Schmid wins as Al Maktoum takes second in Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East title opener

Al Nabooda Racing’s Clemens Schmid took the win as SkyDive Dubai Falcons Sheikh Hasher Al Maktoum laid down a marker with a sensational drive from seventh to second in Race 1 of Round 1 of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East at Bahrain International Circuit. The Season 6 opener was eventually won by the UAE-based Schmid but only after Al Maktoum pushed him right to the end in what was a sensational start to the new series and the perfect advert for regional motor racing with local drivers.

A pointer to the excitement Season 6 is set to deliver the race showed just how competitive the series will be amongst the drivers in the championship but also in the team stakes with Al Nabooda Racing, SkyDive Dubai and the newly formed BuZaid GT/Frijns giving glimpses of what is set to be an absorbing series of six rounds running from November to April across the GCC.

After a titanic battle with his own team mate, Saeed Al Mehairi, Al Maktoum squeezed past Season 5 champion Zaid Ashkanani in the closing laps to secure a memorable second place and vital points for his own championship ambitions and those of his team. That’s despite Al Mehairi being forced to retire with a puncture just one lap from the end.

Speaking after his impressive first outing of the season Sheikh Hasher Al Maktoum said: “I was so happy with the race. It was very hard but a huge amount of fun. Saeed and I have raced a lot together so we have a friendly team rivalry that helped push me to the end and secure second. As we got towards the end I had first place in my sights but wasn’t able to make it passed Clemens. Either way I’m happy with the result. What we can also take from this is the fact we are very competitive this year and it is exciting. This is a boost to my confidence and that of our team.”

Marking his return to action after painfully losing the Season 5 Championship in the final race by just one point Al Nabooda Racing’s Clemens Schmid was dominant in his return to BIC winning by a margin of just 0.931 seconds. After qualifying first the UAE-resident held off late challenges from his Emirati rival, Al Maktoum, to take the chequered flag in an absorbing race featuring the region’s finest talent showcasing their skills.

Al Maktoum’s SkyDive Dubai Falcons team mate Saeed Al Mehairi was unfortunate not to secure any points after a sensational drive. The Emirati forced from the race after picking up a flat tyre: “Of course I was very disappointed to drop out of the race but I think we’ve shown that SkyDive Dubai are back for Season 6 and we are hoping for silverware. Huge congratulations to Sheikh Hasher, he was excellent today but we push each other to get better through every race and we will take a lot of positives into Race 2. I was struggling about half way through the race with a bald spot on the tyre but I was hoping to keep fighting and secure some points. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to contribute to the team points but I think we’ve shown our potential and will be looking to recreate our form in the coming races and rounds.

Al Maktoum started strongly from seventh place climbing up to fifth behind his SkyDive Dubai Falcons teammate Saeed Al Mehairi, as the duo took advantage of an early mistake by promising Qatar-based talent, Charlie Frijns. Ahmad Al Harthy also started well launching himself up to third in his first full season in the series. Al Maktoum and Al Mehairi were harking back to their old days in karting as the friendly rivalry between them was magnified on to the big stage, the pair switching places multiple times in what must have been a nervous few opening laps for their team bosses. Finely balancing their driving between team attacks on Al Harthy and personal pride the battle between them began to cost time as Frijns found his form and closed the gap to within a few tenths of a second, before a flat tyre caused Sweden’s Magnus Ohman to crash out and the safety car was deployed.

As the action restarted the experience of the SkyDive drivers told as the pair passed Al Harthy to take third and fourth. Al Harthy eventually fell down the pack and collided with the car of KSA’s Bandar Aleyasi which meant the end of both their races and a second outing for the safety car.

Again the Porsche GT3 Cup cars were bunched together with just two laps to go but Al Maktoum capitalised on a lock up from Zaid Ashkanani to squeeze into second and pile the pressure on race leader Clemens Schmid. As Schmid struggled with worn tyres Al Maktoum’s team mate was also pressing for third with Ashkanani struggling as his rear brakes regularly locked. The extra pushing told on Al Mehairi’s tyres with a bald spot eventually wearing away to force the Emirati driver out of the race with a flat tyre. Despite the pressure from second placed Al Maktoum, Schmid held on to take a deserved win with Ashkanani second.

Regarded as the purest form of racing with all drivers competing in identical fifth generation Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, the unique one-make series will consist of 12 races between November 2014 and April 2015. Six intensely competitive race round weekends will be staged at the region’s leading circuits with two rounds in Bahrain, two in the United Arab Emirates and two in Qatar over a six month period.

The championship will finish in style returning to Sakir for the final round of the series. As a fitting finale to the season whilst providing local drivers with a chance of a lifetime the sixth season is expected to form part of the official race weekend schedule to support the 2015 Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix in April 2015.   

Created to encourage Arab talent and offer a platform into the world of international GT and sports car racing, the one-make GT series has already proved vastly popular amongst local drivers. The championship is based on the highly successful Porsche formula for one-make series racing the challenge gives every driver an equal chance to compete, racing in identically constructed Porsche GT3 Cup cars.

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