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.”
It was a near perfect start for TF Sport at the very highest level in the FIA World Endurance Championship, as just 0.2s separated them from a sensational debut win in the series on Saturday in what was a thrilling battle with the factory Aston Martin entry in the LMGTE Pro-Am class at Spa-Francorchamps.
After a pre-season test at Paul Ricard, plus additional testing in Europe, TF Sport were as prepared as they could be they could be heading into their maiden season in WEC. Having won in the Michelin Le Mans Cup, then in European Le Mans Series, the team arrived ready and battling for victories.
Qualifying didn’t go as planned with a setup issues on the #90 Aston Martin Vantage GTE costing both Salih Yoluc and Euan Hankey dearly, but come race day, the pre-season hard work showed dividends.
Yoluc started the race from sixth and moved fourth from the get-go, showing clear intentions from the start. It was a very strong stint from the Bronze driver, who later opted to cede positions to the Pro drivers ahead before pitting for Charlie Eastwood.
Undeterred by this being his first WEC start, Eastwood wasted no time in closing the gap to those ahead in class, cutting the gap from some 80 seconds to 40 by the end of his stint, before Euan Hankey was handed the reins to bring the car home.
The gap hovered around the 35-second mark as Hankey and the factory #98 driven by Pedro Lamy traded best lap times. A safety car however closed the field with Hankey just six seconds adrift of the class, leader.
In a thrilling conclusion to six hours of racing, Hankey gave his absolute best to gain the win, before being pushed wide, and this resulted in the second-place finish; an astonishing result for the team on its WEC debut.
“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 with Euan on Pedro Lamy so in the end a one-two for Aston Martin with TF on the podium in its first WEC race. 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.”
Tom Ferrier, TF Sport Director
“To come into the FIA World Endurance Championship and to do that is a fantastic achievement. In saying that, we had a little luck and there’s still a few things to improve on; we need to clean some things up. Qualifying we didn’t get right so to come away with P2 demonstrates a lot of potential, so quite happy.”
“It was a good result. The Porsches were super-quick around here and, in some ways, we gained from the problems they had but we also drove without any mistakes, so I am very happy with the result. For my own performance, I am happy. The first stint was more straight forward, the second was tougher with a lot of traffic so it was about managing that and I think I do an okay job there. Overall very happy with the result.”
“We’ve entered from the European Championship to the Word Championship this year and we’ve just had our first ever podium at our first round, so we’re happy with second – a bit deflated at the same time, as to lose by two-tenths… I gave everything, gave my hardest. We made a good account of ourselves for the rest of the season.”
TF Sport are set to embark on a new and exciting chapter in its short history, as the team travel to Belgium for the first round of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) this coming weekend (May 3-5, 2018), the TOTAL 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
While the team competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2017, the opening round of the WEC Super Season will be the team’s first race at the very highest level in GT racing; an exciting challenge for the team as it fields the #90 Aston Martin Vantage GTE with Salih Yoluc, Euan Hankey and Charlie Eastwood.
Pre-season preparation has been extensive with a comprehensive test programme in Europe including two days of running at the fabled Belgian circuit. The team know the GTE well from the 2017 season but are now step up in the LMGTE Am class to compete against eight other rivals in what will be a full grid of 37 cars.
“I am really looking forward to the first round of WEC at Spa. The season has started quite late so there has been a massive build up to this point. I think we have a very strong team in and outside the car so I’m really hoping for a great result to kick off our WEC season.”
Tom Ferrier, TF Sport Director
“This is our biggest year in motorsport and it’s a privilege to be racing at such a level and against such strong competition. We’re as prepared as we can be, and we think we have everything in hand. Making predictions at this point is difficult, but we’re a top team with top drivers, so we will give our all, both on and off the track, with the aim of securing podium positions.”
“Charlie and Euan – they are fast, no surprises there. We’ll have some good competition this year, nine cars in our class, so it will be tough but fun as well. The Porsche’s have been super-fast, so I expect it will be a big fight with them. I’ve raced with Euan since 2015 and I’m hoping this will be the biggest year of both of our racing careers. We are ready.”
“I’m really looking forward to Spa. It’s the first time for the team, myself, Salih and Charlie to be in involved in the FIA World Endurance Championship. We feel privileged to be on the world stage in such a prestigious championship. It’s obviously going to be difficult going up against some of the best drivers in the world. It’s also hard to know where our pace is in relative terms to everyone else because it’s a new BoP for this year and it’s hard to tell from the Prologue at Paul Ricard. It’s not going to be the strongest track for our package but I’m very much looking forward to it!”