Sepang, Malaysia – Ahmad al Harthy added another superb achievement to his string of successes in endurance racing at Sepang in Malaysia over the weekend by taking his maiden race victory in an LMP2 prototype car during the season-opening event of the Asian Le Mans Series.
The Omani, who is currently assessing his options for next year following an excellent first campaign in the FIA World Endurance Championship this season in GTE Am, was invited to join the 99 Racing squad’s LMP2 outfit for the first two rounds of the new ALMS campaign.
After qualifying an impressive fourth fastest for the opening four-hour race on Saturday, just seven thousandths of a second shy of the front row, Al Harthy put together a very competitive start to the encounter – his first ever race at Sepang.
“It’s fantastic to have taken my first ever LMP2 victory, I’m very proud to have achieved that and especially on my first visit to Sepang,” said Al Harthy. “It was a great first race, qualifying was very, very close and my stint was really difficult but I was very happy with my performance having not driven an LMP2 car for a long time – and also adapting to the circuit as well.”
While not Al Harthy’s first taste of LMP2 prototype machinery, the Omani still lacked mileage in LMP2 compared to the majority of his rivals, further underscoring his performance. Maintaining a top four placing throughout the first hour, he moved up into third before slipping to fourth again through the pit-stop strategies.
Following great stints by Mazepin and Deletraz, the latter the reigning FIA WEC LMP2 Champion, the No.99 Oreca 07-Gibson moved through into the lead of the race in the hands of Deletraz with just under 40 minutes to go.
As rain started to fall, and then worsened into a full-blown storm, Deletraz and his chief rival pitted for treaded wet-weather Michelin tyres. With a huge amount of rain on track, the Safety Car was then deployed before red flags were shown with 10 minutes to go – Deletraz winning and taking away the fastest race lap with a time of 1m52.991 seconds (176.6 km/h).
For the second four-hour race on Sunday, Al Harthy again took the start – this time from fifth on the grid – and delivered an outstanding stint. While edged back to sixth initially, the Omani regained fifth soon after and then climbed into the top four before moving into the podium placings within the opening 15 minutes of action.
Then seizing second position during the second half-hour of action, Al Harthy ended hour one well within contention before pitting to hand the car over to Mazepin. Running in second when racing resumed after a Safety Car period, Mazepin swiftly took the lead of the race and pulled clear before then being reeled in later in the stint.
Down to second after the next stop, the race then took a turn for 99 Racing in the final hour when the planned pit-stop couldn’t be taken due to a Safety Car period which prevented access to the pits at that point. Deletraz duly ran the final stint after the stop and he was fifth with 45 minutes to go.
Delivering searing pace once again, he was just eight seconds behind the runner-up spot with 15 minutes to go. Producing a true grandstand finish after catching his rival, Deletraz then sliced into second on the final lap of the race to secure the squad’s second Sepang podium.
Al Harthy, Deletraz and Mazepin conclude the opening ALMS event of the new season leading the overall Driver standings with an advantage of 10 points. The same is true for 99 Racing in the Team Championship battle.