Al Nabooda Racing dominant in opening race of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East final round in Bahrain
Al Nabooda Racing of Dubai dominated the top two steps on the podium at the Bahrain International Circuit in the opening race of the final round of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East Season 7. The complete podium saw Zaid Ashkanani win from teammate Jeffrey Schmidt second and Qatar's Charlie Frijns in third.
In spite of some anxious moments as the two teammates battled for supremacy at the front today it was exactly the outcome the team champions would have dreamt of. Both drivers eventually safely returned their cars ahead of rivals and Ashkanani starred to claim a well-deserved first race win of the season. Qatar's Charlie Frijns who started the race on pole finished a credible third after battling hard against the Al Nabooda Racing drivers on a gloriously sunny afternoon in Bahrain.
Despite the slight disappointment of not adding another race victory to his tally the result means Schmidt's strong performance in second sees him take one step closer to the overall driver's title. With only one race remaining the young driver in his debut season in the series remains a healthy 24 points ahead of Ashkanani in second and Ryan Cullen third in the standings.
Today's result means that Schmidt will be crowned champion tomorrow regardless of what happens ahead of him if he can avoid disaster and finish anywhere in the points in the final race.
Entering the final weekend the Kuwaiti star Ashkanani held only a slim chance of overcoming the odds and his teammate Schmidt. But right from qualifying and the opening corner of the race, the former champion showed his fighting qualifies. After starting from second on the grid Ashkanani dived into the lead on the tight right-hand corner and proceeded to control the race from the front despite Schmidt putting him under intense pressure in the final stages.
Speaking after the race win, a delighted Zaid Ashkanani said: "I am really happy with my performance today, it's my first win of the season and it has felt like a long time coming. It was a very tough battle with my team mate Jeffery, he was really putting the pressure on me from behind but I managed to retain my position and finish in first.
"It was the first time this season I qualified ahead of Jeffery which gave me a lot of confidence at the start of the race, I had a strong start and managed to hold on to the speed throughout the 12 laps. I am hoping for the same tomorrow and another win would be amazing for me."
For Schmidt coming second was an achievement in itself even for his own high standards as Al Nabooda Racing's domination of the race could not be said of their star driver's qualifying performance. The championship leader could only manage third on the grid after a lacklustre session. But following an initial tussle with fourth placed Abdulaziz AlFaisal, Schmidt took to the challenge of homing in on Frijns and overtook his Qatar-based rival with six laps remaining.
Speaking after a second place finish, current championship leader Jeffrey Schmidt said:
"I think today was definitely the toughest and most exciting race of the season so far. I started third on the grid and didn't want to push too much at the start as I didn't want to make any costly mistakes and knew I had to finish the race. All of a sudden I found myself in fourth position and that was not the plan so I had to fight back, I managed to climb a few places and had an ongoing battle with Charlie Frijns for almost 2 laps, I managed to get past Charlie but by this time Zaid (Ashkanani) had a good lead and it was so difficult to catch up to him. I pushed 100% and got close enough to try and overtake but he held his position well and I had to settle for second place."
After a long, competitive and enthralling season the final outcome of the driver's championship across all three individual categories, gold, silver and bronze will now be decided tomorrow.
Regarded as the purest form of racing, every lap and every corner of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East counts. Qualifying is split by hundredths of seconds and racing is pushed to the limits with driver talent and race craft the difference between winning and losing as all drivers competing in identical fifth generation Porsche 911 GT3 Cups.
The unique one-make series consists of 12 races between November 2015 and March 2016. Season 7 concludes at the illustrious Bahrain International Circuit between 4th and 5th March.