Pressure mounts for UAE-based Mardini as the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East powers in to Bahrain for Round 5
The Bahrain International Circuit will once again play host to the region’s top drivers from Thursday, with expectations high that the penultimate round of Season 8 of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East could be the make or break weekend in the battle for the championship title.
For UAE-based driver Bashar Mardini Round 5 signals a return to the testing circuit upon which he made his competitive debut in the championship. Back in November Mardini finished both races in the opening round in 15th place overall and 5th in his silver category.
Fast forward four months and six further races in the region’s most professional and competitive series and Mardini will be hoping to use the valuable experience and confidence he has gained on track to good use around the Sakhir circuit. Since Round 1 Mardini has recorded some impressive results which has seen him rise to only 26 points behind third place in his category and 10th position in the overall championship standings.
Speaking ahead of his return to Bahrain Mardini said; “I didn’t have the best of starts here in the opening round of the season. It was my first time on the track in the Porsche GT3 Cup car, and my first experience of competing amongst a grid of very talented and knowledgeable drivers. But four months and six races is a lifetime in motor-racing. I feel that I have found some good form over these rounds. I know when to push and my lap times have been consistently coming down. The silver category is full of strong drivers and my aim is to get as close to the front-runners as I possibly can. Now I am familiar with the Bahrain circuit, I will be looking to secure a strong qualifying time ahead of both races and hope to collect some vital points ahead of the final round.”
Tight competition has always been a hallmark of the region’s most professional series but rarely are the standings so close where any of the top eight drivers could mathematically secure the overall championship in the last quarter of the season. From the opening turn of Race 1 back in November last year, a precedent for Season 8 was set and new local talent, seasoned drivers and international racers from Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Europe have kept Middle Eastern racing fans on the edges of their seats with closely fought races in every round.
Round 5 is lining up to be no different with pressure mounting on top of the table Ryan Cullen (188) who boasts a moderate 23 point lead over second placed Charlie Frijns of Qatar (165). Cullen’s seven podium finishes across the season so far have been the difference when compared to Frijns’ six but both drivers have recorded a win in Bahrain this year. With 100 points on offer over the four remaining races, all to take place at Bahrain International Circuit, expectations are for another thrilling conclusion to what has already been a sensational season of competition.
It’s a similar story in the silver category where new regional talent Al Faisal Al Zubair (131) of Oman has come from nowhere to the top of the standings in his debut year. He’s not had it all his own way though, with veteran Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East racer Bandar Alesayi (125) of Saudi Arabia staying close to his new rival.
It’s much of the same in the bronze category where just 22 points separates Magnus Öhman (92), Isa S. Al Khalifa (82) and Christoffer Bergström (70), further showcasing the depth of close competition of Season 8. It’s these close rivalries that have in fact defined the series, one which takes huge pride in developing the region’s drivers through a highly competitive formula backed by elite engineers, race technicians and driver coaches who have helped train many of the Middle East’s best known racers.
Speaking ahead of Round 5 of the six round season, Walter Lechner, founder and manager of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East, said, “We’re entering the most important stage of the season and this is where the drivers are really put to the test, on their ability to handle pressure. Many are defending their lead which, as the finish line approaches, can be where racers lose focus. That can be disastrous for a campaign. On the other side, we can expect to see the drivers chasing the championship to push that little bit harder and that can be where they surprise even themselves with the skill they are able to produce. It’s always an exciting time for the series. It’s exciting for the drivers, for the fans and for us the organisers. What we can expect is some extremely close competition on the track further building the region’s reputation as a hub for top flight professional motorsport.”
Following Round 1 in Bahrain, Rounds 2 and 3 in Dubai, and Round 4 in Abu Dhabi, Rounds 5 and 6 of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East will take place at the Bahrain International Circuit once more. Fans are welcome to attend Round 5 which will take place on the 10th and 11th of March 2017.
Races 1 and 2 of Round 6 of Season 8 will be as support races to the 2017 FORMULA 1 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX