Muscat: Aston Martin Vantage GT3 racer Ahmad Al Harthy once again delivered a fantastic drive during Road To Le Mans race two in France on Saturday, 21st August, to put Oman Racing firmly in contention for race victory – before a spin for team-mate Michael Dinan led to an eventual finish of fifth position.
Running as the key support race to this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, Saturday lunchtime’s encounter got off to a great start for Al Harthy who, having qualified second fastest in GT3, ran in second place throughout his stint and actually moved into the lead as the mandatory mid-race pit-stops began.
Looking incredibly strong, the Omani served up a terrific showing as he set his sights on claiming a double Road To Le Mans podium – having finished second in race one at the Circuit de la Sarthe on Thursday, 19th August – but in the end it unfortunately wasn’t to be.
“It was a good first stint for me, a cautious start and then I pushed as hard as I could”, reflected Al Harthy, “The track was a bit different from race one on Thursday, but I was really happy with my stint and then delighted to give the car over to Michael in a very strong position.
“We got out in the lead and all was good but, unfortunately, Michael was on the dirty side of the circuit as they went into the chicane battling side by side and there was a spin. It’s a real shame as we had the pace for the podium again, but P5 it was in the end.”
He added: “Overall I am very happy to have come back to Le Mans and stood on the podium in race one, and we were just as competitive in race two – I’m happy with the progress we made. I must say a big thank you to all of my incredible partners and it was great to share the car with Michael. I look forward now to announcing the remainder of our season in the next few weeks as well.”
Omantel, OQ and Oman Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth supported racer Al Harthy made a good launch at the beginning of the race, although the No.95 Aston Martin did slip to third after a chaotic start among the LMP3 cars just ahead.
Neatly avoiding contact as the packed field threaded through the Dunlop Chicane, the Omani quickly hit back to re-take second position from the No.2 Porsche 911 GT3 R and he then set about trying to get on terms with the leading No.8 Ferrari 488 GT3.
Running just three seconds shy of the Ferrari into lap two, with an LMP3 prototype car between them, the Omani pressed on but the LMP3 car did hamper his efforts to close down Rory Penttinen in the Ferrari. As in Thursday’s race, a number of yellow flag cautions and slow zones interfered with the action and Al Harthy remained second throughout the first half of the 55-minute race.
At the end of lap six, with just over 25 minutes elapsed, the Ferrari pitted but Al Harthy remained on track for one further lap and so moved into the lead of GT3. Pushing hard to try and gain time before pitting the next time around, he handed the car over to Dinan at the mandatory stop.
Joining the race in the lead after another strong pit-stop by the Aston Martin Racing mechanics, Oman Racing was well placed to fight for back-to-back Road To Le Mans podiums. Dinan, though, was under intense pressure immediately with the Ferrari – now with Logan Sargeant at the wheel – right with him, and the No.2 Porsche swarming too.
Additionally, the three GT3 contenders were also locked in with two LMP3 cars as the group rocketed along the Mulsanne Straight. As they jostled for position heading into the second of the chicanes, the Ferrari went for the lead on the inside and Dinan spun. Dropping him to third and almost 20 seconds adrift, he eventually slipped back to finish fifth at the flag on lap 13.
Al Harthy’s silverware from race one on Thursday means he has a 75 percent strike rate of podiums in the Road To Le Mans, having taken a double GT3 victory at the world-famous Circuit de la Sarthe back in 2017 on his previous visit to the track.