New champion Ryan Cullen secured a narrow victory in the final race of Porsche GT3CC ME Season 2016/17
Cullen wins final race of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East Season 8 as championship closes in a glorious flourish
New champion Ryan Cullen secured a narrow victory in the final race of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East Season 8 on a special afternoon and stunning showcase for the sport at Sakhir.
Thousands of fans enjoyed a thrilling encounter that saw the top four drivers of the battle over ten laps of breath-taking action, all moments before the stars of the Formula 1 took to the track for the 2017 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix.
At the chequered flag only 2.3 seconds separated a breakaway group of the top four drivers, condensing the series into a single race with Cullen determined to stamp his authority on the season and reign supreme in the showpiece event.
The new champion was closely followed over the line by rival Dylan Pereira of Luxemburg in second and Qatar-based driver Charlie Frijns third. Oman’s emerging star Al Faisal Al Zubair just missed out on the podium.
It was a fitting finale to the most competitive season in the eight year history of the championship and a perfect advertisement for the pure one-make racing that only Porsche offers drivers in the Middle East region.
Today’s victory was a dream ending for champion Cullen. After dominating the season the Irishman capped a wonderful weekend, taking his overall tally of eight wins in the season. Speaking as champion Cullen said: “I sealed the championship yesterday but it feels so good to finish the season with a win. There was less pressure today and I wanted to be able to go out and enjoy myself. I didn’t have the best of starts but after turn one I managed to keep the pressure on both Dylan and Charlie in front of me. I waited patiently as I didn’t want to do anything too silly but as soon as I saw my opportunity I made a move and managed to overtake both cars at the same time.
“It’s been a special weekend for me, I started my championship here in November with a win and now I’ve finished on the top step again 5 months later. I’m going away from the Middle East with huge confidence and will be looking to make the most of this form in Europe this summer.”
The final race once again proved just how competitive the Porsche GT3 Middle East Cup Challenge has become with every point hard earned between the best drivers in the region. Right from the opening lap Cullen’s rivals showed they wanted to have the final say of Season 8 and lay down a marker for Season 9. It would be no victory parade.
Pereira sprinted into an early lead on the opening corner overtaking Frijns and building a lead over the first three laps. But a blistering first sector of lap four saw Cullen rocket into the lead and push Pereira into second and Frijns third were they crossed the finish line.
Any disappointment will be short-term. Both drivers will be consoled by securing trophies in the overall driver’s championship. Frijns finished a career-best second in the standings, with Pereira leap-frogging Britain’s Tom Oliphant into third.
Charlie Frijns who finished second the championship said: “For the second half of the race I was struggling with the steering on the car so it was difficult to stay on the track, I tried to push to close the gap but the car had lost the pace we had at the start. I focused on not letting Al Zubair pass me from behind and finished the race in third place. Of course I could of ended the season better but I am pretty satisfied with two podium positions this weekend and a second place finish in the championship overall, it’s been a great season.”
In the silver category the last gasp efforts of Al Zubair ensured he would take the Silver trophy and top honours in the new GCC Rookie category, beating rival Bandar Alesayi of Saudi Arabia into second in Silver what has been one of the standout tussles of the season.
Every driver in every category had a reason to push for points in the final race including the Bronze category, again showing the competitive nature of the championship. Home-grown teenage talents of Isa S. Al Khalifa who finished second in the bronze category and second in the GCC Rookie Category, just ahead of teammate Isa A. Al Khalifa who was the third placed rookie.
Just as the dust settles on the final round of season 8 following an incredible climax, already plans are well in motion for Season 9 of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East.