Sunday 14 January is a day never to be forgotten by recently crowned world karting champion, Rory Armstrong, as the young racer from Downpatrick got the chance to share a track with the provinces most successful Formula One driver, Eddie Irvine.
Rory’s invite to Eddie Irvine Sports indoor karting track in Bangor was made even more special when Irvine, who donned his Jaguar Formula One racing attire, produced for Rory to wear, a helmet of 1976 Formula 1 champion, James Hunt, as well as the race suit of three-time Formula One champion, Niki Lauda, as used in the movie, Rush.
The action on track between Irvine and 12-year-old Armstrong, who became World Rotax 125 Mini Max Champion last month, was akin to a scene from the film, which focused on the great sporting rivalry between Hunt and Lauda who were willing to risk it all to claim in the ’76 series.
“Rory came here when he was six, apparently. I didn’t know that,” stated Irvine when asked what it meant to have Rory at his Co. Down track.
“It’s fantastic, what he’s achieved so far is amazing. It’s a long road to Formula One, but you know, he can only do what he’s doing, which is winning. And you know, if he keeps doing that, he’ll get there. It’s just a matter of time.
“He’s very young yet, so he’s a long way to go, but he’s showing all the signs of doing it right.”
Speaking of his own career when asked how long it took to get to the pinnacle of the sport, Irvine said, “I started late and I got there late. I started at 17 and I didn’t do go-karting, I went straight into formula Ford at Kirkistown.
“I got my first test in Formula One when I was probably around 23, something like that. And then I went to Japan for three years racing in Le Mans and did that, and then came back into Formula One when I was 26, I think.
“So, yeah, I arrived late, but it was good to arrive late also, you know, because I had a lot more experience and I was more rounded as a person. So, I really enjoyed it.
“Yeah, listen, it’s a huge advantage to start young,” stated the Formula One Vice-Champion, when asked if the future is bright for Rory starting so young. “I started skiing and snowboarding, flying helicopters and stuff much later in life, and you never get really good. You know, you’re OK, but you’re never really [good]… It’s like a motorbike.
“I started motorbike motocross when I was young and when I get on a motorbike I feel like-one with the motorbike and that’s only because I started so young. I was riding motorbikes since I was about 12, probably 13. So yeah, starting young is the way to go. All the guys there in Formula One now, they all started at four or five years of age.”
Rory’s father, Andrew, who grew up in Newtownards commented, “Eddie asked Rory if he’d like to come down and get some pictures and to go out together in the karts after winning his world championship title last month in Bahrain. So, we’re obviously very keen to come down and meet him here at the track and get the two of them on track together.”
As for a smiling Rory, “I have had the most amazing day!” the young champion said. “Not only am I sharing a track with an F1 legend, but I also got to wear James Hunts helmet and Niki Laudas race suit. This is a day I will never forget… Thanks Eddie and all at EI Sports.”
Championships don’t come easy, and champions are not made overnight, but young Armstrong has dedicated the last few years to this enormously competitive sport which paid off last month in Bahrain when he lifted the world title, fending off 71 world-class rivals from across the globe.
Moving into the next grade of kart for the season ahead, Rory has completed a test session in his more powerful machine on the mainland, and will be off to Belgium in just a couple of weeks to start the new season where he aims to fight for glory and the chance to be invited to another world final later in the year.