It was a new venture at the weekend for Optimum Motorsport as they took part in the FIA Motorsport Games in Vallelunga for the first-time, representing Kuwait with the distinctive #007 Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
Team Captain Khaled Al Mudhaf and Zaid Ashkanani teamed up in GT Cup as a Bronze-Silver partnership with both on a steep learning curve in what was new machinery. Very much an old-school circuit, the Italian track is challenging enough at the best of times and with rain dominating the event, multiple safety cars and red flags were a key to the three-race event.
Through it all came the 007 paring to finish the deciding rain hit main race in 14th position, with Zaid recording the fastest lap of the race and with it the Pirelli Speed Hero Award. The team used superb strategy to run on slick tyres while those around did not, to carve the way though the field to run as high as fifth.
It was a roller-coaster weekend for the team however, with the first qualifying race all but over on the very first lap as Khaled was taken out by the Belgian entry. With substantial front-end damage to the GT3, the team worked hard to prepare the car for the second qualifying race the next morning.
This too was another difficult race with another safety car start, followed by a red flag period as the rain intensified resulting in the Russian and Malaysia entries crashing out. The series organiser opted to restart the race – following a driver change – with Khaled behind the wheel for the final 20 minutes of racing. Conditions did improve, with the Team Kuwait car taking the chequered flag in 18th.
The main and deciding race of the FIA Motorsport Games saw Zaid starting 19th on slick Pirellis while many around him were on the full wets. It was an inspired decision as he was on the move from the outset, quickly dispatching Malaysia, Russia and Great Britain to run 17th. The progress continued as he sliced his way through the field to move into the top ten after just 12 minutes of racing.
This soon became fifth position, where Zaid enjoyed a great tussle with the Polish entry before the rain intensified once again, and on the slicks, was forced to reduce his pace. Zaid handed over to Khaled in 12th position, but as a rookie on this now virtually flooded circuit, there was little he could do to maintain position amid two more safety car periods and had to settle for 16th at the chequered flag.
While not the top ten they had hoped for, Team Kuwait thoroughly enjoyed the event and hope to return in 2020.
Shaun Goff, Optimum Motorsport Team Principal
“First of all, it was great to see the car back out, as it was a bit doubtful after the incident on Saturday with the Belgian car, so credit to the team for their hard work on Saturday evening to keep us in the race.
“We made a great strategy call for the main race with the slicks and we gained a good number of places from that to run in fifth. Zaid’s laps were very impressive, and he ended up being the fastest driver in the race. Unfortunately, the rain came at just the wrong time. It was then a case of just staying on track with Khaled in the severe weather conditions and we finished in 14th in what has been a good weekend given the lack of track and car knowledge for both drivers.
“They’ve loved being here representing their country and we’ve very much enjoyed working with them in the FIA Motorsport Games.”
Khaled Al Mudhaf, Team Captain
“The event has been amazing and the team have been superb, so thanks to the boys who rebuilt the car after Saturday’s off. I had a really good second race, even though the rain was torrential, so I’m very happy and hopefully I’ll be back with this team again soon.”
“The race was a bit of a gamble in terms of tyres. We opted to go with the slicks at the end of the installation lap and then it began to rain. The track was slippery, but still just good enough to drive on. I was quicker than the others, so I stayed out and did my best not to make any mistakes and we were fifth. Then the rain started to fall again unfortunately but we tried our best and hopefully we’ll come back again next year.”