Cullen first, Pereira second and Oliphant third at Bahrain International Circuit
The opening race of Season 8 of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East was won in breath-taking fashion by Ryan Cullen following a faultless pole to chequered flag performance under the lights of the Bahrain International Circuit.
The Irishman overcame a spirited grid featuring 17 drivers from 12 different countries to claim maximum points and an early season victory. His win came courtesy of edging out Dylan Pereira of Luxembourg into second place. Their battle renewed a rivalry established in Porsche Supercup and was only settled on the final corner in one of the most dramatic races ever witnessed in the championship or the circuit.
Third place went to Tom Oliphant of Britain who emerged from an aggressive chasing pack which included Denis Olsen of Norway, who finished fourth and Qatar-based driver Charlie Frijns fifth. The top six was completed by Bandar Alesayi of Saudi Arabia. On his debut race in the championship UAE-resident Bashar Mardini showed early promise with a 15th placed finish.
The first action of the new season was a perfect advertisement for the leading motorsport series in the region and marks the start of a bright new future chapter for Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East. An expanded grid, new young drivers from the region and more international field than ever before, Season 8 is expected to take racing to a new level in the Middle East.
The racing was extremely fast, furious and fair. But to suggest it was close is a massive understatement as each and every lap featured drivers fighting for position throughout the grid. As many predicted it was an open and unpredictable race, part of the beauty of elite one-make racing.
From pole Cullen seized early control and used his experience to maximum effect to slowly build up a strong lead. But in the closing stages he let it all slip and was nearly caught by a charging Pereira. Cullen only managed to hold to the win by the narrowest of margins, winning by a mere 0.035 seconds ahead of Pereira. The drivers nearly touched as they crossed the finish line.
Speaking after the close win Cullen said: “I got a really good start and managed to build up a gap, I didn’t anticipate them catching me at all but my tyres started to go and Dylan was catching me very quickly. Fair play to Dylan he caught me up but I managed to do everything I could to defend my lead and cross the line in first place. A wins a win and I am very happy with that. I finished third last season but hopefully I can do better than that this time around.”
For fans the new season heralds a new level of excitement and interest. Almost half the grid are completely new to the championship and made their race debuts in Bahrain including three gifted teenagers all from the Middle East.
After the Walter Lechner, the owner of Lechner Racing, and founder and manager of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East said: “That was Porsche GT3 Cup racing at its very best. What a perfect way to start the season and enter a new era for the championship. We knew we had the right ingredients including an expanded grid, new talented drivers and the right mix of youth and experience. But that surpassed even our own expectations. Congratulations to Ryan and every single driver as they put on a very entertaining race and one which will live long in the memory.
“You certainly couldn’t write the script for it. And if you had tried you would have had re-write it several times! There were so many changes and every driver seemed to have a fight on their hands. In all my years of motorsport I’ve rarely seen such a race, hopefully it can continue all season long!”
The diverse grid comprises of professional, amateurs and rookies from Ireland, Norway, Germany, Luxenberg, Sweden and Turkey will face stiff opposition from local drivers representing the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
With all drivers competing in identical Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars, the one-make series will race across three world class regional racing circuits, namely the Bahrain International Circuit, Dubai Autodrome and Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi between November 2016 and April 2017.