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UAE drivers well placed in qualifying as Season 7 of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East starts in Bahrain

All four UAE-based drivers will be well placed on the grid as they start Season 7 of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East following opening qualifying at the Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir.

Held as part of the prestigious FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) final weekend the region’s leading drivers took pride of place as the first cars out on the stunning 5.40 km grand-prix configured track.     

On a sun-drenched morning filled with excitement, adrenaline and a few nerves amongst the 15 drivers taking to the track, Dubai-based Porsche GT3 Cup drivers Jeffrey Schmidt, Zaid Ashkanani of Al Nabooda Racing and Skydive Dubai Falcons duo of Sheikh Hasher Al Maktoum and Saeed Al Mehairi all got up to speed quickly to set strong times.

During a frantic quick-fire qualifying session lasting only 30 minutes, it was Qatar resident Charlie Frijns who stole the show clinching pole for the first race in the twelve race series with a time of 2:04.549. In close pursuit also signalling his intent as a serious title contender Al Nabooda Racing’s debutant Jeffrey Schmidt secured second, only 0.281 seconds behind. 

Speaking after qualifying in second place Schmidt said: “It’s a solid start. I’d have loved to have taken pole for myself and for my new team, Al Nabooda Racing but there was very little in it. I still feel confident ahead of the race. Charlie has proved he’s quick but racing is very different to qualifying and I like my chances. Hopefully Zaid (Ashkanani) can give me some support up at the front.”     

The second row of the grid comprised of championship newcomer Ryan Cullen from Ireland and Al Nabooda Racing’s Zaid Ashkanani with less than a second splitting the first six drivers on the grid. A clear indication that Season 7 is poised to be more competitive than any in the history of the championship with as many as six drivers all in with a real chance of winning the most prized title in Middle East racing.    

Season 5 champion from Kuwait Ashkanani said: “That the first time I’ve been in qualified for my new team Al Nabooda and it feels great. I was always tracking down drivers in these colours but now I’m part of this team’s proud history. Fourth for me is ok and I remain in striking distance of the front row. It will all come down to that first corner and at least I’ve the comfort of having my new teammate ahead of me. Hopefully we can work well together and both make the podium.”   

Skydive Dubai Falcon Emirati drivers of Saeed Al Mehairi and Sheikha Hasher Al Maktoum also had a positive start. Last season’s team champions emerged steadily as Al Mehairi took fifth on the grid and teammate Al Maktoum eighth. Both will be aiming for strong performances during the race to realise their ambition of the podium.

Al Mehairi added: “I’d hoped for a little better as testing and practice went very well. But I’m comfortable out there especially in race mode. The track is so harsh on the tires. You have to manage the tires at the start but that only comes from experience. I’ve got plenty of that in Bahrain. If you do manage the tires you can make real progress at the back end of the race. I still believe I can make the top three and get back on the podium.”     

Manager of the Middle East championship, Walter Lechner of Lechner Racing added: “This morning is a beautiful testimony to how far this championship has come in our seven years of racing in the region, how far the drivers have come and why the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East is so vital to the future of the sport.

“This championship and our drivers are sharing centre stage with the world’s leading endurance racers as well as the stars of GP2 and GP3. We’re proud to be in the spotlight as the only professional championship of its kind in the Middle East and sitting at the heartbeat of world motorsport. To have fifteen on the grid, ultra-competitive times and two races ahead of us this week, it’s the perfect start to our new season.”     

Regarded as the purest form of racing with all drivers competing in identical fifth generation Porsche 911 GT3 Cups, the unique one-make series will consist of 12 races between November 2015 and March 2016.

Round 1 of Season 7 of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East takes place at Bahrain International Circuit on the 20th and 21st of November 2015. On Friday 20th the first race of the championship starts at 18:10. The second race of the opening round is scheduled for 12:00 on Saturday 21st November. 

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