Rookie drivers from Team Bahrain reflect on strong opening to season

Race for Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East shows no sign of cooling off during short winter break 

After two sensational rounds of race action in season 8 of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East, a short winter break is unlikely to slow the hectic pace of the most competitive season in the championship’s history.

The mouth-watering ingredients of a new and expanded grid with 16 drivers’ from 12 different countries, including Bahraini teenage duo of Isa A. Al Khalifa and Isa S. Al Khalifa, has proved the perfect recipe for action-packed racing. Four races into the 12 race season and there is nothing to split the top two drivers as both Charlie Frijns and Ryan Cullen sit level on 90 points each. 

It’s just as close throughout the entire field. Less than five points separate the first and second places across gold, silver and bronze categories, and no podium has been the same on any of the four occasions so far. Even qualifying has proved ridiculously tight. In Dubai less than two seconds divided the first seven drivers on the grid.      

For Isa A. Al Khalifa and Isa S. Al Khalifa, the break between now and Round 3 on 27th & 28th January at the Dubai Autodrome offers a chance to reflect on the opening two rounds as well as time to help prepare for their return to the track in 2017. 

Isa A. Al Khalifa has had a strong start to the season. After a brief taster racing as a guest in Bahrain in season 7, the teenage protégé will now know what to expect especially when racing outside of Bahrain.

With the majority of his experience coming from karting, Isa A. Al Khalifa has had to make a big step up to compete in the championship. After featuring on the podium on more than one occasion already this season, the talented youngster goes into the winter break in 3rd place in the new Porsche GCC Rookie championship, and only 5 points behind his Bahrain teammate Isa S. Al Khalifa.

Looking back on his start, Isa A. Al Khalifa said: “It has been a great experience so far in Season 8, and being able to race alongside these talented drivers from the Middle East and across Europe has been a dream come true. It is a great way to boost my racing career. I am very pleased with my performances so far but will continue to build going into the next round and hope to keep on improving. I’ve never raced outside of Bahrain so I’m learning a lot and that’s part of the process.” 

Despite the winter break only just starting, already drivers are setting their sights on Round 3 and a return to the Dubai Autodrome for the second of two back-to-back rounds on the testing UAE circuit. Especially those who are making their debut in the region’s leading series. Emerging racing stars like Isa A and Isa S. Al Khalifa are desperate to make use of their fresh experience and will seek to secure all-important championship points and challenge for silverware.

Current leaders of the series after two rounds are Qatar-based Charlie Frijns and Ryan Cullen of Ireland joint on points at the top of the overall drivers’ standings. Experienced UK driver, Tom Oliphant, will take comfort sitting closely behind in third place. However he will be aware that only 30 points separate him from seventh place in the standings, a great testament to how close the season is. 

The younger of the two Bahraini drivers, Isa S. Al Khalifa, has quickly had to get used to life in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East. The emerging driver is optimistic for his season and knows that racing against some of the best drivers from the Middle East and Europe will only help his career progress. After reaching the podium in all four races this season, Isa S. Al Khalifa has all the confidence and the momentum he needs going into the New Year. 

Reflecting on the first two rounds, Al Khalifa said: “I always knew that coming into this championship would be a huge challenge. I am constantly learning new things throughout each race weekend, and is important I put these learnings into my performances to achieve the best results.

“I am extremely happy with my position and just need to hope for more of the same next year. I have a great platform to build on and having the Porsche GCC Rookie title in my sights in my first season is something I am really excited about!” 

Speaking on the championship so far, owner of Lechner racing, and founder of the series, Walter Lechner, said: “We have worked very hard to get the championship in a position like this. It is great to see a full grid of 16 cars, and even better not being able to predict where the drivers will finish. The competition from the first to the very last car across the finish line is intense and we have seen over the first two rounds that everyone has a chance of winning their category. These drivers are living their dreams and gaining so much from the experience.  

“The new drivers have come in and performed very well. With the addition of some of the more fearless younger drivers, each race is more and more thrilling to watch. This is what motor racing should be about, and bringing this drive, determination, and passion to the Middle East is something that I am very proud of.”

For racing fans in the UAE, the return of the spectacular Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East to the Dubai Autodrome in January will provide the perfect opportunity to follow the championship from the stands, and witness the exhilarating Porsche action first hand. 

The championship will not move far for Round 4, remaining in the UAE as drivers descend on the popular Yas Marina, Formula One circuit in Abu Dhabi to mark the halfway stage of the season on 10th -11th February. Bahrain will welcome the drivers back to the home of the Porsche GT3 CCME series for the remaining two rounds, with Round 5 taking place on the 10th -11th March and Round 6 taking place in April 2017 in the form of the Bahrain F1 support race.

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