Addition of Pereira expected to increase battle for the podium places
A sun-blessed Dubai Autodrome was a hive of activity as 17 drivers competing in Season 9 of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East returned to the track for final practice ahead of this weekend’s races on 26th-27th January 2018.
An ultra-competitive and international grid, representing 10 countries has once again been formed with the welcomed addition of Dylan Pereira of Luxembourg, expected to stiffen competition even further. Proven race winner Pereira is poised to renew rivalries with those contending at the top of standings and offer a real threat to the podium having displayed his raw speed in Season 8.
Entering the first race of 2018 Britain’s Tom Oliphant (96 pts) currently holds a slender six-point lead over emerging Omani star Al Faisal Al Zubair (90 pts), with Charlie Frijns lying in third (72pts).
The first four races of Season 9 held in 2017 featured gripping drama and saw only the finest of margins split the places on the podium. Drivers and fans will expect more of the same in 2018 as the region’s first and only professional championship resumes to stage the fifth and sixth race of the twelve-race season.
For Oliphant memories of back to back wins in Dubai in December 2017 will still be fresh in the memory but finding new momentum will be key for all who line-up. Those quickest to get into their rhythm are most likely to take advantage of the layoff.
Speaking after practice, championship leader Oliphant said: “My winter break has been organising sponsors for 2018 and relaxing in Australia on holiday. It’s been much needed! I’ve had no testing or driving in between the last round and this. But this won’t affect me. I’m confident I can be setting the pace come qualifying on Friday. I tested well today and believe I can take the title. Al Faisal in second place is a great driver and he has improved dramatically over 2017 so it will be close but I think I can come out on top.”
Over the past eight seasons the championship has become renowned as a proven pathway into world-class international motorsport. It now acts as a beacon for the Middle East to attract up and coming drivers from all corners of the globe. This season alone new emerging talents from South Africa, France, Scotland, and Germany have made their debuts alongside regional rookies from Bahrain and Oman.
On making his return to the series Dylan Pereira commented after testing: “It is good to be back to the Porsche Cup Challenge Middle East. I missed the opening four races as I was doing a 4-months military service back home. I haven’t raced since my last race in the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup last summer.
“I found it challenging to be back in the car yesterday. I tested again today morning and I can feel that I am getting back in the zone. To compete for the title, I would need to win every race which wouldn’t be easy. But I aim to make the best out of it, get back to where I was last summer and be ready to perform on top by the end of the season. Racing in Dubai Autodrome isn’t easiest as it could be a tricky circuit but I have been working hard the past few days to be ready for the opening race.
Series founder and organiser Walter Lechner added: “If the championship can pick up where it left off before the winter break then we’ve all the ingredients for the remainder of the series to be spectacular. Already every category has offered up some fascinating battles, everything you’d expect from the Porsche formula for one-make-racing. The cars are quick, the drivers are quick, the conditions are perfect and the circuits are world-class.
“This weekend represents a fresh start even for those near the top of the standings. Focus is required right now. Performance from 2017 can be drawn upon for inspiration but can’t be relied on. Drivers need to be committed and concentrate starting all over again. What happens this weekend is what counts, not what happened in the past!”
The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East returns to Dubai on 26-27 January 2018, before visiting Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit, 2-3 February 2018. The final two rounds will be held in Bahrain, with the series coming to a thrilling conclusion as an official support race for the 2018 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix.