Le Mans 24 Hrs dream ends with midnight misfortune for Al Harthy

Sports Saturday 22/June/2024 12:24 PM
By: Times News Service
Le Mans 24 Hrs dream ends with midnight misfortune for Al Harthy

Sensational driving, an excellent strategy and great pace in both dry and wet conditions weren’t enough for Ahmad Al Harthy, Maxime Martin and Valentino Rossi to realise their dream of LMGT3 victory in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans – a luckless excursion in the wet leading to retirement on Sunday, 16th June.

As the twice-round-the-clock race at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France neared the end of its ninth hour, at around 00.45hrs on Sunday morning, Omani racer Al Harthy – producing an impressive performance on slick Goodyear tyres on a wet track – unfortunately came to grief at the Dunlop Chicane.

Losing grip on a tricky wet patch, the No.46 BMW M4 pitched off the circuit and into the gravel, the front-left of the car making contact with the barriers on the outside. With the car beached in the gravel trap, retirement was all-but instantaneous as a dejected Al Harthy radioed to the team.

The disappointment for Al Harthy and team-mates Martin and Rossi was heightened as the performance of all three Team WRT drivers had been exceptional from the moment the lights went out at 16.00 local time on Saturday, 15th June, in round four of the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Martin, who had to settle for 12th fastest in qualifying after being baulked on his best lap by one the Hypercar class entries, began the race in the No.46 and maintained position initially before starting to move up the LMGT3 order. At the end of the opening hour he held eighth place and as the race entered hour three the squad held fifth, with Al Harthy at the wheel for his first race miles of the event.

The Omani, supported by key partners OQ, Oman Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth, Omantel and BMW Oman, soon broke into the LMGT3 podium placings and at the end of hour three Al Harthy was second in class and driving faultlessly. Midway through the fourth hour he took the lead of LMGT3 and following a Full Course yellow period the Omani continued to head the way.

Next it was the turn of MotoGP legend Rossi to get behind the wheel of the BMW for the first time in the race and he maintained the class lead as evening became night with a superb drive, much to the delight of the hundreds of thousands of spectators. Al Harthy was back in the car in hour eight and under Safety Car conditions he held second position.

With rain starting to lash down at Le Mans, but with certain parts of the lengthy 13.6-kilometre track very wet and others drier in the unseasonably cold conditions, the teams and drivers were placed into a great quandary over whether to try and stay on slick tyres or switch to wet-weather rubber.

Running just outside the podium placings as the race passed midnight local time, the decision was made for Al Harthy to remain on slicks and he expertly kept the BMW at a competitive pace. While initially losing ground to those electing to stop for wets, if the Omani could mitigate the time difference on his slick rubber, as the track started to dry he would be in the perfect position to move back through.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be. As he rejoined from a pit-stop and entered the Dunlop Chicane, the car slid off the track across the gravel and was pitched round after the front-left collided with the barriers. Having put so much hard work into the preparations for the season’s biggest race throughout the week-long build-up, the disappointment remains raw but Al Harthy is focused on hitting back at the next FIA WEC event.

Ahmad Al Harthy said, "Unfortunately, after so many amazing hours of racing, into the night we were in a fantastic position and looked like we were really in the hunt for a strong finish and even in the fight for the top podium place in LMGT3. The decision we made was to continue on slicks when the rain was there, thinking the weather would get better, but it was very tough at that point and there was a wet patch which caused the car to turn around. That ended our race, we couldn’t continue from there.

“The support, during and after the incident, from the team and my team-mates was amazing. Everyone was really happy with our pace, all three drivers, and this is what makes our achievements even more special when we get them – this is racing. There have to be highs and lows, and we know how to come back from the lows to get the highs. I’m looking forward to the next event and I’m so thankful for all the support I have had from Oman and here in France. Hopefully we can continuein a positive manner.”

There is a four-week break now in the FIA WEC calendar with round five of the season taking place in Sau Paulo, Brazil, on Sunday, 14th July. Before then, Al Harthy has the challenge of another twice-round-the-clock race, this time the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Endurance Cup – the annual Crowdstrike 24 Hours of Spa in Belgium, on 29th/30th June.

FIA World Endurance Championship LMGT3 Driver Standings (after Rd4)

1st Yasser Shahin / Morris Schuring / Richard Lietz, 75pts

2nd Klaus Bachler / Alex Malykhin / Joel Sturm, 75pts

3rd Darren Leung / Sean Gelael / Augusto Farfus, 73pts

4th Marco Sorensen / Erwan Bastard, 42pts

5th Francois Heriau / Simon Mann / Alessio Rovera, 41pts

9th Ahmad Al Harthy / Maxime Martin / Valentino Rossi, 36pts

24 Hours of Le Mans LMGT3 Race Result:

1st Yasser Shahin / Morris Schuring / Richard Lietz (Manthey EMA / Porsche 911 GT3R LMGT3)

2nd Darren Leung / Sean Gelael / Augusto Farfus (Team WRT / BMW M4 LMGT3)

3rd Giorgio Roda / Mikkel Pedersen / Dennis Olsen (Proton Competition / Ford Mustang LMGT3)

4th John Hartshorne / Ben Tuck / Chris Mies (Proton Competition / Ford Mustang GT3)

5th Sarah Bovy / Michelle Gatting / Rahel Frey (Iron Dames / Lamborghini Huracan Evo2 LMGT3)

DNF Ahmad Al Harthy / Maxime Martin / Valentino Rossi (Team WRT / BMW M4 LMGT3)