It was a far from smooth ride, but one in which Oman Racing with TF Sport secured a fighting fifth place finish as the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup got underway this weekend at Monza, Italy (20-22 April) at an event where challenges were thrown at the team almost from the outset.
With plenty of pre-season testing complete for the team and the new driver line-up of Ahmad Al Harthy, Euan McKay and Charlie Eastwood, the target for the opening round was the podium position – a realistic target given the unique nature of the circuit. All of that planning and preparation however came to zero as testing on Friday, ahead of official practice, saw the #97 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 sustain significant chassis damage as a result of the aggressive kerbing at Monza.
With parts being brought in overnight from Prodrive in the UK, the team were forced to miss the first official practice session on Saturday with the aim of shakedown of the car in pre-qualifying. In race against time the team worked flawlessly to turn around the car, well ahead of schedule. With a record-breaking two-hour engine fitting, the team were back on track, albeit down on track time.
The team were disappointed to line up seventh on the grid in the Silver Cup class with Ahmad taking the first stint in the three-hour race. With over 50 cars in the field, the first lap was always going to be a lottery and with stricken cars blocking the exit at turn one, he dropped two positions before putting in a great performance to more than reclaim the lost ground.
Euan took over for the second stint from sixth, but a drive through penalty was handed to the team for an earlier incident where the team where adjudged to have failed to drop to the full course yellow 80 KPH within the time requirement. This 20-second plus time loss dropped the #97 Aston back down the order, but Euan was able to retake one position before handing over to Charlie for the final hour of running.
Eastwood was soon on the pace in fifth position, closing on the car ahead, but with the race leaders coming through, his challenge for further gains was compromised and the team had to settle for fifth position on what was a trying and equally impressive weekend from all at TF Sport.
“It’s been a massive learning curve for me over the whole weekend, learning the track and of course the car itself and the way the championship works. We had technical problems and that meant someone from Prodrive had to come in overnight to help us get the car ready for qualifying and the guys at TF did a great job to get the car rebuilt in under two hours. We kicked on in the race and made ground and my first stint in Blancpain went as good as it could really, so it’s looking really promising going into Silverstone.”
Tom Ferrier, TF Sport Director
“Credit to the team for their great work on Friday to put the car together and a big thanks to Prodrive for their efforts in helping us achieve this at Monza. The result, given everything we went through, is good enough. Looking at the final results we can see where we lost time, ten seconds here, 20 there. We don’t quite understand the drive through as Ahmad dropped to 80 KPH in under two-seconds as required, but we just have to take that. Had things gone more smoothly we believe we would have finished second or third, from seventh on the grid. Hopefully Silverstone will see us make the most of that potential.”
Ahmad Al Harthy
“First of all, I’d like to thank the team for an amazing job after the issues we had on Friday and to be able to get straight back out and set good time was extremely motivating for us. The start – it was good but the car in front had an issue, so I couldn’t go left or right, and unfortunately, we lost a few places. I was happy with my stint, we went down to ninth and then back up to sixth. The race pace was good and combined we all did a good job and we come out of this weekend in a solid position having learned so much in what is out first race ever in the Silver category.”
“A mega job by everyone to get us out there for pre-qualifying and a chance to shake down the car itself. That was really a win in itself. In the race, my stint, I had to take a drive through (due to a penalty earlier under full course yellow) but we were on the pace and fifth is okay considering where we were, is a very good result.”