For rising star Charlie Eastwood, the 2018 season has already provided its fair share of memorable moments, ranging from the sensational three runner-up positions in the FIA World Endurance Championship with TF Sport, to arriving at the garage in the dead of night at Le Mans with the bonnet completely missing. However the remaining races of the year pan out, it has already been a standout performance from the Belfast racer.
With a background in single seaters, Charlie made the switch to the Porsche Carrera Cup GB championship in 2016, taking a victory before going on to dominate the series in his second year of competition. This paved the way for the next step in his professional career as he stepped up to a twin programme in FIA WEC and the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup driving the Aston Martin Vantage GTE and GT3 respectively.
TF Sport announced Charlie’s WEC programme in January and immediately he was looking forward to the challenge. “It’s going to be a big challenge to step up to what is the very top in GT Racing, it’s a big old step,” he explained at he time. “With the line-up we have, we are confident we’ll be quick in each of our driver categories. There’s a lot of unknowns for all of us obviously, but we’re looking forward to the challenge. I know Silverstone and Le Mans and we’re planning on a good test programme. So as a team we all have the same desire and I can’t wait to get started!”
The first round of the championship took place at Spa-Francorchamps and it turned out to be a sensational WEC debut for Charlie as he helped the team secure second position, less than two-tenths of a second behind the class-winning car. His mid-stint race saw the deficit to the leader halved from 80 to 40 seconds, and this was pivotal in the victory challenge.
“We got a lot more than we really thought coming into this weekend with the second place, only two-tenths behind, so it was a massive battle in the last stint,” he said. “It’s also a fantastic result for myself in what is just my second ever endurance race in what is a big pond – WEC – so it gives us massive confidence for the rest of the season.”
Meanwhile the Blancpain season had already kicked off at Monza with the Charlie and the team recovering well from chassis damage early in the weekend to finish in fifth position. On to Silverstone for round two and a victory was very much a possibility but contact and steering damage late in the race put paid to the challenge.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the hardest races in the world and to finish can be a challenge in itself. TF Sport came close with 23 hours of running, but on this occasion it wasn’t to be. Charlie performed flawlessly throughout, surviving contact and a massive debris strike on the #90 Aston Martin that ripped away the bonnet in the dead of night. Ultimately starter motor issue and then a driveshaft failure brought an end to the spirited challenge.
“It wasn’t the result that we’d hoped for as the race through various hurdles, the last of which we fell at in the last hour,” Charlie said. “The team and drivers all showed great courage to keep pushing, even when we were out of contention. Now I’m looking forward to the rest of the season as we’ve not scratched the surface of what we can do as a team.”
Back at Silverstone for round three of the FIA World Endurance Championship, the team looked set for a famous first win until a stop-go penalty for an earlier pitstop infringement resulted in the runner-up position. Charlie’s mid-race stint saw him again close the gap to the race leader, this time from 16 seconds to one before pitting and handing over to Jonny Adam to complete the race. It was another strong performance, but it was a frustrating second on this occasion.
“We got a bit unlucky with the penalty, it was one of those hit or miss situations,” he said. “We missed the pit line by six seconds and that cost us a 75-second stop-go which really is quite harsh. It shows how much pace we had that we could recover from that to get P2.”
A crash early in the Spa 24 Blancpain race meant that Charlies didn’t get to compete, but he and the team went off to finish the season in Barcelona with a strong run to fifth position.
The WEC programme meanwhile travelled onto Fuji Speedway in Japan where Charlie took the start in damp conditions from fifth position only to find a rival car blocking his pit box early in the race. Charlie was able to more than gain back the time however and handed the Aston Martin over to Salih Yoluc in fourth place. The team went on to make it three runner-up positions from four starts in the championship as he and the team get ready for the final race of the 2018 season in Shanghai.
“Looking back, if three or four things had gone our way we may have had a chance to win but over a six-hour endurance race no one gets it perfect,” he said. “We’ve now been bridesmaids three times so hopefully we can get a win in Shanghai and make Christmas a bit shorter before the 2019 final races of the Super Season.”
The final round of the Blancpain GT Series saw Oman Racing with TF Sport record a fifth-place finish on Sunday (30 September) to bring to a close the 2018 Endurance Cup Silver Cup campaign with Ahmad Al Harthy, Charlie Eastwood and Euan McKay.
The team had hoped to cap off the season with a podium position, but the timing of late race safety car periods means that the team had to be satisfied with another strong showing albeit with a fifth-place finish after three hours of intense racing.
Saturday practice saw the team run through the setup programme, predominantly focusing on longer runs with used tyres while qualifying on Sunday saw the trio qualify in sixth position in the class.
Ahmad took the opening stint of the race, steering clear of the usual opening lap contact to maintain his position and keeping pressure on the #12 Lambo of Andrea Rizzoli ahead. As the race settled, Ahmad found himself having to defend from the #24 car from behind before pitting just before the one-hour mark and a handing over to Euan.
The second stint saw Euan drop behind the #28, now driven by Toby Sowery, but by mid-distance was back up to sixth position. Charlie took over for the run to the chequered flag following another safety car period and made the pass on the #28 and set about closing the gap to the #12 of Alex Frassineti ahead in fourth.
As string of safety cars in the final 30 minutes of racing however put paid to any hopes of making further gains and Charlie duly brought the #97 Aston Martin GT3 home in fifth position.
“It was a good result, a little high for the end of the season. We didn’t get the best start to the weekend but my stint didn’t go too badly. It’s been a tough season in Blancpain but for me it was more about learning all about endurance racing to then put that additional experience to my WEC programme. So, I have learned a great deal and will use that knowledge gained though the rest of the season.”
Tom Ferrier, TF Sport Director
“The result really sums up our year in this category really. Perhaps we didn’t quite get it right in qualifying and that put us on the back foot. We showed much better pace in the race but then we got a bit unlucky with safety cars towards the end, so another fifth place. That’s two fifth, two fourths. It’s a shame we couldn’t end the season with a podium.”
Ahmad Al Harthy
“Everyone drove perfectly and we kept away from incidents but the safety cars didn’t work in our favour. It’s a real shame as more was possible, but it’s still a good way to finish the season. Big thank you to our incredible sponsors, the fans back home in Oman, all the guys in the team and, of course, my team-mates Euan and Charlie.”
Oman Racing with TF Sport are set for one last push as the Blancpain GT Series heads to Barcelona, Spain for the fifth and final round of the Endurance Cup this weekend (28-30 September).
Ahmad Al Harthy, Charlie Eastwood and Euan McKay are aiming to end the season on a high note having shown great potential but ultimately having yet to reach the top step of the podium in 2018.
The season started with a fifth positions at both Monza and Silverstone, followed by a fourth place at Paul Ricard in the summer. The 24 Hours of Spa unfortunately saw the team forced to retire the #97 Aston Martin Vantage due to accident damage, but the team are confident that they’ll enjoy a change of fortune in Spain.
“I’m really looking forward to Barcelona. We haven’t had the results or luck we deserve this year so really hoping for a strong finish to close out the season. The recent test went well for us so we have high hopes heading into the race.”
Tom Ferrier, TF Sport Director
“It has been a challenging season for all of us in Blancpain this year. We have shown competitive speed in qualifying but have been unable to convert that into better race results. We won the Pro-Am championship in 2017 but unfortunately, we’re out of the running for the Silver Cup this year. We can only go out and try and end the year on a positive note, something I know we’re very capable of doing.”
Ahmad Al Harthy
“I’m looking forward to Barcelona and ending the season with a strong result and a good race. That’s what we all want. We tested there recently and hopefully we can build on that and get a good result to end the season.”
“This year has absolutely flown by, but we haven’t had the results we wanted so we’re looking to go out on a high. Again, it’s a new circuit for me, but the test went well so I’m looking forward to the weekend and hopefully we can finish the season with some silverware.”
Oman Racing with TF Sport were left disappointed after early exit from round four of the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup, the 24 Hours of Spa. Having made gains early in the race to run fourth, an off three hours into the race effectively ended the podium challenge there and then.
Ross Gunn joined Ahmad Al Harthy, Charlie Eastwood and Euan McKay in the #97 Aston Martin Vantage GT3, keen to build on the string of points finishes. Qualifying proved to be a bit mixed with the team losing time following contact from the #42 Strakka, whilst Ahmad was at the wheel.
Night practice followed with all four drivers putting in the laps before pitting early to preserve the car. Race day saw Ross take the start from seventh, quickly moving ahead of the #78 Barwell entry to run in sixth before pitting at the one-hour window.
Ahmad took over for the second stint, running as high as fourth as the stops cycled through before taking a comfortable fifth position and finding good pace from the Aston Martin. A full course yellow followed, and Ahmad pitted for fuel and tyres and resumed for another stint before handing over to Euan.
Unfortunately, Euan lost control of the car at turn eight on his out lap, making heavy contact with the barriers. He was able to return the car back to the pits where the team set about repairing the front left corner. It was another mighty effort from the team and Euan was able to get back out, but it was clear that the Aston Martin still had problems.
Euan pitted again and the team set about looking at rear brake callipers before the decision was taken to retire from the race such was the level of damage sustained.
“It’s been a disappointing week for us,” stated TF Sport Director Tom Ferrier. “There’s not much to say about the race. We struggled to find pace from the car all week and then in the race, it finally came to us. Ahmad in particular really found some time in his double stint, but unfortunately we never got to show it in terms of the results.
“Euan made a mistake, but that happens in racing. The team worked hard to try and get the car back into the race, but it just wasn’t our weekend.”
Oman Racing with TF Sport are all set for one of the biggest challenges on the GT calendar, the Total 24 Hours of Spa, round four of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup (26 – 29 July).
As previously announced, Aston Martin Racing factory driver Ross Gunn joins Ahmad Al Harthy, Euan McKay and Charlie Eastwood in the #97 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 for this event. Currently fourth in the Silver Cup with 35 points, the team are looking for its first podium of the season and to close the deficit to the points leader.
Testing for the Blancpain Series took place in early July with TF Sport running all four drivers and ended with the team fastest of the Silver Cup runners. This bodes well for the team that took Pro-Am title honours at the circuit last year with the runner-up position.
“The test day went well; it’s a very long and difficult track so it’s great to get some mileage in ahead of the big Spa 24-hour race. I think we have a great chance going into the race with a great team and line up around us. I have been told its one of the most difficult 24-hour races in the world, so I can’t wait to give it a go!”
Ahmad Al Harthy
“I’m really looking forward to the biggest race of the year, the one we’ve been waiting for and has been our focus for the last few months. We know how tough it’s going to be, such a challenge for the team and for the drivers. It’s a real highlight in the schedule and we’re aiming for a great result after our title winning run to P2 in 2017.
“We have great memories and it’s definitely something we want to build on this year and – most importantly – that we have a good, safe and clean race and then see where we are after 24 hours!”
Tom Ferrier, TF Sport Director
“We know this is an especially tricky race and we certainly can’t take anything for granted. We’ve not had the season we’d been hoping for in this championship so far, so we’re really seeking a strong result at Spa. It’s a great to have Ross on board for this race, and we have a great driver line-up, so let’s see if we can bring home decent points from Belgium.”
“I’m really happy with how the test went and I think we’re in a good position going into the race week. It was also my first time at Spa and I loved it, it’s such a great place and steeped with history. The circuit itself was great fun and I can’t wait to get back there.
“The addition of Ross will help us, and he gelled well with the team instantly. I’m thoroughly looking forward to what is undoubtedly the flagship weekend of our season, and I can’t wait to see what we can do.”
“It was great to work with the TF Sport team, Charlie, Euan and Ahmad before the big race at the end of the month. Everything felt familiar from the word go, and from there we worked through our programme. We are feeling confident for Spa 24.”
Ahmad Al Harthy, Euan McKay and Charlie Eastwood joined forces for the third time this year in the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup, running the #97 Oman Racing with TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage at the Paul Ricard 1000km race.
Having previously secured two fifth positions in the championship, a podium position was a realistic aim, even with the addition of an extra 20KG of performance ballast.
The two day event saw the team work through the practice sessions ahead of qualifying on Saturday morning. All three drivers took part with an average time good enough for fifth position in the Silver Cup.
Ahmad took the start and during the opening hours of the race, made progress with Euan taking over from the Omani driver and putting in a particularly strong stint to move third in class.
At the halfway mark, Ahmad and soon after Charlie were back behind the wheel, leading the class at one stage, but a slow pitstop cost the team valuable time, dropping them to fifth.
Euan took over for the final run to the flag in darkness, picking up fourth position as a rival took a drive through penalty, to record the team’s best result of the season in the Blancpain GT Silver Cup.
“We were fast enough, we had the pace to finish second or third,” said TF Sport Director Tom Ferrier. “So with the speed it’s disappointing to lose time in the pits on more than one occasion. We also had some contact, but that wasn’t a factor. The winner got lucky with the timing of the safety car, so they were out of reach but we certainly could have had a podium. The stops cost us, so we just have to regroup and we’ll try again.”
TF Sport are next in action in the British GT Championship with momentum on their side and then it’s on to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
With a pair of fifth place finishes, Oman Racing with TF Sport head to Paul Ricard this weekend (1-2 June) for the third round of the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup, seeking a strong result to get their Silver Cup championship challenge back on track.
Chassis damage in practice for the first race of the season at Monza put the team on the back foot, while late race contact at Silverstone this month denied the team an almost certain podium position. Oman Racing with TF Sport however has a good record at the French Grand Prix venue where last year in the six-hour 1000KM race, the team finished second in class.
“Really looking forward to Paul Ricard. It’s longer than the other Blancpain GT races, so it will be a challenge. To add to the difficulties, the race will go into the night which again adds another very tough element. We had great pace in the race at Silverstone, just with some unfortunate damage, but we’re all looking for a good result at Paul Ricard.”
Tom Ferrier, TF Sport Director
“We turned the corner in British GT last weekend and we hope that we can do something similar this weekend at Paul Ricard in the Blancpain Series. We’ve not had the best results so far this year with two fifths, but we have shown good speed. We need to turn that speed into podium positions if we are to be in the running for the Silver Cup later in the year.”
Ahmad Al Harthy
“Last year we came away with a great result in Pro-Am and although we’re facing a different challenge this year in the Silver Cup, we are feeling confident we have a strong package. Obviously, anything can happen in a race as long as six hours, but we’ll approach it the same as any other, always pushing. With the night-time aspect too, this race acts as very strong preparation for the Total 24 Hours of Spa in July so everyone will have one eye on that too.”
“I’m really looking forward to Paul Ricard after a strong showing from us all at Silverstone. We were unfortunate not to come away with some silverware, so I’m confident we can challenge for honours this weekend. The 6-hour race poses a new challenge, and I have faith that it will play to our strengths with our race pace having been our biggest asset to date.”
A certain podium and potentially a race win seemed to be on the cards at the second round of the Blancpain GT Series last Sunday at Silverstone (20 May). Unfortunately, late race contact resulted in lost time and a fifth-place finish for Oman Racing with TF Sport.
Ahmad Al Harthy, Euan McKay and Charlie Eastwood again teamed up in the #97 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 and under sunny skies at Silverstone the trio worked through an extensive programme to ready themselves for the race.
Qualifying went to plan with the team recording the third fastest time – as an average – following runs for all three drivers. Ahmad lined up on the grid for the first stint as it was announced that the #90 entry had received a penalty and placed at the back of the grid.
Effectively starting second in the Silver Cup class, Ahmad – well-aware that to finish well, first you must finish – opted for a cautious start before handing over the Aston Martin to Euan in fifth position. The Scot took a more aggressive stance and was soon closing in on a tremendous battle for positions two through to five. Euan made ground and positions to move third in class at just over half distance.
Charlie took over for the final stint, putting laps significantly quicker than the two cars ahead. Very much in contention for the win, the Belfast-based racer went to pass a car in a differing class on lap 70, but contact was made, and he was forced to return to the TF Sport pit for a steering arm change. Fast work from the team ensured that he was able to re-join, but fifth position was the result.
“It’s disappointing as again we showed good pace,” stated TF Sport Director Tom Ferrier. “A podium was on the cards easy. Massive credit to the guys to fix and turnaround the car that fast as we still got a fifth place and good points. We cannot afford any slip ups now moving forward if we are serious about winning this championship.”
It’s only a short break until the third round of the Blancpain Endurance Cup, which takes place 1-2 June at Circuit Paul Ricard.
Oman Racing with TF Sport head to Silverstone this coming weekend (19-20 May) for the second round of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup.
The opening race of the championship at Monza saw the team recover well from a lack of track time in practice to finish fifth in the Silver Cup with Ahmad Al Harthy, Euan McKay and Charlie Eastwood. With over 50 cars competing, including nine in the Silver Cup, the fast sweeping nature of the Silverstone circuit is expected to play to the strengths of the #97 Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
The team finished second at the same venue last year and recently enjoyed a successful test at the circuit as they chase their first podium of the Blancpain GT Series campaign.
“I’m looking forward to Silverstone, this is essentially my home track which also means the track I have driven most on the Blancpain calendar. We learned a lot in Monza with some great points to take from the weekend. I hope we can build on this going forward into Silverstone to try and get on the Silver Cup podium.”
Tom Ferrier, TF Sport Director
“Silverstone is our home race, so we’re all excited to be racing there. We believe the Aston Martin will be strong at this circuit and all three drivers know the track well. We have some improvements to make over Monza both from the team and from the drivers, but I’m confident we’ll be in the hunt for podium positions.”
Ahmad Al Harthy
“I’m looking forward to racing at Silverstone and it’s the home race for Aston Martin and TF Sport and indirectly Oman Racing as well. I’ve raced many times at Silverstone and I can’t wait to compete in the Silver Cup with my new teammates. We’re seeking a positive performance all around from qualifying to the race itself, but we know it’s going to be extremely challenging as we saw in Monza. There should be a large attendance, so I’m really looking forward to it and hope we can come out with a positive result.”
“We were hoping for a lot more at Monza, so we’ll be looking to bounce back this weekend at Silverstone. We tested there a few weeks back and it went well, so I’m confident we can get a good result and kick start our season.”
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.”