Aston Martin’s multiple championship-winning Vantage scored its first podium finish of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship [WEC] as ORT by TF made history in a thrilling 6 Hours of Spa last weekend.
This result marked an incredible 10th successive year in which Vantage has finished on the LM GTE Am podium in the WEC at Spa, and it was also a sixth rostrum appearance in as many world championship starts at the Belgian circuit for Aston Martin Racing partner team TF Sport – the reigning class champion team.
Ahmad Al Harthy became the first Omani driver to take pole position in the WEC with a stunning effort in Friday’s LM GTE Am qualifying session. Al Harthy, along with American co-driver Michael Dinan, and Aston Martin works driver Charlie Eastwood (IRL), then put on an impressive performance in a race that started in ultra-tricky weather conditions, to finish third – just 0.2 seconds from the runner-up spot.
Rainfall minutes before the cars pulled away from the grid prompted many drivers to select wet-weather tyres for the start, but Dinan – who was chosen to begin the race - opted for slicks in the hope that the track would soon dry out. With grip almost non-existent in the early stages, he dropped to eighth place, but quickly gained ground and was back among the leaders within 45 minutes.
The ORT by TF Vantage remained in the lead pack for the rest of the race; third place coming its way after an intense wheel-to-wheel fight for second spot during the final 10 minutes between Eastwood and the Corvette.
North American Aston Martin partner team Heart of Racing made its WEC debut at Spa, having taken over NorthWest AMR’s entry – and its #98 plate – in the wake of the retirement earlier this week of 2017 GTE Am World Champion Paul Dalla Lana. Anglo-American driver and Team Principal Ian James qualified a strong sixth on his Vantage GTE debut and dealt with the early conditions superbly before handing driving duties onto co-drivers Daniel Mancinelli (ITA) and IMSA GTD Pro class race-winner Alex Riberas (ESP). Despite it being the team’s first time racing the Vantage GTE, its trio remained in the top-six hunt throughout, eventually finishing seventh.
Japanese team D’station Racing played a starring role during the early stages of the race. Tomonobu Fujii (JPN) mastered the damp, but drying, conditions on slick tyres to climb from eighth on the grid to lead within the first 25 minutes and pull five seconds clear at the head of the field. With multiple safety-car periods bunching the field and Satoshi Hoshino (JPN) later being forced into a gravel trap by another car, the duo and British rookie Casper Stevenson finished ninth.
Huw Tasker, AMR Head of Partner Racing, said: “It’s great to see TF Sport get a reward for the effort so far this year, and to see Vantage back on the podium in the third round of the WEC season is very welcome. I’m particularly happy for Ahmad, who became the first Omani to record a podium and take a pole position in WEC. For Heart of Racing, it was a strong debut and great preparation for Le Mans. It was a tough ask for the drivers to come in cold and perform at such a high level against world class competition, so their performance was very impressive and shows great promise. D'station Racing also showed very well and it was unfortunate that the team was unable to capitalise on its strong start.”
The FIA WEC continues with not only its showpiece event, but the biggest sportscar race in the world - the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which celebrates its centenary this year – on June 10-11. Vantage was a winner in GTE Am last year as TF Sport’s Marco Sørensen (DEN), Ben Keating (USA) and Henrique Chaves (POR) celebrated a famous victory.