Circuit Paul Ricard front-row qualifier Ahmad Al Harthy didn’t have the opportunity to battle as intended for an opening round GTE podium during the European Le Mans Series curtain-raiser on Sunday, 17th April, when team-mate Sam De Haan was barged into retirement on the very first lap.
Following a sensational performance by Oman Racing’s Al Harthy in his maiden ELMS qualifying session on Saturday afternoon at the French track, hopes were justifiably high of a very strong challenge for silverware during race one of the season – the 4 Hours of Le Castellet.
Things began well when the race got underway at 11.00 local time, with British driver De Haan maintaining second position off the start in the black and silver No.69 Aston Martin Vantage GTE and then taking the GTE race lead.
At the end of lap one, though, a multi-car tangle at the final corner among the LMP3 class contenders resulted in the Oman Racing car receiving hard contact to the front-right. Forcing De Haan off the track with broken steering, retirement was all but instantaneous.
Although managing to rejoin the track, albeit a long way down the GTE order, the damage meant De Haan had no option but to park the Aston Martin at the side of the track on the start/finish straight and begin the season with a bitterly disappointing retirement through no fault of his own.
“It’s really unfortunate what happened in the race”, said a disappointed Al Harthy, “After we had taken the lead, an LMP3 car just completely lost control and contact was made on the front-right of our car which broke the steering arm. From there we had to retire the car. Sam did a great job with the start, he did a great job gaining the lead and everything was going as planned.
“Our strategy was very solid, based on our race runs in testing and practice, and we did learn a lot over the last week at Paul Ricard testing and analysing the car. We have some time to get back and re-prep for Imola now but from what we’ve seen in qualifying here, the car was really strong and our pace as a team is really strong. I’m really looking forward to all of that materialising in round two.”
While the dejection of the outcome to round one of the ELMS season will take time to process, double GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup Pro-Am Champion Al Harthy already has his sights fixed on race two of the season at Imola in Italy which will take place on Sunday, 15th May.
Determined to hit back in style, not least for long-time partners Oman Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth, OQ, Omantel and MHD-ITICS, Oman’s number one racing driver says no stone will be left unturned when preparing for next month’s ELMS contest.
He added: “Everyone worked so hard over the past week and everything had gone to plan up to the incident, it’s a major disappointment for us all but we’ll be back! I have to say a huge thank you to everyone at Oman Racing, to the TF Sport guys who prepare the car, and to all of the partners who are an integral part of this journey into European Le Mans Series this year.”
Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola, Italy, will host the second event of the European Le Mans Series campaign over the weekend 14th/15th May.
Source. Marc Orme/Photo. Andrew Lofthouse