnt from our mistakes and the whole team is so well prepared and ready to take on the famous race.

"The mood in the camp is good. Okay, we didn't have great pace at the previous round in Spa, but we still finished on the podium. The team got the strategy, pit-stops and reliability spot on. Over the course of 24 hours that can make the difference," he adds.

As for Watson, this is his first taste of the 88-year-old meeting and it comes from the cockpit of a Gulf Racing Porsche 911.

The only thing missing will be the roar of 250,000 die-hard fans lining the track as FIA restrictions to minimise the transmission of Covid-19 remain in place at tracks around the world.

"This year is going to be different," he tells Sunday Life Sport. "But it's still going to be incredibly special and a proud moment for me and my family."

The 2020 instalment was delayed from its usual June slot to September because of the coronavirus, with a virtual race competition created to help bridge the gap.

"The virtual event was very professionally run; the circuit and the car are very similar to the real life equivalent so it and the hundreds of laps we did for it were definitely good preparation," he explains.

"The objective is to push for a podium at Le Mans but it is going to be difficult. There are 22 or 23 cars in the class but we have already had a podium this season back in Bahrain, so we know we can do it.

"In terms of preparation, I'm doing a lot of fitness; 24-hour races are always tough, both physically and mentally, so if you're not at your peak fitness, you're already at a disadvantage.

"We have done a lot of running in the simulator at Gulf's headquarters which allows us to get a feel for the car and experience the different conditions and scenarios that we might well come across in the race."

Sunday Life