Ahmad Al Harthy says he is satisfied with the overall performance delivered by Oman Racing during the first round of the new Blancpain Endurance Cup season at Monza on Sunday, 22nd April, where the squad achieved a very strong top five result on its Silver Cup debut.
Experienced GT competitor Al Harthy, the reigning Pro-Am Champion, faces a big new challenge this season in the ultra-competitive Silver class but alongside 2018 team-mates Euan McKay and Charlie Eastwood the Muscat racer enjoyed a very positive start to the new campaign.
Overcoming chassis problems with the No.97 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 during the build up to the opening round, which necessitated a huge rebuild effort from the team mechanics and meant the squad missed final practice, Oman Racing went on to qualify seventh in the Silver class.
Performing competitively in Sunday afternoon’s three-hour race at the high-speed Italian track, Al Harthy, McKay and Eastwood concluded the encounter fifth in the Silver Cup and therefore head to Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit in the UK next month, for round two, holding fifth in the standings.
“There is so much to take away from this weekend, our first race in the Silver Cup went well”, said Al Harthy, “The category is so competitive, a big step on from Pro-Am, but we acquitted ourselves well and we have a good foundation to build on. There are so many positives for us to take forward to Silverstone, which is always like a home race for Oman Racing and one of my favourite tracks.”
During final qualifying on Sunday morning Al Harthy took the first of the three sessions and posted an excellent lap, the fourth fastest time in class – just a tenth of a second shy of second spot – while McKay was seventh in session two and Eastwood was fifth in the third session. Taking the combined average time of the three drivers, the Aston Martin qualified seventh on the Silver class grid.
Al Harthy took the opening stint of Sunday’s eagerly awaited race and while squeezed back to ninth in Silver shortly after the start through a very busy and tight first chicane, the Oman Ministry of Sports Affairs, Oman Air, National Bank of Oman, Omantel, Barr Al Jissah and Amouage supported racer soon began to make progress after dispatching a troublesome Ferrari.
Moving up into eighth in class and then seventh, the Omani continued to deliver a strong opening to the race and moved up into sixth just after the half-hour mark. Climbing through into fifth during the second half of his stint, Al Harthy then pitted with an hour elapsed to hand the Aston over to McKay.
Joining the contest in sixth place in class, the Scottish driver maintained his position past the halfway point of the race and went on to climb as high as third when the second phase of mandatory driver-change pit stops began to be served.
After making his scheduled stop with just under an hour to run, McKay handed over to Eastwood who climbed aboard and held fifth position when the race order settled. Producing strong pace and running with similar times to the overall leaders midway through his stint, the gap to fourth place in Silver was just too much to overcome so the Northern Irishman settled for, a nonetheless solid, fifth.
In reflection, Al Harthy said: “I was really happy with my performance in qualifying, it was the best lap I’ve ever done around Monza so I couldn’t ask for much more than that. On the overall average of our three times, it meant we started the race in quite a difficult position in terms of the cars around us so we had a lot of work to do in the race.
“We had a Ferrari ahead of us in my stint at the start which had some problems getting drive out of the corners, which held us up. By the time I managed to get away we had to play catch-up, but my pace was good and finishing the race in fifth is a good, consistent and positive start for us – everyone did a great job this weekend.”
Oman Racing now prepares for the second round of the Blancpain Endurance Cup season which will take place over the weekend 19th/20th May at Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit in the UK.
Blancpain Endurance Cup Rd1 Monza Result:
1st Belgian Audi Club Team WRT – Audi R8 LMS
(Dries Vanthoor/Christopher Mies/Alex Riberas)
2nd Strakka Racing – Mercedes-AMG GT3
(Maxi Buhk/Alvaro Parente/Maxi Gotz)
3rd Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon – Mercedes-AMG GT3
(Luca Stolz/Yelmer Buurman/Maro Engel)
19th Oman Racing – Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3
(Ahmad Al Harthy/Euan McKay/Charlie Eastwood)
Blancpain Endurance Cup Rd1 Monza ‘Silver Cup’ Result:
1st Emil Frey Jaguar Racing – G3 Jaguar
(Alex Fontana/Adrian Zaugg/Mikael Grenier)
2nd Black Falcon – Mercedes-AMG GT3
(Abdulaziz Al Faisal/Hubert Haupt/Gabriele Piana)
3rd AKKA ASP Team – Mercedes-AMG GT3
(Jules Szymkowiak/Jack Manchester/Nico Bastian)
5th Oman Racing – Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3
(Ahmad Al Harthy/Euan McKay/Charlie Eastwood)
Source. Marc Orme/Photo. Jakob Ebrey Photography