Muscat: Oman Racing’s Ahmad Al Harthy, Giacomo Petrobelli and Maxime Martin combined to deliver a top five Pro-Am finish at Germany’s Nurburgring on Sunday, 5th September, during the squad’s eagerly awaited return to the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Endurance Cup.
Almost two years exactly since Oman’s number one racing driver last competed in Europe’s biggest and most competitive GT3 endurance championship, Al Harthy performed very strongly indeed at the wheel of the No.97 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 in a highly challenging three-hour race.
Starting the encounter, the penultimate event of the Endurance Cup season, from third in Pro-Am and with hopes of a podium bid, Al Harthy took the opening stint of the race and although edged back to fourth a few laps in he handed the car over to Petrobelli, at the first pit-stop, from third.
While an unfortunate issue in the driver change did cost a bit of time, Petrobelli completed hour two without any further dramas and Aston Martin factory driver Martin then took the all-important final hour – which ended up being peppered with Full Course Yellow cautionary periods – to finish fifth.
“It was a very, very tough race for sure”, reflected Al Harthy, “We all drove the car to its absolute limit, we knew throughout the weekend we were going to have a very tough race as Nurburgring was a challenging circuit for the Aston. I was happy with my stint, I stayed out of trouble which was the plan and it was important to stay with the pack, which I managed to do reasonably well.
“As the race and car evolved I worked on adapting to the characteristics of it and I was pretty happy in the end. Giacomo did a great job as well and it was fantastic to have Max with us this weekend, with Charlie being away, and he was amazing with us. I think we got the maximum we could out of the car, P5 is a very respectable result from a very, very tough and challenging grid.”
After preparing impressively in pre-qualifying on Saturday, 4th September, with the second fastest time, the Oman Racing drivers aimed for more of the same in final qualifying on Sunday morning and emerged a very competitive third quickest in class on average times across the three sessions.
Omantel, OQ and Oman Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth supported racer Al Harthy took the first stint of the race from third in Pro-Am, 32nd overall, and maintained his placing during a very busy opening three laps. Edged back to fourth in Pro-Am on the third tour, the Omani remained there for the rest of the first hour of racing – sensibly looking after the car as much as possible.
Climbing back into third in Pro-Am just before he pitted around the 65-minute mark, Al Harthy handed over the Aston Martin to Petrobelli who emerged fifth in class. Although shuffled back to seventh position, the Italian driver settled down into his stint and pitted with just over an hour to go.
Martin had a lot of work to do during stint three but the Belgian racer did everything possible to haul the Oman Racing car back towards podium contention. Ninth in Pro-Am initially, as the final round of stops played out he moved back into seventh and closed down significant gaps.
With several incidents leading to Full Course Yellow periods, the flow of the race was impacted during the final 45 minutes. Martin, though, continued to push and climbed into sixth and then fifth in Pro-Am with just a few laps remaining. At the flag at the end of the three hours, Martin was just 0.3 seconds shy of the class top four in 26th position overall.
“This weekend really does motivate us more for the next round at Barcelona, where we hope we will have a stronger overall package”, added Al Harthy, “We’re going to work extremely hard between now and then to make sure that happens and try to be back on the GT World Challenge podium.”
The final race of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Endurance Cup season will take place on Sunday, 10th October, at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain.