Reigning champion Al Zubair claims victory in opening race of Porsche BWT GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East

Oman’s Al Faisal Al Zubair has secured a narrow victory in the first race of the Porsche BWT GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East Season 10 at the Dubai Autodrome as part of the UAE National Day Race weekend. Tio Ellinas of Cyprus was second and Kuwait’s Zaid Ashkanani third.

At the front it was a true clash of champions with reigning champion, Al Zubair, coming out on top against new rival and closest challenger Ellinas, the current Porsche Carrera Cup GB champion. The Omani enjoyed a perfect start to the defence his title on a sun-drenched afternoon with a race win from pole position, crossing the line just 0.399 seconds ahead of Ellinas. 

Speaking after the win, Al Faisal Al Zubair said: “It was a tough race. I felt Tio getting closer and closer and the gap became smaller. I am so happy I was able to come back here and win. It wasn’t easy, but it is a good start for the season. Tio was pushing and I focused on making the gap bigger.”

After a clean start off the line the Omani raced clear and looked comfortable in opening up a strong lead through the mid-point of the race. But as the laps passed a charging Ellinas was able to shrink the gap to the narrowest of margins. The close finish will certainly give Al Zubair plenty to think about as the drivers go into back-to-back races scheduled for the second day of the weekend.     

Second placed driver, Tio Ellinas said: “Al Faisal was persistent. I kept putting pressure on him, but he never made any mistakes. I should have pushed more from the beginning to force him into making mistakes that I could take advantage of but overall it was a good race. I am happy with the result.”

The five first positions offered a brilliant example of the growing global appeal of the series, with all five drivers representing different nations from around the world including local talents from the region.  

Just outside the podium places, French teenager J.B. Simmenauer started and finished fourth with a very assured and measured drive. Fifth position went to Turkish driver Berkay Besler who will be encouraged by his debut outing. The top six places were completed by Omani, Khalid Al Wahabi.    

Season 6 champion Zaid Ashkanani who finished third added: “I tried my best, but the gap never became smaller, the two in the front did well to keep momentum. I never felt any pressure from the back. I focused on catching up with the front. Qualifying made the difference otherwise It could have been different. I am happy with my result and I will try again tomorrow.” 

The opening race could be described as a gentle introductory start to the landmark tenth season with the grid easing into the extended 16 race season. Caution and consistency seemed more evident than courageous overtaking, a potential outcome of the new format that sees every round counting towards the end of season standings.

After the opening race, Manager of the Porsche BWT GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East and Lechner Racing, Walter Lechner added: “The midfield saw some action today as drivers fought for the podium in the new Pro-Am category. But the lack of any major incidents is actually pleasing for me. It shows me that the drivers were respecting each other and settling into the championship which makes sense since it is extended to 16 races. Although titles couldn’t be won today, they certainly could be lost.”

The series returns with back to back races on Saturday 17th November, with Race 2 scheduled to start at 11h30 and Race 3 at 15h15. Entrance is free to all fans.  

The most professional championship in the Middle East then 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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