Muscat: Aston Martin GT3 racer Ahmad Al Harthy and the Oman Racing team face a monumental challenge in the weekend’s Total 24 Hours of Spa, round four of the Blancpain Endurance Cup season, after an enforced switch to a spare car for qualifying means an unenviable pitlane start for the race itself.
With an incident for team-mate Salih Yoluc in practice on Thursday, 25th July, resulting in the squad’s original No.97 Aston Martin Vantage being too damaged to repair, they had to miss all-important pre-qualifying while a replacement ‘T-Car’ was prepared by the mechanics and engineers from TF Sport – Oman Racing’s engineering and preparation partners.
Going into the four qualifying sessions well and truly on the back-foot, Al Harthy, Yoluc, Charlie Eastwood and Nicki Thiim did an incredible job to end up with the fourth fastest time in Pro-Am but as per the rules of the championship they will have to start the biggest race of the year from pitlane.
“Obviously, Salih’s incident in free practice was very unfortunate and it meant we had to go for the T-Car, the spare car – the guys did an amazing job to get everything ready for qualifying, although it meant we did have to miss pre-qualifying due to that”, explained Al Harthy.
“The good thing is we were out for qualifying, all the drivers did a great job to be fourth in Pro-Am but due to the technicalities with using the spare car we have to start from the pitlane. It’s far from ideal, especially with the championship position, but I still believe we have a strong chance to finish the Spa 24 hours with a good result. These things happen in motorsport, we’ll do our very best.”
Following the usual pre-event parade of drivers and cars into Spa town centre on Wednesday, 24th July, the track action properly began on Thursday and everything started as expected for Pro-Am leaders Oman Racing with Thiim setting the fastest time of 2m20.671 seconds in opening practice.
With just 20 minutes of the 90-minute session remaining, though, an excursion for Yoluc at the exit of Raidillon resulted in significant damage to the car – fortunately the Turkish driver was able to walk away unscathed.
Immense work began for the pit crew in trying to prepare the spare Aston Martin and when the car was ready for final qualifying, Yoluc took the first session and was seventh quickest with a time of 2m23.623 seconds.
Al Harthy was next for session two and, despite losing essential track time through missing pre-qualifying, the National Bank of Oman, Oman Ministry of Sports Affairs, Omantel and Barr Al Jissah backed racer lapped with a time of 2m22.538 seconds to go an improved fifth fastest.
Eastwood took session three and produced a terrific time of 2m20.465 seconds, placing him second on the timesheets in Pro-Am, and then Thiim almost matched the effort with a lap of 2m20.589 seconds in the fourth and final run.
The average time from all four sessions was 2m21.803 seconds, translating to fourth in Pro-Am and only half a second shy of the class pole position. As mentioned, though, with the introduction of the spare car the team must start Saturday’s race from the pitlane – at the back of the 70-plus car entry.
Confirming the team’s pace, the Oman Racing Aston Martin was third fastest in Pro-Am during the subsequent night practice on Thursday evening so confidence for a major push over the weekend remains justifiably high.
With no track action for the squad today, the next outing will be the start of the Total 24 Hours of Spa itself at 16.30 (local time) on Saturday.