Muscat: Blancpain Endurance Cup racer Ahmad Al Harthy helped secure Oman Racing’s best result of the 2018 season during the annual six-hour ‘into the night’ race at Paul Ricard in France on Saturday, with a very competitive run to fourth place in the Silver Cup.
For much of the 1,000km encounter at the Le Castellet track, Omani star Al Harthy and team-mates Euan McKay and Charlie Eastwood were in the reckoning for a maiden Silver Cup podium before eventually going on to secure a strong top four result.
Qualifying fifth on the grid for the third race of the season, the Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 trio performed extremely competitively in the big race – which acts as a natural precursor to the huge Total 24 Hours of Spa in July – and only a Safety Car period late on cost the chance of a podium.
“I had a really, really good first hour and passed so many cars, but also stayed out of trouble to prepare us for the six hours in a strong position,” said Al Harthy, who is backed by Oman Ministry of Sports Affairs, Oman Air, National Bank of Oman, Omantel, Barr Al Jissah and Amouage.
“Euan, Charlie and I all drove a very strong race, it’s just unfortunate where we caught the Safety Car.
“At the same time, finishing in fourth is a very respectable position. It’s true we just missed the podium, but we’re focusing on this good result and our strengths. It’s so important to finish the six hours in a strong position, making sure the car came home, and this is such good preparation for us going forward to Spa. It’s been a very solid performance, we look forward to what’s next.”
In final qualifying on Saturday morning, Al Harthy took the first of the three stints and posted the fifth best time in Silver with a lap of one minute and 55.969 seconds.
In session two, McKay lapped sixth fastest in class with a time of 1:55.836 seconds and in session three Eastwood set a best lap of 1m55.339s to end the run fifth – all three drivers very evenly matched.
Beginning the six-hour race during the early evening from fifth in Silver, as per the combined average of each driver’s best time in qualifying, Al Harthy took the opening stint under beautiful, sunny Le Castellet skies and it wasn’t long before he had moved through into fourth in Silver as well as passing a number of cars in the overall classification.
Putting together a strong and consistent opening hour, the Omani eventually pitted from fourth in Silver to hand the Aston Martin over to McKay for the first of his two stints. Holding fourth when the order settled, the Scottish driver chased down third place and managed to move into the podium placings before handing the car over to Eastwood for the third hour.
With the top three battle in the Silver Cup extremely close, less than half a minute covering the lead contenders, Eastwood climbed into second in class ahead of the No.24 Lamborghini and then went on to take the Silver lead.
Pitting as the race reached mid-distance, Eastwood vacated the No. 97 car as Al Harthy climbed back behind the wheel and he ran in second position before being edged back to third during the second half of his final stint of the race. Again driving impeccably, and keeping the team well in the hunt for silverware, the Omani was very satisfied with his performance.
For hour five, Eastwood returned to the driving seat and held third position throughout as he closed more and more on the No. 6 Black Falcon Mercedes ahead. McKay then took over driving duties again at the sixth and final pit-stop, with around one hour to go, and ran third in Silver and roughly 25 seconds shy of the Mercedes.
With a richly deserved maiden Silver Cup podium within touching distance of Oman Racing, a late Safety Car period – which put McKay out of position on track compared to his key rivals – meant he slipped to fifth place. However, the Aston Martin moved back up into a deserved fourth late-on as a result of a rival Silver Cup entry receiving a drive-through penalty.
Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium is the next destination for the Blancpain Endurance Cup competitors with an officially timed test day for the annual Total 24 Hours of Spa taking place on July 3. The huge twice-round-the-clock encounter, round four of the season, will then follow over the weekend of July 28 and 29.
Provisional Blancpain Endurance Cup Rd3 results:
1. Emil Frey Lexus Racing – Lexus RC F GT3
(Marco Seefried/Christian Klien/Albert Costa)
2. Bentley Team M-Sport – Bentley Continental GT3
(Jordan Pepper/Jules Gounon/Steven Kane)
3. Garage 59 – McLaren 650S GT3
(Andrew Watson/Ben Barnicoat/Come Ledogar)
19. Oman Racing – Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3
(Ahmad Al Harthy/Euan McKay/Charlie Eastwood)
Blancpain Endurance Cup Rd3 ‘Silver Cup’ results:
1. Barwell Motorsport – Lamborghini Huracan GT3
(Michele Beretta/Sandy Mitchell/Martin Kodric)
2. Black Falcon – Mercedes-AMG GT3
(Abdulaziz Al Faisal/Hubert Haupt/Gabriele Piana)
3. Emil Frey Jaguar Racing – Emil Frey G3 Jaguar
(Alex Fontana/Adrian Zaugg/Mikael Grenier)
4. Oman Racing – Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3
(Ahmad Al Harthy/Euan McKay/Charlie Eastwood)
Blancpain Endurance Cup ‘Silver Cup’ driver standings:
4. Ahmad Al Harthy/Euan McKay/Charlie Eastwood 35 pts.