GT: Winning start to British GT season for Oman’s Al Harthy at Oulton Park
Tuesday, 22nd April 2014-Oman Racing Team drivers Ahmad Al Harthy and Michael Caine made the perfect start to their 2014 Avon Tyres British GT Championship title bid with a commanding victory during the opening round of the season at Oulton Park International Circuit on Monday, 21st April.
Adding a competitive seventh place finish in round two later in the day, the duo also departed the Cheshire venue as the provisional championship leaders – holding a single point advantage over reigning champion Andrew Howard and his team-mate Jonny Adam
Having qualified on pole position by a significant 0.5 second margin on Saturday, 19th April, Omani 32-year-old Ahmad took the opening stint for the first of the day’s two 60-minute races and didn’t put a wheel wrong through a faultless opening half-hour.
Easing away at the wheel of the Oman Racing Team Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3, the second year British GT driver was more than two seconds clear by lap six and controlled the race impeccably. As the race entered the pit-stop window phase for mandatory driver changes, Ahmad continued to increase his advantage and with 35 minutes to go he was over nine seconds to the good.
The Safety Car was then deployed following an incident, eroding his lead, but after pitting at the end of the subsequent lap – and with a great turn around by the Motorbase Performance pit-crew which looks after the Oman Racing Team car – Caine emerged back into the race in the lead.
Although his advantage was reduced to just 0.6 seconds at one stage, over the final 10 laps Caine pulled way once again to take the chequered flag by a very healthy 3.5 seconds – sparking delirious celebrations for the Oman Air, Oman Ministry of Tourism, Oman Ministry of Sports Affairs, Nawras, National Bank of Oman and Al Hashar Group/Aston Martin Oman-backed squad.
“Winning the first race on the Oman Racing Team’s official debut in British GT, with a brand new car in the Aston Martin, is truly amazing – it hasn’t sunk in yet”, said an elated Ahmad immediately after the race, “Everything was great in my stint, through the first two corners I played it safe and then started push and kept pushing all the way. Traffic was an issue, but you expect that at Oulton.
“It was all quiet on the team radio, so I checked after a while to make sure all was OK and everything was good. Then, the Safety Car came out just before the pit-stop – it was close to hurting our lead but thankfully didn’t take it away. After the stop we needed Mr. Consistency and that’s Michael, he brought it home safely. What a fantastic start to the season, the perfect way to begin the year.”
Beginning round two from sixth on the grid, Caine piloted the No.4 Aston Martin for the first stint and managed to move into fifth straight away before being nudged back to sixth half a dozen laps into the race. On lap 12, a few minutes prior to the pit-window opening, the Safety Car was deployed due to an accident at Old Hall and when the action re-started on lap 16 Caine made his stop.
When all of the driver changes had been completed, the No.4 Oman Racing Team Aston Martin with Ahmad behind the wheel ran in 13th position. Within a couple of laps, though, the Safety Car made its second appearance following a two-car tangle and remained on track for quite a while.
At the second re-start, Ahmad held ninth place and with less than seven minutes remaining there wasn’t much time available to make further headway. Even so, he grabbed eighth position on lap 29 and then moved up into seventh two laps before the finish to cap a majorly impressive weekend.
Round three of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship, the first two hour race of the season, will be held at Rockingham in Northamptonshire two weeks from now, Bank Holiday Monday, 5th May.
Provisional 2014 Avon Tyres British GT Championship Driver Standings (after Rd2):
1st Ahmad Al Harthy & Michael Caine, 31pts