Despite starting from the pitlane, Salih Yoluç and Oman Racing with TF Sport put in a sensational recovery drive to win the famous Total 24 Hours of Spa.
Aston Martin works driver Nicki Thiim, joined Salih and teammates Charlie Eastwood and Ahmad Al Harthy for the event. The Dane paired with Salih in the team´s European Le Mans Series campaign in 2017, where they finished in second place.
An off before qualifying on Thursday ended hopes of securing four out of four Pro-Am pole positions in the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup but the team’s mechanics did a spectacular job to prepare the back-up Vantage GT3 in time for Friday’s qualifying.
Although the new chassis meant starting from the pitlane regardless, the team still participated in qualifying to collectively power to fourth place in Pro-Am.
The Turkish driver watched on as Nicki started the race, promoting the #97 into the top 15 within the first two hours. Salih took over and returned to the track just inside the top 30 – in a field of over 70 entrants – and second place in class. After half an hour, Salih managed a safety car period after the #37 BMW went off at the exit of the Kemmel Straight. Seizing the opportunity, the #97 entered the pits and Salih re-joined in second place in class, before handing the Vantage over to Charlie at the three-hour mark.
With impressive pace, Charlie put the Aston in a stellar position before Nicki re-joined the race. As the clock ticked over the six-hours mark, Salih and team secured the first batch of maximum points to add to their championship tally. After Nicki elevated the #97 back into the class lead, Ahmad jumped into the car for his first stint of the race.
He joined the track to maintain the class lead, but the car immediately behind was now the championship rivals, RAM Racing. With intermittent rain, Ahmad maintained the class position before pitting, and Charlie returned to the track for another double stint.
Into the early hours of the morning, Nicki took over once again for a brief period before the rain started to fall. As the race hit the half-way point, Ahmad stepped back into the Vantage where Oman Racing with TF Sport scored the maximum points, once again; the team were also the highest placed Aston Martin in the field.
The rain became much heavier providing minimal visibility and the race was ultimately red flagged approaching 14-hours race distance. The race resumed under the safety car and with a little over four hours remaining, Salih returned to the race in the #97. He joined the track in the class lead and P21 overall before a Full Course Yellow was brought out again.
Having entered the pits to begin his stint, Salih and team had managed to gain a two-lap advantage to title rivals, RAM Racing. With the Aston running smoothly and out of trouble, Salih pitted for the final time to hand over to Nicki for the sprint to the flag.
Despite late drama with others running off track in the final couple of hours, Nicki brought the Vantage home over the line to take the class victory. The result promotes the team to the top of the Endurance Cup Pro-Am teams’ classification. It also gives Salih and teammates Ahmad and Charlie a 16-point gap to their rivals in the Endurance Cup Pro-Am drivers’ classification heading into the final round at Barcelona in September.
“It’s just another Sunday… Of course, we are very happy! Especially after my incident in first practice on Thursday, we didn’t get much running in either practices as a result. But the boys have done an amazing job to get the car ready and we owe this win to them.
“The race couldn’t have gone any better for us, the car was amazing, even in the wet and we all put in a fantastic effort to get to where we ended up. No one put a foot wrong and considering we started from the pitlane, to win one of the biggest GT races in the world after coming so close in other Blancpain rounds this season, I am really happy. More so that we sit at the top of both Endurance Cup Pro-AM championships now, too!”