Northern Ireland’s Eastwood first, Ireland’s Cullen second and Frijns of Qatar third in Race 1 of Round 4
Eastwood wins opening race at Yas Marina Circuit in Round 4 of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East
Northern Ireland newcomer Charlie Eastwood joined the grid for race one of the fourth round at the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East, surprising drivers to take first place on the podium.
A Porsche Carrera Cup GB scholar, Eastwood flew into Abu Dhabi and onto the grid as a guest driver, taking pole position in qualifying by clocking a furious 2:13.611. Sharing the front row with title hopeful Charlie Frijns and seeing current championship leader Ryan Cullen start from the third row due to a qualifying penalty, Eastwood seemed in his element on the Formula 1 track configuration.
The real story of the race however was current champion Cullen, who started in sensational fashion from fifth, slicing straight down the middle of Omani Al Zubair and Englishman Tom Oliphant to regain ground lost from his penalty. The Irishman wasn’t finished though, and he took second from title rival Charlie Frijns on the first corner, pushing him into third.
The top three held their positions by creating strong gaps between one another, but Cullen showed signs of fighting back mid-race as he began to chip away at Eastwood’s lead. It was ambitious but not enough to catch the guest driver, and Cullen took silver while Charlie Frijns stepped up to the podium for bronze. The result sees Cullen maintain his reign at the top of the championship with Charlie Frijns still chasing him in second.
Speaking after his win, Eastwood said: “I had a good start from the beginning. It was challenging during the first few laps, but I was able to make the gap and maintain it until the end. We tested yesterday night, so I knew what to expect and aimed for a successful start and was able to do that.”
Although disappointed with his qualifying position, Cullen was pleased with his second place result following his confident start: “The penalty I received during qualifying affected me; if I was in the front row maybe the outcome would have been different. But Charlie Eastwood drove well, I will give him credit. I had a risky, but good start and was able to pass Charlie Frijns in the first lap and kept my momentum. Overall it’s a good result.”
Just shy of a podium spot, Pereira showed his assertive side once more and pushed his way down the inside of Oliphant and Al Zubair at the start, making his way from sixth to fourth. He also maintained his position until the checked flag by building an impressive 4.8 seconds on the rest of the grid.
Al Zubair, Oliphant, Triller and Alesayi had their own race behind the leaders. Omani rookie Al Zubair dropped two places during the lightening start, ending in sixth where a patience Oliphant challenged on lap 10 for the fifth place finish. With only six-tenths off a second separating him and Oliphant, Al Zubair showed fight until the end and took 1st place podiums in both Silver and Rookie categories.
German Triller took a spin in the final lap to gift Saudi Alesayi seventh. With 16 seconds separating Triller and the rest of the race, he recovered in time to lose only one place and take eighth.
Congestion in the middle of the race, forced UAE-driver Mardini off the track in lap seven. Mardini moved with passion at the start, but felt his small mistake cost him his momentum: “It started well, but it didn’t end well. I overtook a few cars, I was challenging, but then I made a small mistake in lap seven when I allowed the car behind to get too close. But tomorrow is a new day and I am looking forward to it.”
Lap eight also saw Isa S Al Khalifa and Christoffer Bergstorm return to the pits, where they remained for the race following a collision.
Round 4 racing continues this weekend and fans can experience the live action for Race 2 at 3.15pm on Saturday 11th at Yas Marina Circuit.
Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East represents the most professional series of its kind in the region and offers a proven pathway to world-class international motorsport. Season 8 features an international grid of 16 drivers representing 12 different nationalities covering every level of competition from professionals, amateurs and rookie drivers. International drivers hail from Ireland, Norway, Germany, Luxenberg, Sweden and Turkey with the best local drivers representing the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia.