Dramatic climax expected for UAE drivers as Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East races into final round in Bahrain
The Middle East’s leading drivers are gearing up for a sprint finish over a dramatic final weekend of racing as the seventh season of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East comes to an exciting conclusion at the Bahrain International Circuit.
Only one round and two races staged over the 4th and 5th March on the challenging GP circuit at Sakhir now stand between the drivers and glory in the region’s only professional motorsport series of its kind.
Such has been the intensity of the series this season, drivers and fans are now in store for an intriguing final weekend as all three driver titles across the individual categories are yet to be determined. Currently, UAE-based Jeffrey Schmidt leads the overall driver standings and individual glory in Bahrain would add to the team title secured by Schmidt’s team Al Nabooda Racing during the penultimate round in Dubai.
Speaking ahead of the final weekend, Walter Lecher, series organizer said:
“Season 7 has been outstanding and across all driver standings, it all comes down to this weekend. That says so much for the reputation and future of this Championship. It’s what the drivers want and the fans, proving once again we have real competition. It also showcases the strength and depth of the grid and highlights that we have a Middle East series that offers something for everyone.
“For young home grown talent like Zaid Ashkanani, Abdulaziz AlFaisal and Saud AlFaisal building their motorsport careers, the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East is a proven pathway into world-class international motorsport at the highest level. While for those in the twilight of the careers, veteran gentlemen drivers like Jaber Al Khalifa and Rob Frijns, this fuels their passion for racing and Porsche.
“Nothing else in the Middle East provides a platform like this, to create and define motorsport careers. It’s only possible with Porsche technology and expertise alongside the management of Lechner Racing.
“Personally it’s been hugely rewarding to see the standards improve again. Times are quicker, drivers are developing with every race and talents are emerging. Drivers like Jeffrey Schmidt and Ryan Cullen are extremely strong drivers with European experience and yet the driver’s title is still to be decided. Clearly there is little between the best Europe can offer and leading drivers from the region. This Championship is notorious for dramatic finales and I’ve no doubt we’re in for another spectacular finish in Bahrain.”
Dubai-based Schmidt proudly sits on top of the standings and has been in dominant form throughout the Championship in his debut season. Yet the young prodigy only holds a lead of 26 points over rival, teammate and former champion Zaid Ashkanani of Kuwait, with Ireland’s Ryan Cullen in third a further 8 points adrift, just 34 points behind the leader.
With each race win securing 25 points to the victor, a maximum of 50 points are still available to the drivers over the two races, which means as many four drivers could still claim the driver’s title. Schmidt will face the most pressure from Ashkanani and Cullen but fourth placed Abdulaziz AlFaisal of Saudi Arabia still has a chance, albeit a slim one, of being crowned champion.
Al Nabooda Racing clinched the team title on their home circuit at the Dubai Autodrome following Round 5, a trophy the team were desperate to regain during a season that marked their 10th anniversary in racing. Now with team pressure off and silverware safely secure in the trophy cabinet, both Al Nabooda drivers have the mouth-watering prospect of racing head to head for individual honours.
Speaking ahead of the final round, Jeffrey Schmidt commented:
“The only pressure I face is whatever I put on myself. I have a healthy lead and what is most important is that Al Nabooda Racing finish first and second. If I can continue to drive as I have been and know I can, then I’m confident of clinching the title. Nothing would make me happier than seeing Zaid [Ashkanani] on the podium next to me. We’ll look out for each other.”
Despite his assured words Schmidt will take nothing for granted. In motorsport all drivers know that no lead is ever enough, especially the Schmidt and Ashkanani who previously tangled in Round 4 in Dubai. The result forced Schmidt to retire and was the only race he has failed to win, an incident Ashkanani is determined not to see happen again.
Second placed driver Zaid Ashkanani said:
“I’ve been in this position before and previously turned over a big deficit on the final weekend in Bahrain when I first won the title two seasons ago. So I know what can happen and I loved the Bahrain circuit. But back then I was racing for myself. I wanted to win at all costs. That is not the mind-set now. I’m part of a team. Even though we are team champions we will still race for ourselves and aim to finish as the first and second placed drivers.”
Further down the standings very little separates the talent, times, experience and points of the drivers sitting in third, fourth and fifth places. Only 22 points sit between Ryan Cullen, 191 points in third, and Qatar-based driver Charlie Frijns in fifth on 169 points, with Abdulaziz AlFaisal sandwiched between on 180 points.
Cullen has been hugely impressive also in his debut season and is perhaps slightly unfortunately to be languishing in third place. He was holding on to a solid second place until being forced to retire in the opening race of Round 5. It was the only time in the season he has failed to finish.
With so little between the top five, the series has once proved its pedigree as the leading series in Middle Eastern motorsport as the only Championship offering professional racing and intense competition on the world-class circuits of the region.
In the silver category Saudi Arabia’s Saud AlFaisal will aim to emulate his brother and teammate, Abdulaziz AlFaisal by getting his hands on a trophy. The younger brother Saud, racing for the first time in the Champion, currently leads the Silver category over Wolfgang Triller in second by nine points.
Elsewhere in the hugely competitive bronze category for driver’s racing for the passion of motorsport that only Porsche can provide, Bahrain’s Jaber Al Khalifa leads over Doha-resident Rob Frijns in second and Sweden’s Magnus Ohman in third.
Regarded as the purest form of racing, every lap and every corner of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East counts. Qualifying is split by hundredths of seconds and racing is pushed to the limits with driver talent and race craft the difference between winning and losing as all drivers competing in identical fifth generation Porsche 911 GT3 Cups.
The unique one-make series consists of 12 races between November 2015 and March 2016. Season 7 concludes at the illustrious Bahrain International Circuit between 4th and 5th March.