Whilst some continue their podium streak a late heartbreak for R-Motorsport at Ricard

Sunday, June 02, 2019

This weekend saw the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup take to the home circuit of the Stephane Ratel Organisation for their now customary double length, third round of the 2019 season with the 1000km of Paul Ricard.

For the five full season Aston Matin Racing Partner Team entries from Garage 59, R-Motorsport and Oman Racing with TF Sport all spread across three of the available four driver classes of racing, this race race would also see the need of important preparatory work ahead of the banner 24Hr event at Spa Francorchamps at the end of July as well as the extended points that the 6hr would offer.

It was consecutive podiums in the Pro-Am and Am Classes for the #97 Oman Racing with TF Sport car as well as the #188 car from Garage 59. For the three Pro class cars, Silverstone was another one to forget with the #59 Garage 59 car of Come Ledogar, Jonny Adam and Andrew Watson being taken out of the race on the opening lap with significant frontal damage, unfortunate driver sickness within the R-Motorsport camp forcing double driving duties for AMR factory driver Maxime Martin for whom their first decent finish of the season so far looked on the cards before a bizarre incident with track debris forced the untimely release of the #76 cars internal fire extinguisher.

With many of the fifteen drivers associated with these five Aston Martin Race cars also required for driving duties at the Le Mans 24Hour Official Test day the next morning, this weekend was always going to be a little frantic. With cars rebuilt and drivers well again where applicable, the Pre-Qualifying Race on Friday and Qualifying itself on Saturday morning went relatively well across the board withe the #62 R-Motorsport car of Mathieu Vaxivierre heading the group on the early evening grid in P6 overall with the #59 Garage 59 of Jonny Adam right behind. Jake Dennis and his #76 car completed the AMR Pro grid in P13 whilst the #97 Oman Racing and #188 Garage 59 cars started the race from pole position in their classes - P23 and P34 out of the starting number of 49 cars respectively.

Racing from early evening and up until midnight, the thunderous grid took the green light at the stroke of 18:00hrs leading to an understandable large number of avoiding manoeuvres through the first sequence of corners to avoid any inevitable contact. Whilst that chaos worked well for Adam on the lap (gaining two places) it didnt work our quite so well for Salih Yoluc in the #97 Oman car who lost seven places on the opening lap alone. Restraint would soon be called for as three cars were involved in a high speed incident at the end of the Mistral Straight that would require an early use of the Safety Car.

Later confirmed as an incident that caused no significant injury to any driver or marshal, twenty five minutes of race time was lost and then on the (again) congested restart another incident at the final corner would lead to further 10minutes of lost racing. For some, these periods allowed teams to split their fuel/driver strategies but only time would tell who had made the right choices!

By the end of the first hour, Adam was pushing hard against both Rowe Racing Porsche's for P3 in his #59 car sure that he was faster than them as the leader scampered off into the distance. For those who didn't pit under the Safety Car, sixty five minutes was the maximum stint time per driver (which could be reset by passing through the pit lane) as it was time for their first stop. Due to the now split strategies down the pit lane, by the time the starting drivers of Adam (#59), Dennis (#76) and Vaxivierre (#62) had all pitted their positions relative to the leader had dropped although both the #97 and #188 cars were still in podium claiming positions in Pro-Am and Am.

As the laps and hours ticked by, the AMR Pro class cars slowly hauled themselves up the timing board although the #62 R-Motorsport car would take a hard hit with a drive through penalty for an unsafe release - at first contested but later confirmed. At the two hour mark of racing all would pit for a full service and driver change.

Alex Lynn was now aboard the #76 car for his first racing experience of the Blancpain GT Series and was pushing his way up the timing screen from his inherited P11 position. Andrew Watson, now in the #59 car would become involved in a dice with Christian Englehart and his Lamborghini that would keep those two far too occupied to notice the large group back markers in front that, in defending their positions, lead to another car bumping into the #97 Oman Racing car of Ahmad Al Harthy to send him spinning off towards the tyre wall. With only the smallest of touches at either end of his car, the Omani racer would relinquish control of his Pro-Am class as a result as he was forced to seek further assistance from the team with two unscheduled stops. It wasn't his fault but they were certainly paying a high price for someone else incident.

As the half way point car and went, Lynn was now up to P5 in Pro and Alex West was maintaining the Am Class lead that Chris Harris had earlier established in the #188 car. Trouble was obviously haunting Watson as he and his #59 car suddenly started to plummet down the order, down from P3 to 23 in only a matter of a couple of laps - sadly he had to pit from which we would see the blue and white #59 car no more. An electrical issue apparently - gutting for them all.

Going into the final two hours, the third and final driver for each car would be racing in total darkness with only the headlight of them and others to light the way.

Lynn would pit and hand the #76 car over to Marvin Kirchhofer from an overall P2 position whilst team mate matt Parry would hand his #62 car to Maxime Martin. Chris Goodwin would inherit the Am class lead in the #188 whilst Charlie Eastwood had a little work to do to recover their #97 car back to a podium position after Al Harthy's earlier and externally influence spin.

Kirchhofer would soon come within the sights of Marco Mapelli's Lamborghini, the German would be able to fend off the Italian for a couple of laps but the inevitable was there to be seen before the disjoined final stops between the two cars set up a final hour of cat and mouse between them for the final step of the podium. Goodwin meanwhile would be enjoying the benefit of being the Am Class leader that also headed all of the remaining Pro-Am Class runners as well!!

Unfortunately for Kirchhofer and the R-Motorsport team, Mapelli's Lamborghini was finally able to pass the #76 Aston Martin Racing Vantage GT3 with just five minutes remaining with a move that he simple had no answer to with the clearly faster Lambo.

Despite losing that final step of the podium at the end of 5 hours 55 minutes of racing, the #76 still claimed an admirable P4 finish (just 1.1 seconds behind P3) after what had been a fairly disappointing Blancpain season so far. Well done to them.

For the #188 Garage 59 car, Paul Ricard meant a third consecutive podium for them in the Am Class but this time on the top step with the first win of the season so far for Alex West, Chris Harris and Chris Goodwin and it was the same sense of achievement for the #97 Oman Racing with TF Sport car of Ahmad Al Harthy, Salih Yoluc and Charlie Eastwood as they recovered to a P3 finish in Pro-Am.

These results take the #97 car to P2 in the Pro-Am drivers Championship and P3 in the Pro-Am Teams Championship - a similar position for the #188 crew who now stand P2 in both Drivers and Teams listings.

The next round of the season for these guys will be at Spa and the Total 24 Hours of Spa at the end of July.

Photo credits - Garage 59 / TF Sport / R-Motorsport / Blancpain

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