Blancpain Endurance Cup star Ahmad Al Harthy and the Oman Racing team will begin this year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa from seventh on the grid in the Silver Cup class…but the squad’s sights are set much higher for the big race which gets underway later this afternoon, Saturday, 28th July.
During four separate qualifying sessions at the Belgian track on Thursday, 26th July, Al Harthy, Euan McKay, Charlie Eastwood and Ross Gunn couldn’t quite extract the ultimate time they had hoped for from the No.97 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3, but the team-mates all remain positive for raceday.
That wasn’t the full story of qualifying either as Al Harthy was caught-up in an incident late in the opening session, when a rival chopped across the front of his car as the Omani was on his cooling-down lap and away from the racing line.
Fortunately, the TF Sport mechanics who prepare the Oman Racing entry swiftly made the required repairs to the damage inflicted on the Aston Martin before session two and the remainder of the evening’s track time, which also included a night practice, ran smoothly.
“Qualifying is qualifying, but it’s always the race which is the most important part in Blancpain Endurance Cup – and especially the 24 hour”, said Al Harthy, the reigning Pro-Am Champion in the world’s most competitive GT3 endurance racing series, “We’re all really looking forward to the race, there has been a lot to analyse after qualifying but everyone is confident for the race.”
Following the annual pre-event parade of race cars into Spa town on Wednesday, 25th July, the serious track action got underway on Thursday with practice in the morning followed later in the afternoon by pre-qualifying, where Oman Racing was fourth in the Silver Cup.
Less than an hour later, the first of the four qualifying sessions began with Al Harthy behind the wheel for that 15-minute run. Lapping with a best time of 2m22.345 seconds, the Omani ended the first period fourth in the Silver Cup in the Oman Ministry of Sports Affairs, Oman Air, National Bank of Oman, Omantel, Barr Al Jissah and Amouage liveried Aston Martin.
McKay took driving duties for Q2 and he delivered a lap of 2m22.067 seconds, which was seventh in the Silver Cup, while in Q3 it was the turn of Eastwood to get behind the wheel – he posted a fastest time of 2m21.261 seconds.
Oman Racing newcomer Gunn climbed aboard for Q4 and achieved a time of 2m21.400 seconds so, on the combined average of all four drivers’ optimum lap times, the team concluded qualifying with the seventh fastest effort of 2m21.768 seconds, less than 0.6 seconds shy of the Silver top three.
“Spa is such a unique challenge, it’s an incredible track and we’re all focused on producing the best performance we can for the full 24 hours”, said Al Harthy, “The team has been working very hard to make sure the car is where we need it, and to ensure we have reliability and consistency which are the two biggest things you need in a 24 hour. Hopefully we can have a strong and competitive race.”
Source. Marc Orme/Photo. Jakob Ebrey Photography