PARIS: Blancpain Endurance Cup driver Ahmad Al Harthy and the Oman Racing squad made it three podiums from three races in 2019 at Paul Ricard in France on Saturday, 1st June, with a hard-fought third place finish in Pro-Am during a dramatic and action-packed six-hour ‘into the night’ race.
Continuing the team’s unbroken 100% podium finishing record this season, a fantastic series of performances from Muscat racer Al Harthy and team-mates Charlie Eastwood and Salih Yoluc mean they depart Le Castellet near Marseille as the new Pro-Am championship leaders after round three.
Notably too, the Oman Racing trio once again secured Pro-Am pole position with the No.97 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 to make it three from three in qualifying as well this year. As the season hits the midway point, Al Harthy, Eastwood and Yoluc hold a three point lead at the top of the standings.
“I’m obviously really delighted to finish on the podium and, at the same time, take over the championship points lead”, said Al Harthy, who is supported by National Bank of Oman, Oman Ministry of Sports Affairs, Omantel and Barr Al Jissah, “It was a very tough race, we had to make two extra pit stops to try and cure a mechanical issue which was hampering me in my stint.
“Luckily, Charlie [Eastwood] was able to have some strong pace after me as well in the last stint so we were able to finish in third place. There are always a lot of things that can happen in a six hour race, so to still stand on the podium is great and makes all the hard effort worthwhile, as well as being a fantastic way to thank all of my amazing sponsors and supporters back home in Oman.”
Having prepared very strongly for final qualifying with an excellent second fastest in Pro-Am during pre-qualifying on Friday, 31st May, the Oman Racing team-mates didn’t disappoint when it really mattered either by securing the squad’s third Pro-Am pole position in succession.
Yoluc was fifth quickest in class during the first of the three sessions, with Al Harthy lapping a superb second fastest in Pro-Am in session two with a time of 1m54.336 seconds. In the third and final run, Eastwood aced his session with the fastest time in class, a lap of 1m53.139 seconds, and with all three laps combined the Oman Racing drivers ensured the Pro-Am pole for the six-hour race.
At 18.00 local time, the third round of the Blancpain season began with Yoluc at the wheel of the No.97 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 and after a busy start, and early Safety Car period following an incident on the famous Mistral Straight, he ran in third position in Pro-Am. Running a double stint, the Turkish driver moved back up into second place before handing over the car to Al Harthy.
Joining the track in the same position with two hours of action having elapsed, the Omani displayed his customary consistency as well as great pace and climbed through into the lead of Pro-Am. After being pushed off the track midway through his stint, though, Al Harthy’s competitiveness was then hampered due to a mechanical issue with the car.
Resulting in the Aston Martin having to make two unscheduled pit stops, the subsequent delays meant a realistic challenge for Pro-Am victory evaporated but the podium was still very much a possibility and Al Harthy was able to hold third position in class as the night skies over Paul Ricard became increasingly dark.
Maintaining third to the end of his two-hour stint, the Muscat driver then handed over the car to Eastwood for the final 120 minutes of action. Lapping very competitively, Eastwood pressed on third place on to try and move closer to the top two in Pro-Am but the gap was just too much to bridge, following the significant delays with the extra pit visits. Nonetheless, third was a great result.
“Once again, I am delighted with everyone’s performance this weekend and in such a challenging race and we’re now looking forward to Spa”, added Al Harthy, “We’re on the hat-trick of podiums at the moment, which is incredible, and we’re just waiting for that win – if that could come in the 24 hour race, that would be very special!”
Next on the Blancpain Endurance Cup schedule will be the biggest race of the year, the blue riband Total 24 Hours of Spa which takes place over the weekend 27th/28th July at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. Before then, an officially timed two-day test at Spa will be held on Tuesday, 2nd July, and Wednesday, 3rd July.