Oman Racing celebrated a truly outstanding performance at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France on Thursday, with Ahmad Al Harthy and Tom Jackson duo delivering a remarkable GT3 class victory in the Michelin Le Mans Cup – a key support race to the famous Le Mans 24 Hours.
Beginning the first of the event’s two Michelin Le Mans Cup encounters from 10th on the GT3 grid, Jackson took the opening stint and the British driver climbed as high as fourth before handing over the No.97 Aston Martin V12 Vantage to Al Harthy at the mid race pit-stop from fifth place, a press release said on Saturday.
Joining the track an improved fourth, the Omani reeled off some very impressive laps and swiftly moved into the coveted podium placings before taking the runner-up spot on lap nine. Looking set to finish the race at the end of 55 minutes with a fantastic second position, a time penalty for the leading Ferrari enabled Al Harthy to take a sensational victory at the 13.6-kilometre track.
As well as marking Oman Racing’s first competitive appearance in the Michelin Le Mans Cup, the race was also Muscat driver Al Harthy’s first at the Circuit de la Sarthe since contesting the Porsche Carrera Cup France round at Le Mans in 2010 when he became the first Omani to race there. Most notably, he is now the first racing driver from the Sultanate to stand on the podium at Le Mans.
“We did it – we won at Le Mans!”, said an ecstatic Al Harthy, “It’s an unbelievable result, the whole team did an amazing job. Tom had a really good stint at the start, he did a fantastic job, and the car was set-up really well, everything was working good. We battled all the way and I’m so, so proud to have climbed to the top step of the podium at Le Mans.
“All of the support we receive from Oman is amazing, the supporters, the sponsors – Oman Ministry of Sports Affairs, Oman Air, National Bank of Oman, Omantel, Barr Al Jissah and Amouage – and my family and friends. This means so much towards my future plans and what I want to try and achieve in the sport. I’m looking forward even more to Saturday now when we start on P1”.
Making a solid start to the event in the first practice with the seventh fastest time in GT3, in the second period Oman Racing lapped second fastest in class. Jackson piloted the No.97 Aston Martin for the opening qualifying session, setting the grid for race one, and lapped 10th fastest in GT3.
In the second qualifying session, determining the starting order for race two on Saturday, Al Harthy delivered a star performance to secure the GT3 pole position with a best lap of 4m00.832 seconds (203.7 km/h) which was also fifth fastest overall on the combined 49-car GT3 and LMP3 grid.
At the beginning of race one, Jackson took the opening stint and after maintaining a top 10 placing on the first lap he then started to make significant progress. Climbing into seventh position in GT3 on the second tour, he concluded lap three in fourth and edged closer to the podium placings.
Although slipping to fifth on lap five, Jackson consolidated the placing before pitting to hand over the Aston Martin to Al Harthy with roughly 28 minutes to go. Joining the race in an improved fourth position after a great pit-stop by the Oman Racing crew, Al Harthy moved up into the top three on lap eight and with all driver changes completed he set about chasing down second place.
Punching in some impressive lap times, the Omani closed down the Lamborghini Huracan ahead and took second position on the ninth tour. The leading Ferrari F458 was almost three seconds up the road but that didn’t matter as a time penalty, linked to the Ferrari’s pit-stop, meant Al Harthy would ultimately win the prestigious Le Mans support race.
With a day of rest, Al Harthy and the Oman Racing team will be back in action on Saturday morning for the second of the weekend’s two Michelin Le Mans Cup races. Expected to run in front of around 250,000 spectators, Al Harthy will take the opening stint from pole position.
“I was really happy with my lap in second qualifying, it’s fantastic to have taken pole position for race two and it really is so good to be back at Le Mans after so many years”, said Al Harthy, “After such a good first race, we can’t wait for Saturday.”
Race two of the weekend is scheduled to get underway immediately before this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours.