Oliphant can secure first championship win with double victory in Round 5
Drivers set sights on Sakhir as Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East Season 9 prepares for Bahrain showdown
Four races remain. Two races to be hosted this weekend and the final two races held in support of the official 2018 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix weekend in April.
Expectations are high, dreams are still alive, and the competition is intense as drivers make their way back to the home of motorsport in Bahrain for the business end of the season. Every single category in the championship remains wide open with only a few points separating the top drivers.
As per previous seasons each driver will ‘drop’ their two lowest scoring races with the overall final championship standings calculated over the best 10 out of 12 races for each driver. Much to delight of fans the series closer than ever and impossible to predict.
Championship leader Tom Oliphant (192 points) is 19 points ahead of closest rival Al Faisal Al Zubair in the defining battle of the season with more drama expected this weekend. British star Oliphant has ruled himself out of the final round of the season in early April due to an existing racing commitment in Europe but the impact is limited since only 10 races count.
So far the results tell an emphatic story of dominance and consistency for Oliphant in Season 9. He has not finished outside of the top two positions, winning 4 out of the 8 races completed. But if he’s to become champion he’ll need to win his final two races.
Speaking ahead of what will be his final round, Oliphant said, “This weekend is huge for me. My season finishes. I’ve worked hard and improved drastically on my results from the past, and I just hope that I can do it in round 5 to seal the championship victory early.
“It’s still in my hands. All I can do is go out there and try to win both races as that will be enough to clinch it. It’s a shame I’m not able to complete the series, as it would be a career highlight to race in support of the Formula 1 weekend with the championship at stake. But I’ll be very proud of my achievement if I can win overall at this early stage.”
Omani Al Zubair (173 points) will need to overturn the 19-point deficit on Oliphant starting this weekend. And he’ll need to be at his very best for that happen. If Al Zubair is to guarantee winning his debut championship he will be required no less than a minimum of winning three of the final four races and coming no worse than second in the fourth. A daunting challenge by any driver’s standards.
Ahead of round 5, Al Faisal Al Zubair said, “There is a lot of pressure on this week. I really need to win both before I can even think about the final round in April. Oliphant has taken a lead, but it works in my favour that I have an extra round to gain further points if needed. Ideally, I would like to get ahead of Tom this weekend and stay there with two more wins come April.
“The mental side of racing really comes into play now. I am looking forward to getting back on track and chasing my dream of winning the championship here in Bahrain.”
The Bahrain International Circuit will welcome the championship back for the defining moments, and with only 91 points separating the top 7 drivers in the overall standings, only 8 points separating the top three drivers in the Silver category and 18 points separating the top three in the Bronze category. So literally everything is still to race for.
In third place Dutch driver Charlie Frijns remains in contention, and could turn things around with two strong rounds in Bahrain. In the silver category, as many as five drivers can mathematically still win the category over the next two rounds. Britain’s Mark Radcliffe heads up the Bronze category, only eight points ahead of Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al Saud.
Speaking ahead of Round 5 of the six-round season, Walter Lechner, founder and manager of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East, said, “The ingredients of Porsche one-make racing guarantees an incredible climax to every season. It’s remarkable. This is our ninth year and once again as we enter the critical phase when the series could be won or lost every driver has something to race for. It’s an incredible testament to the quality of the championship and Porsche’s support. Everyone is evenly matched and it’s exactly as the drivers, Porsche and I would want it. This is racing at it’s very best and whoever wins will have responded to the pressure best. Bahrain will be where champions are made.”
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.