Muscat – Sensational driving from Oman’s Ahmad al Harthy and an absolutely outstanding start to his first ever 6 Hours of Fuji were ultimately unrewarded at the Japanese track on Sunday, 10th September, when a major refuelling issue at the first round of pit-stops cost an insurmountable amount of time.
Lining-up an uncharacteristic 12th on the GTE Am grid for the penultimate race of the FIA World Endurance Championship season, after losing tyre performance later in the drying qualifying session the day before, Al Harthy was nonetheless confident for the beginning of the big race.
While stormy weather and typhoon conditions had been a threat for most of the race meeting, for raceday the track was dry and the Omani aimed to make one of his customary fantastic starts and challenge for as many points as possible.
Exceeding his own expectations, the Oman Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth, OQ, Omantel and MHD-ITICS partnered sportsman made a truly electrifying launch in the No.25 Aston Martin Vantage GTE and put together a terrific opening to the race.
Slicing his way through the order, passing no fewer than six cars, Al Harthy continued his march towards the podium battle and moved into the top five – right on the tail of the fourth placed No.77 Porsche 911 RSR at the end of the first hour.
After challenging well for fourth, there was soon an unfortunate incident with one of the LMP2 cars and as a result Al Harthy dropped to seventh. Although disappointing and frustrating, realistic hopes of a solid points result remained.
But at Oman Racing’s first scheduled pit-stop, there was a problem with the refuelling rig and the pit crew was unable to put any fuel in the car. Costing time and badly impacting the team’s strategy, there was no other choice than for Al Harthy to rejoin the race and try and pit again.
Thankfully working at the second time of asking, the huge delay effectively ended all hopes of a strong result. After taking on the required amount of fuel, Al Harthy was all the way back in 12th place and with a mountain to climb but he did the best he could and lapped competitively.
The same was true during the subsequent stints for team-mates Michael Dinan and Charlie Eastwood, both driving well but unable to make any inroads. In the end, Eastwood took the chequered flag in 13th position some four laps down on the race winning and podium entries.
In terms of the championship placings, Al Harthy, Dinan and Eastwood are now fifth in the driver standings while Oman Racing with TF Sport is also fifth in the team battle.
“What a start! I didn’t expect it to go that well, we had an incredible first lap where I think got six positions and we kept climbing and I got another two cars,” said Al Harthy. “Then we had a small incident with an LMP car which cost us, so I had to settle in seventh. We kept pushing and knew we were going to run the overcut at the pit-stop, while the rest were doing undercuts, and it would work in our favour.
“Unfortunately though, as soon as we pitted, we had a fuel failure where we couldn’t actually put more fuel in the car. That resulted in me going out again, coming back in again and then trying to fill the car which did work that time. That ruined all of the progress we had made and ended any hopes of finishing the race on the lead lap,” he said.
“From then on it was about learning as much as we could ahead of the final round in Bahrain. It’s been a really unfortunate weekend for us, Fuji is such an amazing circuit and it’s been a pleasure to drive here – and also a pleasure to have so much support from our incredible partners and also the Ambassador from Tokyo who attended as well. It really means so much. If we have the chance to return to Japan in the future, I’m sure we could have a very strong result here at Fuji.”
Al Harthy now has eight weeks to wait until the final event of his maiden season in FIA World Endurance, which will be a huge race meeting for the Omani and his many fans. Round seven of the 2023 campaign will take place in the Middle East at Bahrain International Circuit on Saturday, 4th November.