Podium finish apiece for each of the three Astons at GT open from Spa

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Sometimes dreams do come true in motor racing as first having to cancel their initial British GT Championship plans for 2020 even before they had begun back in March saw Oman Racing return to the racetrack this weekend for the first time this year at the penultimate round of the International GT Open Series from Spa Francorchamps.

Having flown into Belgium from home back in Oman, Ahmad Al Harthy faced the stark reality of late autumn in Northern Europe as well it being his first race of the year to contend with as he and co-driver Tom Canning looked to get in some decent test and race mileage in the Series before their scheduled Asian Le Mans Series commitments at the turn of the year. With neither driver having competed within any officially timed session anywhere since Media Day at Snetterton in mid-March, the Pro-Am pairing had nothing to prove but certainly had everything to gain.

Team mates Salih Yoluc and Charlie Eastwood also had everything to gain as the #34 TF Sport crew looked to reduce their overall Championship deficit in time for the season finale in Spain at the end of the month yet for all, the very cold air temperatures of the Ardennes would be a challenge.

Drama is never usually far away in GT Open and for Canning, that came in the earlier Free Practice 2 session after two significant accidents on track led for only a handful of meaning laps around the circuit before Qualifying – not that that mattered much to the British GT GT4 Champion as he set the #97 car up on the front row just 0.1second off Pole in his very first GT3 event!!

With Yoluc starting P7 and with a 10 second success penalty looming at their pit stop, race one would always be a tough fight for the #34 car whilst the #97 car had a clean sheet and only the lack of track time this year standing in their way. Canning would stay in the car until the end of the pit window whilst Yoluc would do the opposite of that in order to give Eastwood as much opportunity on track as possible.

By the end of the pit stops, Eastwood would still find himself battling down in P7 overall (P4 in Pro) as a direct result of their extra 10 seconds in pit land whilst Al Harthy would come out P5 overall (P3 in class) thanks to Canning’s opening salvo against some very worthy and experienced Professional drivers.

As the race reached its concluding phase, Al Harthy was very much on the pace with a ‘sniff of further success’ leading him to take P3 overall going into the Bus Stop Chicane for the penultimate time. By the end of that lap Al Harthy and Canning had secured a debut overall podium in P3 and the Pro-Am race win for their efforts. Eastwood would finish the #34 not too far behind in P5 overall (P4 in class).

Sunday’s shorter race would be conducted in even fresher temperatures but that wouldn’t stop the pole sitting Ferrari from breaking the circuits all time GT3 lap record with Eastwood just 0.034 of second behind!!

This time around it would be a role reversal as the #34 crew now raced without any success penalties whilst the #97 would face the consequences of their earlier success in Race 1 with their first additional 10 second pit stop penalty.

Again, it would be hard graft for the Irishman aboard the #34 car as the Championship leading #59 McLaren got the jump on him at the start to drop back to P3 overall as the race and the leading two cars progressed. Al Harthy would have to deal with the antics of seventeen cars into La Source for the first time, dropping a position of his own at the start but able to maintain that until his stop. 

As the #34 pitted from third with the top two cars just immediately ahead as they entered pit lane, a 10 second penalty for the lead car allowed Yoluc to make the pass up to P2 overall from within the pits and despite some late pressure from a post-race penalised Bentley was able to bring his #34 car home in second to maintain their run of podium finishes in the Series. 

Unable to repeat their success of Saturday, Canning would bring the #97 car home P10 overall (P6 in class) but both can walk away from Spa with their heads held high as the crew now look at other series for some more last minute track action before their ALMS commitments in January 2021.

Joining both TF Sport AMR Vantage GT3’s was the PROsport Racing AMR Vantage GT4 of Rodrique Gillion and Nico Verdonck. Having dipped their toes into the Series previously at Paul Ricard, this was a local race for the Belgium crew but with Verdonck on double duty at Zolder with the DTM Trophy, Gillion would have to face race 1 all by himself.

Despite mechanical issues, the Gentleman driver finished race one, albeit the last of the runners but still enough to claim a P2 finish in GT4 Pro-Am. Sundays race would see Verdonck dominate the GT4 class during the earlier stages in the teams replacement AMR Vantage GT4 before he had to helicopter out and back to Zolder for his race duties over there. With the lead gifted to him, Gillion would take another podium – P3 overall in GT4 and again P2 in Pro-Am.

These results leave Yoluc and Eastwood twenty points down in the overall Championship stakes as the Series moves to its finale in Barcelona in two week’s time.

Photo credits – GT Open / TF Sport
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