Flying start for Schmid and Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East in Bahrain
Clemens Schmid of Al Nabooda Racing secured a memorable weekend with two victories in the first and second round of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East at the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC).
His dominating performances steered Al Nabooda Racing to the top of the newly installed Team Title, team-mate Karim Al-Azhari finishing in the top six in both rounds.
Billed as the largest and most competitive field to ever start in the series, the line-up for the fourth season did not disappoint. Two enthralling races featured head to head battles throughout the field.
Even for 22-year-old Schmid, who collected maximum points and qualified in pole position in both of the opening rounds, it was far from easy race. Encouraging performances by main rivals, such as Bahrain's Salman bin Rashid Al Khalifa and Saudi Arabia's reigning champion Abdulaziz AlFaisal, suggest this will be the most captivating series yet.
Speaking at the end of a highly successful opening race weekend, Walter Lechner, Manager Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East, said: "This weekend has proven once again just how exciting the Porsche formula of one-making racing is."
"We have the strongest grid ever assembled at the start of a new season, with competition coming from every team. All the ingredients are in place for another exciting two days at the Yas Marina Circuit next month, as there is little that separates the top five or six drivers," added Lechner.
The weekend started with Schmid grabbing pole position for Round 1 with a fastest lap of 1:06.307 minutes, narrowly edging reigning champion Abdulaziz AlFaisal, who came in at 1:06.415 minutes.
But his lead was lost in the first lap of the main event when he was overtaken by AlFaisal and did not regain his lead until the eleventh lap, following a bold overtaking into the first corner. With his reputation as one of the fastest drivers on the circuit, he accelerated his advantage and took the chequered flag to win by 4.959 seconds.
The opening day of the season was complete for Al Nabooda. Karim Al-Azhari finished in third position, ahead of Salman bin Rashid Al Khalifa. With Al-Azhari helped his team to take the lead in the newly-installed Team Title.
The top six positions were completed by two new drivers to the series. The hugely impressive 18-year-old Kuwaiti Zaid Ashkanani, the "Rookie of the Race", finished in an impressive fifth, while the first female to race in the championship, Denmark's Christina Nielsen, coming in as the sixth fastest driver.
Schmid started where he left off in Round 1, with yet another impressive display in qualifying for Round 2, coming ahead of AlFaisal and Al Khalifa.
With the Austrian losing his lead in Round 1, he did not make the same mistake twice and produced a faultless performance by dominating from green lights to chequered flag, without being seriously threatened. He eventually won the race by a comfortable 8.133 seconds from nearest rivals Al Khalifa and AlFaisal.
Following his victory by a huge margin, Schmid said: "It has been a perfect week for myself and my team to get maximum points and lead the Team Title. I was very confident coming to Bahrain; I knew I had to produce my best to get onto the podium. To win both races is unbelievable.
"In the next rounds at Yas Marina, we have to keep the same strategy to continue our winning ways. Yas is one of my favourite circuits. I am quite confident we can repeat our performances," added Schmid.
Despite a straight-forward win for the Austrian, the real battle was to fill the rest of the top six positions. Karim Al-Azhari finished fourth, with Saudi Arabia's Faisal Binladen taking fifth by holding off a spirited challenge from rookie Zaid Ashkanani who finished sixth. Christina rounded off a successful debut weekend by finishing in eight position.
The series moves to the United Arab Emirates next. Rounds 3 and 4 will take place at Yas Marina Circuit on 7th and 8th December. Reigning champion Abdulaziz AlFaisal is hoping to score high and decrease Schmid's leads in the overall ranking.
He said: "I have a good record in the UAE but we will have to formulate a good strategy in Round 3 and 4 to overcome Schmid, who is one of the fastest drivers on the grid and in good form, as he showed in Bahrain."