Motorsport: Thompson to shine in Land of Rising Sun
While most Irish single-seater racers are beating a hasty path to the US these days, Dublin teenager Gary Thompson has bucked the trend by focusing on Asia right from the outset of his career.
The 17-year-old from Donabate, Co Dublin, will become Ireland's first ever competitor in the Japanese Formula 3 series when he takes to the grid in Suzuka this weekend.
Thompson, race winner on his racing debut in the Asian Formula BMW series last year, turned down a number of offers from European-based teams to join the race-winning Achievement by KCMG crew.
The series' youngest entrant will campaign a Dallara Toyota in the 14-race, seven-event championship which kicks off with a double header of races on Saturday and Sunday.
Testing has produced lap times that indicate that Thompson can challenge the leaders in the National Class, though the Aviation Display-supported driver is wary of the particular demands of the Japanese GP venue.
"Suzuka is one of the greatest tracks in the world and it'll be a great place to make my F3 debut," said Thompson. "I haven't had a chance to test there, which won't help because it's a long and difficult track, but I'm usually okay at picking them up.
"Testing went well although we could always do with a bit more running because there are a lot of very experienced drivers in the series. Still, the pace was good and I'm confident that I can challenge at the weekend."
Meanwhile, former Motorsport Ireland Young Racing Driver of the Year, Niall Quinn, showed strong debut form in the second round of the Firestone Indy Lights Series at Alabama. After travelling to the US, Quinn based himself close to the Palm Beach International Racing Team (PBIR) that had expressed an interest in running him.
After missing the first round of the series, PBIR were eager to include Quinn on their roster and offered him a last-minute deal to compete in Barber Motorsports Park last weekend. Despite not knowing the track, the car or the team, former A1 GP test driver Quinn was quickly in the groove and posted the fastest time of free practice before qualifying seventh.
On raceday the lack of testing caught up with him and his chances of challenging the lead pack evaporated as his tyres deteriorated while a stop-go penalty further dented any hopes of a top finish.
He eventually finished 14th and immediately began work on ensuring that he gets to race around the streets of Long Beach this coming weekend. Quinn has yet to confirm his participation in the event but his impressive performance in Alabama means that PBIR are eager to put him back in the cockpit as soon as possible, finance permitting.
Closer to home, Eoin Murray goes in search of the Spanish Seat Supercopa championship, which gets under way in Valencia this weekend. Murray was in contention for the 2009 Supercopa title all the way to the final round but is under no illusions about the difficulty of emerging from each of six, three-race events unscathed.
"With between 32 and 36 cars showing at each event and the winner and runner-up from last year's championship confirmed, the competition will be as fierce as ever," said the former Dunlop Young Racing Driver of the Year. "We had a very good season in 2009, despite being new to the series."