Isa S. Al Khalifa tops off successful weekend at Yas Marina Circuit in Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East Round 4
Bahraini driver Isa S. Al Khalifa was unable to replicate the fine form he showed in race 1 to finish in 5th place overall, however the teenager drove a skillful race to avoid collision and keep himself in the championship running.
Al Khalifa managed to defend his position against both a persistent Magnus Oehman and Christoffer Bergstroem, and although Al Khalifa just missed out on a podium finish in the silver category, he did finish in third place in the GCC category, topping off a successful weekend all round.
Speaking after the race, Isa S. Al Khalifa said, “I had an awful start today and thought I was going to struggle massively. As the race went on there were a lot of battles forming throughout the field, I was right in between Saul Hack and Christoffer Bergstroem and we were all fighting to finish on the podium.
“With the racing being so close there were definitely moments of contact, but we kept it fair and professional throughout. The performance wasn’t as strong as yesterday’s but I enjoyed the race and will be looking forward to the next round in Bahrain. Lots of positives to take from this weekend, and I’m pleased with the overall results.”
At the front of the race, Britain’s Tom Oliphant has boosted his chances of a first series win in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East by winning the second race of Round 4 at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
The fine victory extends Oliphant’s lead in the championship to 19 points with only four races remaining in Season 9, after nearest challenger Al Faisal Al Zubair of Oman could only manage seventh place finish.
A comfortable Oliphant was crossed over the line by Dylan Pereira of Luxembourg in second and Dutch driver Charlie Frijns third after being gifted the opportunity for the win on the opening lap as those around him clashed.
By his own high standards Oliphant endured a frustrating qualifying session to qualify in third on the grid, behind previous race winner Dylan Pereira, who started in pole and close rival Al Faisal in second. But any sign of disappointment was soon forgotten as Oliphant made a strong start to take advantage of a crowded first lap in which he catapulted himself into the lead ahead of Pereira and Al Zubair on the back straight.
While engaged in their own battle for first place the duo of Pereira and Al Faisal managed to outbreak themselves to leave the door open for Oliphant to nip through and steal the lead. A position he didn’t relinquish until the chequered flag, winning by a margin of 1.215 seconds.
Oliphant will be satisfied with his weekend’s work having gone about his business in a quiet and confident manner. Speaking after the race he said: “I got a really good start, Pereira did too, but Al Faisal was a bit slower off the line. I managed to get around the outside of Al Faisal into turn one, he pushed me off wide but I came back on to keep my place. There was a bit of touching between myself and Al Zubair but he got in front of me going onto the back straight, there was a lot of battling going on but we kept it fair.
“Pereira then locked up going into the third corner and flat spotted his tyre. Al Faisal was behind him so I took the opportunity to overtake them both to take the lead. From then on, I managed the race well and built a gap out in front. I didn’t push too hard, so not to make any mistakes but crossed the line successfully in first place. I’m really pleased, and keeps my championship title hopes alive.”
In contrast to Oliphant’s race, Al Faisal had a race to forget finishing seventh. But it could have been worse. Entering lap 2 of the twelve-lap race the Omani was at the very back of the field after spinning out. A spirited performance from this point saw a heroic comeback, as Al Faisal picked off victims lap by lap to show the best of his racing.
Off the podium finishers much of the dramatic action in the race involved a frantic midfield battle with as many as seven drivers fighting for positions from fifth to twelfth, all tightly packed in close succession. Oman’s rookie racer Khalid Al Wahaibi highlighted his undoubted talent with a career best fourth place. Fifth went to the ever consistent and impressive young Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer and sixth to UAE-based Glynn Geddie of Scotland.
Drivers and fans now have slightly over a month to wait before returning to action as the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East enters the all-important final two rounds, both to be staged at the Bahrain International Circuit. The penultimate Round 5 will take place on the 16th & 17th March before the series comes to a thrilling conclusion as an official support race for the 2018 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix.