Ireland’s Cullen first, Oman’s Al Zubair second and Saudi Arabia’s Alesayi third
Cullen opens up championship lead after victory in opening race of Round 3 of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East
Ireland’s Ryan Cullen has swept to an emphatic victory in the opening race of the third round of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East Season 8 and opened up a lead at the front of the drivers’ championship.
Refreshed and eager to prove he had lost no speed over the winter break Cullen, who started in second on the grid made the win look easy after he emerged unscathed from the opening corner to take the chequered flag by 1.998 seconds ahead of his nearest rival.
Behind Cullen, surprise package Oman’s Al Faisal Al Zubair continued his impressive debut in the series with an assured race in second place, the best finish of his young career. Third position and final step of the podium went to Saudi’s experienced driver Bandar Alesayi, who like Al Zubair achieved the highest finish of his season.
Speaking after his third race win of the season Cullen said: “I had a good start and managed to catch Dylan (Pereira) up immediately. We had a bit of a battle going into the first corner which sent us both quite wide. I was able to stay ahead without making a collision and with Dylan being pushed wide the cars chasing managed to take the inside line which meant he dropped back quite a few places. I continued to push and built a strong gap ahead of the rest of the pack. I focused on not making any mistakes and took the win. To have won the race on old tires feels even more satisfying, I am looking forward to setting another quick qualifying time tomorrow and trying to make it two out of two wins for Round 3.”
The race was not for the faint hearted and summed up perfectly the highly unpredictable nature of Season 8. Constant position changes throughout highlighted the fine line between glory and disappointment in this ultra-competitive one-make series.
Only Cullen, Al Zubair and Alesayi enjoyed clean drives while every other driver was forced into battle over the slightly shortened International Circuit reduced to 4.29 km at the Dubai Autodrome.
Following his second place finish Rookie driver Al Zubair said: “I had a really good start and took advantage of Frijns and Pereira going wide. On the back straight Alesayi managed to overtake me but I got it back before the next turn. From then on I wanted to focus on my driving and concentrated on making no mistakes. I’m very pleased with winning the Rookie category and second overall. Although I’m not on new tires for tomorrow’s race, anything seems possible at the moment, so let’s wait and see.”
Just outside the podium fourth placed driver Pereira experienced every emotion possible during the high speed 14-lap race. After securing his first pole, the man from Luxemburg could only complete the opening lap down in sixth place. But Pereira who is known for his assertive style was not afraid of the midfield battle. He impressed by forcing his way back through the field to advance two positions by overtaking Qatar’s Charlie Frijns and Tom Oliphant on consecutive laps.
As the race progressed Oliphant looked like he had done enough to finish fifth by keeping a charging Charlie Frijns behind him. But on the final lap everything changed as Frijns bid to overtake Oliphant resulted in both drivers failing to finish.
Team Bahrain’s Isa. S. Al Khalifa and Sweden’s Christoffer Bergström were the grateful benefactors of the mistakes ahead, with Al Khalifa finishing a career high fifth to win the bronze category and likewise Bergström a championship sixth overall. Unfortunately for local fans UAE driver Bashar Mardini was one of seven drivers who failed to finish this bruising encounter.
Round 3 racing continues this weekend and fans can experience the live action for Race 2 at 3.40pm on Saturday 28th at Dubai Autodrome.
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.