For rising star Charlie Eastwood, the 2018 season has already provided its fair share of memorable moments, ranging from the sensational three runner-up positions in the FIA World Endurance Championship with TF Sport, to arriving at the garage in the dead of night at Le Mans with the bonnet completely missing. However the remaining races of the year pan out, it has already been a standout performance from the Belfast racer.
With a background in single seaters, Charlie made the switch to the Porsche Carrera Cup GB championship in 2016, taking a victory before going on to dominate the series in his second year of competition. This paved the way for the next step in his professional career as he stepped up to a twin programme in FIA WEC and the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup driving the Aston Martin Vantage GTE and GT3 respectively.
TF Sport announced Charlie’s WEC programme in January and immediately he was looking forward to the challenge. “It’s going to be a big challenge to step up to what is the very top in GT Racing, it’s a big old step,” he explained at he time. “With the line-up we have, we are confident we’ll be quick in each of our driver categories. There’s a lot of unknowns for all of us obviously, but we’re looking forward to the challenge. I know Silverstone and Le Mans and we’re planning on a good test programme. So as a team we all have the same desire and I can’t wait to get started!”
The first round of the championship took place at Spa-Francorchamps and it turned out to be a sensational WEC debut for Charlie as he helped the team secure second position, less than two-tenths of a second behind the class-winning car. His mid-stint race saw the deficit to the leader halved from 80 to 40 seconds, and this was pivotal in the victory challenge.
“We got a lot more than we really thought coming into this weekend with the second place, only two-tenths behind, so it was a massive battle in the last stint,” he said. “It’s also a fantastic result for myself in what is just my second ever endurance race in what is a big pond – WEC – so it gives us massive confidence for the rest of the season.”
Meanwhile the Blancpain season had already kicked off at Monza with the Charlie and the team recovering well from chassis damage early in the weekend to finish in fifth position. On to Silverstone for round two and a victory was very much a possibility but contact and steering damage late in the race put paid to the challenge.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the hardest races in the world and to finish can be a challenge in itself. TF Sport came close with 23 hours of running, but on this occasion it wasn’t to be. Charlie performed flawlessly throughout, surviving contact and a massive debris strike on the #90 Aston Martin that ripped away the bonnet in the dead of night. Ultimately starter motor issue and then a driveshaft failure brought an end to the spirited challenge.
“It wasn’t the result that we’d hoped for as the race through various hurdles, the last of which we fell at in the last hour,” Charlie said. “The team and drivers all showed great courage to keep pushing, even when we were out of contention. Now I’m looking forward to the rest of the season as we’ve not scratched the surface of what we can do as a team.”
Back at Silverstone for round three of the FIA World Endurance Championship, the team looked set for a famous first win until a stop-go penalty for an earlier pitstop infringement resulted in the runner-up position. Charlie’s mid-race stint saw him again close the gap to the race leader, this time from 16 seconds to one before pitting and handing over to Jonny Adam to complete the race. It was another strong performance, but it was a frustrating second on this occasion.
“We got a bit unlucky with the penalty, it was one of those hit or miss situations,” he said. “We missed the pit line by six seconds and that cost us a 75-second stop-go which really is quite harsh. It shows how much pace we had that we could recover from that to get P2.”
A crash early in the Spa 24 Blancpain race meant that Charlies didn’t get to compete, but he and the team went off to finish the season in Barcelona with a strong run to fifth position.
The WEC programme meanwhile travelled onto Fuji Speedway in Japan where Charlie took the start in damp conditions from fifth position only to find a rival car blocking his pit box early in the race. Charlie was able to more than gain back the time however and handed the Aston Martin over to Salih Yoluc in fourth place. The team went on to make it three runner-up positions from four starts in the championship as he and the team get ready for the final race of the 2018 season in Shanghai.
“Looking back, if three or four things had gone our way we may have had a chance to win but over a six-hour endurance race no one gets it perfect,” he said. “We’ve now been bridesmaids three times so hopefully we can get a win in Shanghai and make Christmas a bit shorter before the 2019 final races of the Super Season.”