Leon Koehler closes in on maiden Championship after impressive display in penultimate round

Bahrain International Circuit played host to the penultimate round of the Porsche Sprint Challenge Middle East Season 11, with 14 drivers from nine different countries taking part in three races across two days. It was a weekend in which current leader Leon Koehler took a large step towards securing the Championship, finishing on the podium in all three races to take his tally to 280 points. 

Qualifying for Race 1 took place on Friday morning, with guest driver Dylan Pereira laying down the fastest time with a lap of 2:02.08 to start Race 1 on pole position ahead of Frenchman JB Simmenauer in second. Leon Koehler started in third while David Beckmann – in only his second appearance in the Porsche Sprint Challenge Middle East – started in fourth.

Pereira showed no sign of conceding his pole position with a flawless start to hold off immediate pressure from Simmenauer going into turn one. The Luxembourg-born driver continued his quick pace throughout the rest of the race, gradually increasing his lead with every lap. By the end of the race, Pereira had built an impenetrable lead, crossing the chequered flag nearly three seconds ahead of Simmenauer to ensure victory in the opening race.

In a race devoid of any real action, the main talking point came on lap two. Newcomer David Beckmann – competing in just his second round – locked his brakes heading into turn three, resulting in a collision with Jesse Van Kuijk. The crash resulted in a safety car being deployed for two laps before the race got back underway, with both Beckmann and Van Kuijk unable to continue due to vehicle damage.

The top three finished as they started, with Pereira in first and Simmenauer in second. Koehler secured third with Richard Wagner in fourth. Sweden’s Christoffer Bergstroem finished in an impressive fifth place – his highest ever finish in the Championship.  

Race winner, Dylan Pereira, said: “I had a bad start and almost lost P1 going into the first turn. Luckily for me I was able to hold off JB and shortly after that the safety car came out which slowed everything down. After the safety car, JB and Leon were fighting for second place which gave me the opportunity to pull away. I just focussed on being consistent and avoiding silly mistakes for the rest of the race, which is what I did.” 

Race 2 got underway early on Saturday afternoon with Simmenauer on pole position after an impressive qualifying session which saw him clock a time of 2:02.17. Completing the front row was Leon Koehler with a time of 2:02.52, while the winner of Race 1, Dylan Pereira, started in third and David Beckmann in fourth.

After dominating from lights out, Simmenauer took the chequered flag and in doing so his first win of the Championship, two seconds ahead of Koehler in second. The battle for P2 ebbed and flowed throughout the race, with Pereira and Koehler constantly trading blows. Pereira made his early pressure count on lap two, manoeuvring past Koehler into second position where he would remain until lap 6, when a rare mistake by the Luxembourg driver left Koehler with enough room going into turn two to overtake him on the inside. Despite continuous pressure from Pereira, the young German remained composed to hold on to second and take another step towards the championship title. 

The race finished with Simmenauer first, Koehler second and Pereira third. Beckmann secured fourth spot ahead of Richard Wagner in fifth.

Following his first victory in Season 11, Simmenauer said: “I’m really happy to get the win today and my first win of Season 11. I’ve been driving well the last two rounds and I was confident going into the race today. Dylan and Leon are brilliant drivers and I knew they would pressure me from the start. Luckily for me, the two of them were constantly trying to fight for second place, which gave me the opportunity to focus on my driving and slowly but surely extend my lead throughout.”

The line-up for Race 3 was decided by a reverse grid, with the starting places set in reverse order of the top six finishers of Race 2. This saw Jesse Van Kuijk start in pole position, with Richard Wagner in second and David Beckmann in third. Pereira was fourth, Leon Koehler started in fifth while winner of the second race, Simmenauer was in sixth.

The reverse grid made for an exhilarating spectacle, with the top six trading places throughout the first four laps. Dylan Pereira made a scorching start, overtaking the trio of Wagner, Beckmann and Van Kuijk before turn one, while Leon Koehler also got away to a flying start to manoeuvre his way into P2. Winner of Race 2, JB Simmenauer, showed why he’s considered one of the brightest drivers of the championship with some aggressive driving on lap four to overtake Wagner and Beckmann and claim third position from a P6 start.

The race finished with Pereira in first, Koehler in second and Simmenauer in third. David Beckmann finished fourth and Richard Wagner in fifth.  

At the end of another captivating round which sees 12 of the 14-race season complete, Leon Kohler (280pts) has a lead of 43 points in the overall standings, with JB Simmenauer in second (237pts) and Richard Wagner (200 points) in third.   

Following the end of Round 4, Championship leader Leon Kohler said: “I’m really happy with how I’ve performed in Round 4, even if I didn’t get the win in any of the races. Dylan was very fast this weekend and deserved his two victories. I’m pleased with two P2 finishes and now my attention turns to F1 weekend. The Championship is in my hands now. I need to go away and focus over the next few weeks and come back stronger for the final round. Competing on this track in front of a large crowd is something that every driver dreams of and I already can’t wait for the final race on March 22nd.”

 The Porsche Sprint Challenge Middle East concludes next month when it returns to Sakhir for Round 5. The final round consists of two races across two days and serves as an official support race to the 2020 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix, the only regional racing series to do so.

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