MotoGP star Eugene Laverty will pay a moving tribute to Ireland’s Gene McDonnell by wearing a replica helmet of the Isle of Man TT racer at this weekend’s Catalunya Grand Prix.
Eugene (Gene) was tragically killed at the TT 30 years ago in 1986 in a freak accident in the Junior race, when a horse jumped into the road as he approached Ballaugh Bridge.
The animal had apparently been startled by the noise from a helicopter, which had been dispatched to pick up Northern Ireland rider Brian Reid, who had crashed at the famous Ballaugh section on the Mountain Course.
Toomebridge man Eugene was named after Gene, who sadly lost his life one day after he was born on June 3.
It was terrible tragedy that caused great distress at the TT three decades ago and occurred at a time when Gene was fighting for the Formula 2 World Championship.
Gene had been supported by Eugene’s father Mickey – a former racer himself in the Seventies – who did what he could to help local riders after he hung up his leathers.
Born and raised in Portglenone, Gene lived 20 minutes away from the Laverty family home. He became the 350cc Irish Champion in 1985 and was destined for big things in the sport.
Sadly, the popular Irish rider never had the chance to realise his full potential, but 30 years later, Gene’s memory lives on and Aspar Ducati rider Eugene says he will be ‘honoured’ to pay tribute to his namesake on Sunday.
“It’ll be a great honour to wear a replica of Gene’s helmet this weekend in Barcelona,” he said.
“Gene was destined for great things before his untimely death and I’m proud to be able to carry his name at the pinnacle of racing.
“Gene’s brother Ciaran came up with the idea of the tribute helmet and I’m really excited to see how it turns out. I owe a huge thank you to my sponsor Shoei for supporting this project,” he added.
“A few of Gene’s family members will travel to Barcelona this weekend to join us for the weekend and I would love to achieve a top eight finish in his memory.
“Gene was an incredibly brave man and so I will wear his helmet with pride this weekend at the Catalan Grand Prix.”
Laverty has been in outstanding form in his second season in motorcycling’s premier class and achieved the best result of his short GP career with a fine fourth at the Termas de Rio Honda circuit in Argentina in April.
He has chalked up a string of top ten finishes on the satellite Ducati Desmosedici GP14.2 and is currently in tenth place in the world championship standings, only five points behind factory Ducati rider Andrea Iannone ahead of round seven in Spain.