Damage sustained to Oman Racing’s Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 just over three hours into this weekend’s Total 24 Hours of Spa brought an all-too-early, and highly frustrating, conclusion to round four of the season for the popular and highly competitive Blancpain Endurance Cup squad.
Muscat star Ahmad Al Harthy, and team-mates Euan McKay, Charlie Eastwood and Ross Gunn, looked well placed to challenge for big points and a maiden Silver Cup podium in the race which started on Saturday, 28th July, but an accident for McKay early in his stint ended those hopes.
Following a strong opening from team newcomer Gunn and then an impressive double-stint from Al Harthy, where the Omani broke into the top three in the Silver Cup, McKay then took over driving duties just before the three-hour mark.
Unfortunately, though, at Turn Eight just a few laps into his stint, the Scottish driver lost control of the No.97 Aston Martin which speared into the wall. Causing significant frontal and front-left damage, McKay did manage to get the car back to the pits but, despite a supreme effort from the TF Sport mechanics who prepare the Oman Racing entry, the car had to eventually be retired.
“It’s so disappointing, even hours later I’m speechless as everything was going to plan up to the unfortunate accident for Euan”, said a stoic Al Harthy, “We were all more than ready for this huge event, everything had been working out well and everyone did a great job, but sometimes this is what 24 hour races are like and things can change in an instant.
“Hopefully we can be back stronger, that’s all we can do in a situation like this – come back fighting at the next round. I have to say a big thank you to everyone, especially the guys in the team and behind the scenes, who worked so hard and also to our incredible sponsors Oman Ministry of Sports Affairs, Oman Air, National Bank of Oman, Omantel, Barr Al Jissah and Amouage.”
Everything had certainly begun very well indeed for the squad, Gunn doing a great job on his first race outing with Oman Racing by quickly climbing from seventh in Silver at the start into the top six, close behind the next two Silver runners. Moving up into the top five before the end of the first hour, the Briton then pitted to hand the No.97 Aston Martin over to Al Harthy.
Running in fifth position in Silver when the first round of stops were all completed, the Omani set about making up some swift places and took fourth in class inside just a few minutes before closing up on the third placed Lamborghini.
Driving beautifully, the Middle Eastern ace passed for third around 75 minutes into the race and although edged back to fourth by the advancing Audi of Loris Hezemans during the next quarter of an hour, everything was still going to plan.
When a Full Course Yellow cautionary period was required soon after following an on-track incident, which then saw the Safety Car appear, the team made a great call to take advantage of the decision by making another stop in the interests of gaining time.
Al Harthy remained in the car for a double-stint, with a smart early change in strategy, and when racing resumed at around the two-hour juncture he was sixth in Silver. Pitting from that position one hour later, Al Harthy handed the car over to McKay for his first stint but misfortune soon followed.
After his luckless accident, McKay crawled back to the pits and the team got to work in trying to facilitate the best repairs they could to enable the Aston Martin to return to the track. Despite a herculean effort, though, the damage was ultimately too extensive and the tough decision to retire from this year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa had to be made.
“The race started very well, Ross did a great job in the car and then I went out for an hour originally but I ended up doing two hours as we changed the strategy with the Full Course Yellow”, reflected Al Harthy, “I was extremely happy with the pace and pleased with my performance, I matched some of the front-runners and we looked very strong and the car was working well.
“Unfortunately, though, early in Euan’s stint he had the accident and made contact with the wall. The team did an unbelievable job to get the car out again, but the damage was too extensive to be safely out there and competitive as well so the team decided to stop the car and retire. It’s not the end any of us deserved, but we remain positive and fully focused on the next round.”
There is now a break of two months in the Blancpain Endurance Cup calendar ahead of the season finale, round five, which will take place at the Circuit de Catalunya in Spain on 30th September.
Blancpain Endurance Cup ‘Silver Cup’ Driver Standings:
4th Ahmad Al Harthy/Euan McKay/Charlie Eastwood, 37pts
Source. Marc Orme/Photo. Jakob Ebrey Photography