Oman’s Al Zubair grabs top spot after demanding opening round to the Porsche BWT GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East Season 10 at Dubai Autodrome

Reigning champion Al Faisal Al Zubair of Oman has emerged at the top of the driver standings after a heroic performance in the opening round of Porsche BWT GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East Season 10 at the Dubai Autodrome as part of the UAE National Day Race weekend.

At the end of an enthralling opening round and the first three races in the newly extended 16-race season, Al Zubair has a slender lead of 2 points over current Porsche Carrera Cup GB champion Tio Ellinas of Cyprus and Khalid Al Wahaibi of Oman in third. 

In fourth place of the standings sits Michael De Quesada of the United States of America, fifth is held by Berkay Besler of Turkey and sixth position Frenchman JB Simmenauer, demonstrating the international make-up of the grid in Season 10.

17 cars representing 13 different nations faced the toughest test ever set by the most successful one-make racing series in the Middle East. For the first time in its history, the series ran three races over two days. The new format was introduced to push drivers to their limits more often and offer even more excitement for fans. And it certainly delivered on every level.

 All weekend Al Zubair dominated pole position and his strength in qualifying was the platform for his lead in the championship. From pole he won the opening race on Friday, followed by a second placed finish in Race 2. A further win came in Race 3 on a gruelling second day.

Speaking after the opening round Al Zubair said: “It was a tough weekend. I thank Tio for some of it. He drove really well and put a good show of strong competition. I know it’s going to be a tough season as everyone starts to improve and we shouldn’t expect anything else. The key for this season is to finish all races. You don’t have the option of dropping any points. Since four new races have been added there is a lot more room for results to go either way. Good or bad. I’m focused on nothing else than winning at the end of it all and looking forward to the upcoming races.”

In the opening race of the second day Ellinas made the move of the weekend to take a well-deserved maiden victory over Al Zubair, who finished second. Ellinas crossed the line 1.25 seconds in front. Third place was seized by newcomer Besler who benefitted from a 10 second time penalty imposed on De Quesada. The American was relegated to fourth, while Khalid Al Wahaibi of Oman reminded the grid of his immense potential with a well-deserved fifth position. 

The third race of the championship once again pitted Al Zubair and Ellinas in a compelling duel as one of Europe’s best tried to claim another win against Al Faisal, currently the best driver in the region. Despite constant pressure from a chasing Ellinas, Al Faisal calmly defended his line to win by a margin of 0.344 seconds. De Quesada proved his abundant talent to take the final step of the podium in third, pushing Al Wahaibi into fourth. While South African Saul Hack had his best result of the weekend in fifth.          

Speaking at the end of a debut outing, Tio Ellinas of Cyprus added: “It was a tricky day today. Having two races in one day wasn’t easy and conditions were very tough. But overall, I raced two good races today.

“This weekend has been a great test for me. Coming off the back of the GB championships I felt good coming into this race weekend, but it hasn’t been easy. The track over here is really different to the tracks I’ve been used to racing on in the UK. There’s a lot of sand over here which makes it really difficult for the tyres to grip compared to in Europe. You need to drive very skilfully out here, and that is sometimes difficult when you need to be aggressive. I had to adapt to a different timing style. At the end of the day I’ve come off the back of this weekend a better driver, which is the main thing.” 

The most professional championship in the Middle East now moves to Bahrain International Circuit in early December, before returning to the Dubai Autodrome followed by Yas Marian Circuit, with the final decisive rounds in Bahrain. The season will conclude with an official support race to the 2019 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix in March 2019, the only regional racing series to do so.

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