Oman Racing with TF Sport victorious in Spa 24 Hours
Oman Racing with TF Sport move into the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup Pro-Am championship lead, following a remarkable class victory in the Total 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
Aston Martin works driver Nicki Thiim, joined season-long drivers Charlie Eastwood, Salih Yoluç and Ahmad Al Harthy in one of the biggest GT races in the world. After the Dane’s impressive comeback during the British GT event last weekend, the partnership was welcome ahead of the penultimate round of the Endurance Cup.
Entering the weekend with hope of securing their fourth consecutive pole position in the series this year, the team were left heartbroken on Thursday morning. An unfortunate off for Salih at the exit of Raidillon totalled the car and a replacement Aston Martin Vantage GT3 V8 was brought in.
Swift work from the mechanics meant that despite the resulting pitlane start, the car was ready in time for qualifying. Collectively, the team set a timed average that would have acquired fourth place in class.
After a week of temperatures exceeding 40 degrees, in typical Spa-Francorchamps fashion, Saturday was laced with rain and the flagship race was started under the safety car. Nicki took the Aston Martin for the start and within the opening few laps had already begun climbing up the pack.
With assistance from a couple of safety car periods and the team’s first pitstop in the initial hour, Nicki rocketed into second place in Pro-Am and 30th overall; in a field of 72 entrants.
After a double stint, it was Salih who took over the #97 who re-joined the race in second place in class. With the damaged #37 BMW off at the exit of the Kemmel Straight, a safety car was issued instigating a flurry of pitstops. Salih made his first stop before embarking on a back-to-back stint, to emerge back on the Belgian track in sixth place in class.
Charlie took his first stint at the three-hour mark, taking over from Salih before managing another safety car for a horrendous crash at Stavelot involving the #31 Bentley. At the end of the safety car, Charlie followed the class leader into the pits and returned to the track in sixth place, once again.
In the midst of other entrants running off the track, the Irishman had put in a stellar performance to move up into the top 25 overall and second in class. By the five-hour mark, Nicki arrived back in the Aston Martin and after 40 minutes, the #97 moved into the class lead.
Though making a pitstop, the team approached the six-hours point in the lead to earn the first lot of maximum points. After seven hours had gone by, Ahmad joined the race for his first time and got the Aston back on track in the class lead. However, the immediate car behind was championship rivals, Tom Onslow-Cole in the RAM Racing Mercedes.
In mixed conditions, Ahmad held onto the class lead and entered the pits in P32 overall. Charlie jumped in for another double stint before passing over to Nicki as the rain started to fall.
With the #00 in the barriers at Blanchimont, the Dane pitted for wet tyres and handed over to Ahmad in the early hours of the morning. As the half-way point drew in, Oman Racing with TF Sport secured another haul of 12 points and the accolade of the highest placed Aston Martin.
As the rain fell heavier and the track conditions became worse, a safety car was brought out at the 13-hours mark before the race was ultimately red flagged. Once the weather cleared up in the late morning, the race was resumed under the safety car. Ahmad handed the car back over to Salih - with just over four hours remaining - who enjoyed a double stint, maintaining the class lead before pitting for his final time.
Nicki took the homecoming stint in the final two hours and despite late drama with other cars tangling, the Dane brought the #97 home in first place in class and P22 overall.
Oman Racing with TF Sport now lead the Endurance Cup Pro Am teams’ classification by 16 points. Charlie, Salih and Ahmad remain at the top of the drivers’ standings and extend their lead from nine to 16 points. The title fight will be concluded at the season finale in September at Barcelona with the #97 leading the way for the first time this season.