Al Harthy, Caine Aston Makes Perfect Start to Season


Avon Tyres British GT Championship (Credit: Will Belcher Photography)

Ahmad Al Harthy and Michael Caine made a near flawless start to their Avon Tyres British GT Championship campaign, leading from lights to flag to win the first to the two 60-minute races at Oulton Park.

Al Harthy had qualified the pair’s Oman Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 on pole position and turned that advantage into an early lead as the field took the rolling start first time to race towards Old Hall. Andrew Howard, starting the Beechdean AMR #1 slotted into second, with Marco Attard third in the Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 GT3 due to be taken over by Alexander Sims for the second half of the races.

Pasin Lathouras slipped back behind Derek Johnston in the early laps, Johnston in the Triple Eight BMW closing in on Attard to create and all BMW battle for third while Lathouras had to contend with the attentions of Gary Eastwood in the FF Corse Ferrari 458 to Lathouras’ AF Corse run example.

However, both battles would have only one participant remaining at the end of the race.

Attard was the first to fall, retiring the #79 trailing smoke and a sorry snail trail of fluids into the pitlane, handing Johnston third by default. Attard’s stop was the result of one of a number of issues that seemed to strike teams at a similar moment.

Having moved from the back of the grid to 16th in short order Jody Firth also retired into the pits. The Trackspeed team had worked through Saturday night to keep Firth and Warren Hughes on the grid after the damage the #12 Porsche suffered in practice on Saturday. It was more front damage that was the outward sign of an incident that also put the Jones brothers’ McLaren out of the race.

As Aston Martin led the way from pole in GT3 Ross Wylie had kept the brand ahead in GT4 aboard Beechdean AMR’s entry into the class. Through the early laps Wylie – in his first GT4 race after moving across from VW racing last season – had to defend his spot from defending class champion Rick Parfitt Jr., the Century Motorsport driver believing he had the pace to take the class lead as the 25 minute mark – and the opening of the pit stop window – approached.

Unfortunately for Parfitt Jr. and co-driver Tom Oliphant, looking to add to his Ginetta GT4 Supercup win at Donington Park yesterday, their Ginetta G55 GT4 was to grind to a halt at the foot of Clay Hill, Parfitt Jr. positing shortly after the race that a failed fuel pump could be the cause.

The stranded Ginetta brought the safety car out at the least opportune time for many teams – just as the pit window was opening.

Al Harthy passed by the pits just seconds before the pits opened and yellow flags flew almost in unison. Howard, however, slowed to be the first driver to make his compulsory stop as third place Johnson and Lathouras, fourth after Attard’s exit, both continued for another lap, before making their own stops, Caine, Luke Hines and Richard Lyons taking over from their respective co-drivers.

“I had a very good opening few laps then the plan was to get my head down and push,” said Al Harthy. “I was very happy with my own performance but I was worried when the safety car came out just before pitstops and we were lucky that it didn’t hurt us but it did take away our gap. Fortunately we have Michael and he’s a very good driver and the team – you can’t forget about the team – they did an amazing job together, this is all about team work.”

Despite the apparent disadvantage to pitting a lap later the trio were able to remain ahead of Jonny Adam who had taken over the #1 Aston from Andrew Howard.

There was further confusion as the safety car failed to pick up the leader – a task admittedly complicated by the flurry of pitstops – instead leading Alex Buncombe in the ninth place Nissan GT Academy Team RJN NISMO GT-R – back to the green flag.

That decision split the race largely in two. Buncombe, in the Nissan started by GT debutant Chris Hoy, leading a group that would have to be contented with fighting over the minor points on offer for the bottom end of the top ten.

One side effect was that the leaders had to deal with traffic in the shape of the back of the GT3 field, which artificially contracted and expanded gaps among the top eight cars. Baulked slightly by Benny Simonsen in the Rosso Verde Ferrari Caine lost ground to Luke Hines, the Triple Eight driver closing to within a second before officialdom again played its hand.

Its move was to penalise Hines for a short pitstop (all the mandatory stops in the series have to adhere to a minimum length). However, the Triple Eight team, already unhappy at race officials for the practice crash which ruled their #8 car out of race day, believe they hit the target time, but Hines came in to serve the penalty with seven minutes of the race remaining.

With Richard Lyons four seconds behind Caine, the Newmarket man completed the rest of the race with little pressure from behind to take the duo’s third win in British GT.

Jonny Adam was lifted into third place by Hines’ stop-go, which dropped him back to finish seventh. The Aston driver had to defend for almost the entirety of his stint from Matt Bell in United Autosports’ Audi. The pair were at the head of a five car train that developed after the safety car pulled in, with Rob Barff, John Gaw and Richard Abra also fighting for positions.

Gaw’s PGF-Kinfaun Aston had been lacking a bonnet for much of the race, but it sustained further front end damage, collected in contact that put Barff into retirement. He brought the FF Corse 458 into the pits with substantial rear end damage.

Gaw and Abra – separated from the battle ahead by the contact – finished fifth and sixth.

A storming second stint drive from Steven Kane brought the M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 the points for eighth place on its British GT debut, passing Buncombe on the final lap of the race. He held back Phil Keen in the #33 Trackspeed Porsche for duration of his stint, the pair completing the points’ paying positions.

Beechdean's GT4 team won on their GT racing debuts (Credit: Will Belcher Photography)
Beechdean’s GT4 team won on their GT racing debuts (Credit: Will Belcher Photography)

Just as mid race safety car split the GT3 pack it placed a huge gulf in the midst of the GT4 podium. Jake Giddings cruised victory for Beechdean AMR with a lap advantage over the second place battle.

“I had a clean start but Rick Parfitt Jr. put me under a lot of pressure and kept me on my toes in my stint,” Ross Wylie told www.theCheckeredFlag.co.uk. “I knew I made a gap through GT3 traffic but I wasn’t sure what happened to him after that, whether he had an accident or a mechanical. I’m not entirely sure but it certainly took the pressure off me. I’d been struggling with front tyre temps so I was driving on a knife edge so I was happy to complete my stint and put the pressure on Jake.

Parfitt’s retirement brought TF Sport’s Vantage GT4 into second place in class, but Devon Modell lost out to Gavan Kershaw at Old Hall, Kershaw moving the ISSY Racing Lotus Evora up to second place in class on the team’s and co-driver Oz Yusef’s series debut.

Modell and Andrew Jarman, who started the car, finished third in class of TF Sport.