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Two Spa podiums for Oman Racing Team in British GT

July 15th 2014

The Oman Racing Team claimed two podium finishes at the mighty Spa-Francorchamps track in Belgium during rounds seven and eight of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship (11/12 July).

The Motorbase Performance Aston Martin Vantage GT3 of Ahmad Al Harthy and Michael Caine and the sister car in the hands of Rory Butcher and Jeff Smith finished second and third in the first race of the weekend to give the team it’s best result in the championship. With tenth and 13th places in the second race, the team left the world-famous track pleased with a good weekend’s work.

In qualifying for the opening race, Al-Harthy was just a fifth of a second away from pole as he posted P2, despite running with the regular 75kg plus an extra 15kg of ballast following a review of the balance of performance.

The Al Harthy and Caine Aston Martin takes the chequered flagWith early morning mist hanging over the circuit before the opening race on Saturday morning, the track was damp in places and some teams opted to change to slick tyres after the formation lap. The Oman Racing Team, however, boldly decided to run slicks on both cars from the outset and the decision reaped dividends.

Al Harthy led the race until the pit stop and Caine took over, but the Aston Martin was just unable to fend off the Porsche of Phil Keen over the closing stages of the race. However, second place was a great result for the Oman car and a superb performance from Butcher and Smith sealed third place to put both Motorbase cars on the overall podium for the first time.

Butcher and Smith took third place in the opening raceIn the second race, an early clash with a Ferrari looked set to have ruined the race for Al Harthy and Caine. However, some quick pit work, clever use of safety car periods and a fighting recovery drive got them up to tenth place at the finish, three places ahead of the Butcher/Smith car. But it could have been very different for Butcher and Smith as they were on target for a top six finish until they were badly delayed in the pits by another car. The loss of 14 seconds and seven places was a devastating blow after such a strong performance.

The British GT season now has a summer break before round nine at Brands Hatch (30/31 August).

Ahmad Al Harthy
Race one was great. Unfortunately, with the extra weight we had to carry, the Porsche was quicker in sector one and it was always going to happen that we’d end up P2. Second place, though, was a great result and I was really happy with my driving. After pitting for the new tyre in race two, we were practically dead last but the first Safety Car came to our help. Then, it was a matter of Michael passing the GT4 cars and trying to get among the GT3s. When I took over the car, I gave it absolutely everything. On the last lap we passed four cars and to get into the points again like that was fantastic. The team was delighted to have a podium and to have scored in both races. I’m really happy – huge thanks to the team.

Rory Butcher
It was a tough call by the team to go with slicks for the first race and we were one of the only teams to make the call. But it worked out for the best and that was my first overall podium in British GT. The second race was always going to be tough from P14 but I got up to P9 and then we had some really bad luck in the pits. It was really frustrating as Jeff had excellent pace and I’m sure we’d have got into the top six.

David Bartrum - team principal
Michael took damage to the car from contact with the Ferrari in the second race. The opening laps resulted in billowing smoke off the left rear corner and concern about a possible puncture. He pitted and we changed the left rear wheel after checking for damage. We didn’t lose a lap and lucked in to the safety car coming out, which enabled Michael to join the back of the queue. When it went green, we went back through the field and up to the GT3 cars. Then the pit window opened just as the safety car appeared for the second time and after a flawless change, Ahmad rejoined in 17th place. The safety car was out for a long time and the race finally re-started with 10 minutes to go. Ahmad then sent about re-taking places and fought through to tenth.

Overall, it was a great weekend for the team and our first double podium. The drivers did a great job and everyone in the team worked really well. It’s a real shame that Rory and Jeff didn’t get the result they deserved in the second race.