Shock victory for Cullen in opening race of Round 4 of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East at Dubai Autodrome
Ireland's Ryan Cullen claimed an emphatic victory in the opening race of Round 4 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East held at a windswept Dubai Autodrome. A delighted Cullen was joined on a multi-national podium by former champion Abdulaziz AlFaisal of Saudi Arabia and Qatar-based Charlie Frijns in third.
Few could have predicted the shock result following the domination of Al Nabooda's invincible driver Jeffrey Schmidt who had claimed victory in all six of the previous races of Season 7.
However as the region's most professional and competitive series proved nothing is guaranteed in motorsport. The win by Cullen, the first of his Porsche career in the Middle East, sees the Irishman leapfrog Al Nabooda's Zaid Ashkanani into second in the overall driver standings. The gap between second placed Cullen and overall leader, Schmidt has been reduced to only one point.
Speaking after his race win Ryan Cullen said: "The reason I won the race is because I was able to get my strong lap in qualifying which was good enough for third on the grid. In the race itself I got a good start, better than the front runners, and to get in front of them in turn one was extremely important. Though I got a little tap from behind at turn one I was able to hold it together and by the time I got to the second turn I was in the lead. I could see the train of cars behind so put my head down and kept going. I'm obviously delighted to have closed the gap to Jeffrey in the championship so it's game on from here"
Round 4 had been billed as a glorious homecoming for Al Nabooda Racing team who sought to build upon their sizable lead in the team championship with drivers Schmidt and Ashkanani well placed in first and second in the standings heading into Round 4.
Confident displays in morning practice and qualifying all pointed towards another race win and podium finishes for Al Nabooda Racing with Schmidt on pole and joined on the front row of the grid by teammate Ashkanani in second. But as early as the first corner of the opening lap the race and championship was blown wide open.
The notorious tight right-hand corner at the end of the start finish straight has always been pivotal in determining race results at the Dubai Autodrome especially on the first lap and it proved no different today.
Starting from the front row a poor start from Schmidt by his own high standards saw a charging Ashkanani close in on the race lead as the teammates entered the opening corner. But the duo misjudged their track positions with Ashkanani spinning out and taking Schmidt with him. The unfortunate collision resulted in an early retirement for Schmidt and Ashkanani dropped to the back of the grid before covering to finish seventh. A disappointed Schmidt said: "It was the worst possible thing that could have happened. I had a really bad start to the race anyway and didn't get away from the pack as quick as I wanted to, Ashkanani and Cullen were right next to me as we came in to the first turn. I was in the middle of the two as we approached the corner, Ashkanani broke late and span out on the sand and hit me directly on the left side of the car. The car was too damaged for me to continue and I had to exit the race.
"It's a huge shame for us as a team. It is our home race of the season and for this to happen in the first race really hurts. This will now mean that everyone is very close on points and I will have to work even harder to win this championship. The positive is that there is another race tomorrow so hopefully we can give all the home fans something to cheer about."
In the overall standings Schmidt (150pts) is now just a mere one point ahead of race winner Ryan Cullen (149pts), with Kuwaiti starlet Zaid Ashkanani third closely followed Saudi Arabia's Abdulaziz AlFaisal (121pts) in fourth. All eyes will now be Race 2 tomorrow as motorsport neutrals relish the battle for the driver and team titles.
In a contrast to the mood of Al Nabooda, Al Faisal Racing enjoyed their most successful outing of the season. Brothers and teammates finished high in the standings to close the gap in the team championship on Al Nabooda to only thanks to a second place by Abdulaziz AlFaisal and Saud AlFaisal's best result of his career in fourth.
The region's leading drivers will line-up in the Porsche 911 GT3 as the star attractions at Dubai Autodrome. The drivers will face 12 laps of the 5.39KM Grand Prix Circuit at the Dubai Autodrome with Round 4 Race Race 2 on Saturday 30 January with all fans welcome. Qualifying takes place 11.35am and Race 2 starts at 4.00pm