GT: Al Harthy’s Oman Racing team seal British GT3 teams title at Donington
Sun 15th 2014 – History was made by the Oman Racing Team at Donington Park Grand Prix Circuit on Sunday, 15th September, when the squad became the first ever entrant running under an Omani licence to win the coveted Avon Tyres British GT Championship ‘GT3 Teams’ crown – an achievement driver Ahmad Al Harthy dedicated to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said and the people of Oman.
Marking an incredibly proud moment for Muscat racer Ahmad, the final event of the 2014 British GT season was somewhat bittersweet, however, with a possible third victory of the campaign slipping away late in the two-hour encounter and, with it, hopes of winning the drivers’ title too.
Even so, the fight put up by Ahmad and team-mate Michael Caine was an impressive one and for a large portion of the race it looked as though the duo would be able to overturn the huge points lead of eventual champion Marco Attard when he had to retire his BMW Z4 on lap 10. Ultimately, the duo ended the season as Vice-Champions just 10.5 points adrift of Attard.
“The race was an emotional rollercoaster but, at the end of the day, we’re not disappointed as we knew what we had to do – it was incredibly tough to overcome the points deficit”, explained Ahmad after the race, “What is incredibly positive is winning the team title for the first time, in our first year with Aston Martin, that really is so important for everyone at the Oman Racing Team.
“It’s our strongest year in endurance racing, but we want to be stronger still next year and come back faster and even more competitive. The guys at Motorbase [Performance – the crew behind the Oman Racing Team] have done an amazing job this year, they deserve the team championship.”
Having secured pole position for the season finale, Ahmad took the opening stint of the race and produced an exquisite performance at the wheel of the No.4 Oman Air, Oman Ministry of Tourism, Oman Ministry of Sports Affairs, Nawras, National Bank of Oman and Al Hashar Group/Aston Martin Oman-backed Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3.
Making a perfect getaway at the rolling start, the 33-year-old opened an advantage of 1.3 seconds on the first lap alone and although second placed Attard did get the gap back down to below one second, Ahmad re-established full control from the fourth tour with the fastest lap at that point.
With a 15 second pit-stop ‘success’ penalty also having a potentially heavy impact on the No.4 Aston Martin pairing’s hopes, Ahmad knew he had to try and carve out a significant lead and he managed precisely that. Threading his way through slower traffic neatly, the Omani dominated at the front and after an hour of racing he pitted from the lead with an incredible cushion of almost 24 seconds.
Caine emerged from the pit-stop with a reduced advantage of around three seconds and with the chasing Porsche of Phil Keen having already served its stop, the rival car was already fully up to speed. Although chipping away at Caine’s lead, the British driver worked hard to keep Keen behind and managed to do so while also negotiating a lot of lapped traffic.
With just 30 minutes to go, there was almost high drama at Melbourne Hairpin when Caine had to stand on the brakes to avoid contact with a slower backmarker. Keen too was caught-out, slightly tagging the rear of the Aston, but they emerged from the turn in the same order.
Then, five laps later and with light rain in the air, Keen managed to get better drive out of Foggarty’s Esses to take the lead on the run into the hairpin. This then opened the way for third placed Ollie Hancock to attack in his Ferrari at Redgate a couple of corners later, demoting Caine to third. On the penultimate lap, Caine slipped to fourth but the result was enough to help seal the teams’ title.
“I’ve never driven like that before in my life”, explained Ahmad, “I knew what we had to do and I knew what was happening. The car was perfect, everything around us was going well, and then [Marco] Attard retiring as well – everything just kept motivating us and pushing us. We couldn’t quite stay in a position to win the race in the end, but it’s been a fantastic season.”
Ahmad now heads from the UK to Germany for the final round of the Blancpain Endurance Series, the iRacing.com Nurburgring 1000, which will take place next weekend, 20th/21st September.
Final 2014 Avon Tyres British GT Championship Driver Standings:
Vice-Champions: Ahmad Al Harthy & Michael Caine, 138pts
Final 2014 Avon Tyres British GT Championship Team Standings:
CHAMPIONS: Oman Racing Team, 193.5pts