Fantastic LMGTE podium return for Al Harthy and Oman Racing in final race of ELMS season

Sports Monday 17/October/2022 17:35 PM
By: Times News Service
Fantastic LMGTE podium return for Al Harthy and Oman Racing in final race of ELMS season

Muscat: Oman Racing’s Ahmad Al Harthy made a very welcome, and richly deserved, return to the European Le Mans Series LMGTE podium during the final race of the 2022 season at Portimao in Portugal on Sunday, 16th October, with a tremendous second place result in the No.69 Aston Martin Vantage.

Partnered as usual by British driver Sam De Haan and Danish racer Marco Sorensen, the trio delivered a series of excellent performances with Al Harthy’s double stint at the beginning of the race particularly impressive.

Starting the four-hour race at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve on a wet track, the Omani stormed from fourth on the LMGTE grid to take the class lead and kept the squad squarely in the fight for victory, and certainly a podium, throughout almost two hours of exceptional driving.

In the end, the trio secured a very competitive runner-up result – their second podium of the campaign – which also elevated them into a final championship finish of fifth in the LMGTE Driver Standings and fifth in the Team Standings for the Oman Racing with TF Sport entry.

“Finally, what a way to end the season!”, said an elated Al Harthy, “I’m absolutely delighted to finish on the podium in Portimao and fly the flag for Oman, it’s the first time I’ve raced at the track and is a very nice way to finish the season off. We did the best we could, I had a start which was extremely tricky with track conditions which were very tough to race on, but I did my best.

“I handed the car over to my team-mates in a good position, they both did a great job, and it really was a challenging race with changing weather conditions. The only car which beat us was one which went with a completely different strategy, an interesting one which paid off for them. It’s always amazing to finish on the podium and always amazing to see the Omani flag flying on the podium.”

He added: “I’m so thankful to my incredible partners, Oman Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth, Sohar International Bank, OQ, Omantel and MHD-ITICS, for their amazing support. We went into a new championship this year and performed extremely well, we’re proud of what we have achieved and also proud of our development as well.”

So tricky were the conditions at the start of Sunday’s race, several cars had spins on the two formation laps. At the rolling start, from fourth in LMGTE, Al Harthy made a great launch and starred on the first lap to climb into third, then second, before grabbing the class lead.

Showcasing his prowess on a track with low grip, the Omani having always been renowned as something of a wet-weather specialist even though coming from a country where the climate is anything but, he quickly opened a healthy advantage of 1.5 seconds.

By lap four he was inside the overall top 15 ahead of all but two of the LMP3 class prototype cars, and several of the headline LMP2 prototypes, but on lap six the No.32 Ferrari 488 moved into the LMGTE lead. Over the next few laps the fight for the lead intensified, with the No.83 Ferrari closing in and making it a three-way battle with the trio running nose-to-tail.

Although slipping to third, Al Harthy almost immediately hit back to reclaim second – with out of position LMP2 cars also causing challenges – before a Full Course Yellow period on lap 16. The Omani pitted a lap later, with around 35 minutes elapsed, and rejoined the race in second position.

The No.83 Ferrari stayed on track and elected not to pit, so Al Harthy stayed second until the rival car served its first stop 70 minutes into the race. Retaking the lead, the Oman Racing driver was around 12 seconds clear of the No.32 Ferrari before another FCY almost 90 minutes into the contest.

Following the resumption Al Harthy extended his advantage, opening a lead of more than half a minute, and he eventually pitted with less than 10 minutes remaining in hour two for his second stop – handing the Aston Martin over to De Haan.

When the order settled De Haan held third in LMGTE behind the sister Oman Racing car, but he was also under pressure from the No.32 Ferrari and slipped to fourth just a couple of laps later prior to another FCY period. Using the cautionary period as an opportunity to serve the extra stop the team needed to make, De Haan pitted and rejoined still in fourth place.

He made the team’s next stop with just over 70 minutes of racing to go, handing over to Sorensen for the run the flag. Holding third place prior to another FCY, one more variable was thrown into the mix when rain started to fall. The Dane took the chance to make a stop with around one hour of racing to go and at the re-start he held third behind the sister Aston Martin.

With 40 minutes to run, the second Oman Racing car headed for the pits and Sorensen duly moved up into second. Staying well clear of the pursuing Ferrari 488 for the remainder of the race, Sorensen brought the car home in the runner-up spot to well deserved cheers from the Oman Racing crew.