Muscat – Asian Le Mans Series Championship leaders Ahmad al Harthy, Louis Deletraz and Nikita Mazepin claimed their second victory of the 2023/2024 season in round three at Dubai Autodrome on Sunday, to also boost their advantage at the top of the standings to 20 points.
Delivering an exceptional performance during the opening stint of the four-hour contest, having qualified on the front row in the No.99 Oreca 07-Gibson LMP2 car, Oman’s Al Harthy challenged hard for the lead early on before being forced to mount a stirring recovery after contact from a rival.
Driving impeccably, and producing some outstanding, determined overtaking, Al Harthy battled back with aplomb from sixth place and worked his way through to the lead on lap 23. Following similarly strong stints from Mazepin and Deletraz, the 99 Racing squad celebrated the win by 3.5 seconds.
“It’s always great to win, but to have fought back so strongly after the contact and to have extended our lead in the championship is fantastic” said Al Harthy .
“Everyone at the team did an amazing job all weekend here in Dubai, and Nikita and Louis both drove an incredible race. Our car was strong and the strategy worked well, and I was very happy with my pace personally as well as the overtake to get the lead.
“We’re in a great position in the championship and have a good lead ahead of the final two ALMS races in Abu Dhabi next weekend, but there’s a lot of racing to go and a lot that can happen. We’ll keep our heads down and work as hard as ever to ensure we have the best car and set-up for Yas Marina and, hopefully, be able to continue our great momentum and push for the title.”
Al Harthy made a strong start, challenging for the lead on the outside at Turn One but having to tuck in behind the No.90 car on the exit. The pole-starting No.55 prototype had been shuffled to third and did make slight contact with Al Harthy’s car after the apex of the corner, but thankfully there was no damage caused.
Due to a heavy accident in the pack further behind, the action was quickly placed under Safety Car conditions and the race didn’t resume until lap six. Al Harthy made a good re-start and stayed in the leader’s wheel tracks, sticking within one second of his rival as the opening half hour was completed.
On lap 13 though, as Al Harthy was in the process of passing a backmarker, the Omani was tagged by an over-exuberant Giorgio Roda in the No.22 machine and the ensuing spin dropped the 99 Racing car down to fifth position. Recovering to fourth the next time around, within the next 10 minutes he was back into second after a penalty pit-stop for Roda and spin for the No.55.
Al Harthy then pitted for fuel, out of sequence due to the earlier incident, and rejoined the race in sixth. Back into the top three at the 45-minute mark, Al Harthy was right with the second placed No.30 car as the lead trio circulated almost as one through traffic. Slicing into second on the outside of Turn One on lap 23 with a very bold move, the Omani set his sights on leader Salih Yoluc.
Swarming all over Yoluc into lap 24, the next time around at Turn One Al Harthy seized his chance and replicated his earlier pass on the outside with a sensational move. No sooner had he taken the lead, Al Harthy pulled away and as the race entered hour two he was almost two seconds clear.
Following a Full Course Yellow cautionary period early in the second hour the action resumed and Al Harthy then pitted from the lead to hand over the car to team-mate Mazepin, who joined the action in sixth spot.
As more pit-stops took place, the No.99 car moved back up the order and returned to the lead of the race 10 seconds clear. Mazepin pitted for fuel just before the halfway point, rejoining with a lead of around 3.4 seconds, but later in his stint he did begin to come under increasing pressure.
Pitting with less than 90 minutes of racing to go, Mazepin handed the car over to Deletraz and after the pit-stops played out the latter held a lead of 8.5 seconds – this was short-lived, though, when the Safety Car was deployed due to an incident with one hour and 15 minutes to go.
At the resumption Deletraz pulled clear again and after his final refuelling stop, with roughly 40 minutes to go, he moved back into the lead but with a much smaller margin. Never putting a wheel wrong, Deletraz opened a gap again to take the victory by 3.5 seconds after 119 laps of action.