Minimal points separate drivers with three rounds to go
Drivers one step closer to the podium as the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East races into the halfway stage of Season 9
It’s neck and neck for drivers racing to be crowned champion of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East, the region’s first and only professional motorsport championship.
As the competition reaches the halfway stage of Season 9, drivers are preparing to take on the full Grand Prix configured track at the Abu Dhabi Yas Marina Circuit in Round 4, just as the dust settles from Round 3 only four days ago at the Dubai Autodrome.
British driver Tom Oliphant is leading the championship at the halfway mark but sitting only 6 points clear of second placed Omani driver Al Faisal Al Zubair and 32 points in front of third place driver Charlie Frijns from The Netherlands.
After 72 laps, 6 defining qualifying sessions and 6 dramatic races, traditionally gaps would start to form in the points standings and drivers begin to pull away in their respective categories. This season however, this is not the case. With only 32 points separating the top three drivers in the Gold category, 14 points separating the top three drivers in the Silver category and a mere 13 points separating the three podium-placed Bronze category drivers, the championship is too close to call, and even closer for drivers pushing for the title.
After securing three race wins out of six already this season, and finishing in second place in the remaining three races, championship leader Tom Oliphant said: “This season has been a pivotal one in my career. I came to the Middle East for the first-time last year and although I thought I drove well, I didn’t manage to win a race, and finished the season 13 points outside of the top three. I went back to the UK, worked hard and came back into Season 9 with a goal of at least winning two races. Now, to be at the halfway stage with three race wins already under my belt, and sitting at the top of the championship standings is a huge achievement, and one that I need to work even harder on now to maintain.
“The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East has really become a hub for winter motorsport and the level of competition is becoming just as high as anywhere else in the world. It provides the perfect opportunity to get track time and your confidence up ahead the season starting in Europe and automatically becomes another of the championships that you would love to win as a driver.”
With Tom Oliphant not being able to compete in the final round of Season 9 in Bahrain due prior commitments in UK motorsport, Omani driver Al Faisal Al Zubair knows he has one round extra over the British driver. However, he is hoping to get himself in the championship lead ahead of Round 6, to prove a fair win during the rounds they have both competed in.
Pushing for a championship title in only his second season of competition, Al Faisal Al Zubair knows just how much can happen over a period of six races, and although he is one step closer to achieving a momentous victory in his motorsport career, the young Omani driver is not taking anything for granted.
Speaking ahead of Round 4, Al Zubair said: “Looking back at the halfway stage, I cannot believe we’ve completed three rounds already. It’s been full on and action-packed - it only feels like yesterday that we started pre-season testing in Bahrain back in November. After competing in the Porsche Mobil1 Supercup last summer, I was so excited to come back to the Middle East and put into practice everything that I had learnt.
“To think that at this stage last season I was sitting on 99 points and was fifth in the overall standings, and now I am currently on 138 points and only 6 points away from leading the championship is surreal. I’ve worked hard to get to this position and I’m not going to let it slip. The remaining rounds are now even more important than the opening, and this weekend at Yas Marina Circuit could be a significant moment in my season.”
As the series descends on the UAE capital this weekend, Walter Lechner, founder and manager of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East, said, “Drivers in our championship always look forward to this stage of the season, and competing at the Abu Dhabi’s world-famous Yas Marina Circuit. There is something about the combination of this famous circuit and knowing that there are only three rounds left to go, that re-ignites a fire in many drivers. The competition that we think is high, gets even higher, what winning means to these drivers, begins to mean more, and the times that drivers think have been quick, get quicker.
“We have worked incredibly hard to have the championship in a position where it continues to grow season on season, and the halfway stage is always a timely measure of how the current season is performing. Every year I try to put a name forward in each category of who I think might take the title, but now I have just given up, there are too many twists and turns to be able to predict. It’s such fun to watch, and makes me wish I was back out there racing with them!”
The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East races next at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit, 2nd – 3rd February 2018. The final two rounds will be held in Bahrain, with the series coming to a thrilling conclusion as an official support race for the 2018 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix.