British GT: Challenging opening round at Oulton Park for Oman driver Al Harthy
Oman Racing Team driver Ahmad Al Harthy departed Oulton Park in Cheshire yesterday evening, Monday, 6th April, maintaining a positive mood despite a difficult start to the Avon Tyres British GT Championship season.
Although finishing in the points-paying top 10 during round one of the 2015 campaign, despite some on-track contact along the way, the Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 racer and new team-mate Daniel Lloyd were prevented from enjoying an improved result in round two after being forced to retire.
Beginning the second of Oulton’s two 60-minute races from eighth on the grid, Lloyd took the first stint and although slipping to ninth the British driver comfortably maintained the placing throughout the first 15 laps before moving back into the top eight.
Following the mid-race driver change, Ahmad ventured out onto the track and instantly reeled in the competition ahead. Running in seventh place after all of the mandatory pit-stops concluded, the Muscat racer swarmed all over the back of Gary Eastwood’s Ferrari searching for a way past.
As the duo headed through Old Hall on lap 26, navigating a backmarker from the GT4 Class, the Ferrari unexpectedly braked after the exit and Ahmad had nowhere to go. Leading to contact and significant damage, retirement to the pits was inevitable.
“Everything was looking good”, reflected Ahmad, “We were up into P7, I was catching the cars in front really quickly and our Aston felt mega, really fast and handling well. I caught them but as we went through Turn One, the Ferrari in front smacked on the brakes very hard after the exit for no reason at all. I had no time to react, and the damage ended our race – nothing I could do.
“It’s a very frustrating way to end the weekend but we know we’re quick, we have a quick car and we’ll go to the next round aiming to be back where we should be. We wanted more points from this weekend for sure, but there are a lot of positives to take away from Oulton. We’re always positive!”
In the earlier race, the Oman Air, Oman Ministry of Sports Affairs, Ooredoo, National Bank of Oman and Al Hashar Group-backed racer started off at the wheel of the No.2 Aston Martin from sixth place on the grid.
Almost immediately moving into the top five, due to a rival coming to grief on the first lap, following a Safety Car period the action resumed and Ahmad remained in the fierce battle for the podium as part of an eight car train building up behind second placed Eastwood’s Ferrari.
On lap nine, Ahmad moved into fourth place following an excursion for the McLaren of Andrew Watson and the podium edged ever closer for the Omani as he pressurised the similar Aston Martin of Andrew Howard.
With 35 minutes of the one-hour race remaining, Ahmad took third after a battle with Howard but the latter’s spin also triggered the Safety Car once more. Serving his mandatory driver-change stop as soon as the pit window opened, team-mate Lloyd took over and rejoined in 16th position.
The Safety Car headed into the pits with around 15 minutes to go and when racing got back underway Lloyd managed to claw his way back up the order into the top 10 to secure the duo’s first championship point of the season.
Round three of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship, featuring the first two-hour race of the UK season, will take place over the weekend 2nd/3rd May at Rockingham. Before then, Ahmad and the Oman Racing Team will begin their dovetailed Blancpain Endurance Series campaign next weekend, 11th/12th April, at Monza in Italy.