Team Bahrain improve across first round of Porsche BWT GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East
The performances of Team Bahrain have shown encouraging signs of improvement across 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.
Both Isa A. Al Khalifa and teammate Ali Al Khalifa gradually got to grips and built speed over the three-race opening weekend, with Isa A. Al Khalifa satisfied to finish fourth in the ultra-competitive Pro-Am category and third in the GCC category.
At the end of an enthralling opening round and the first three races in the newly extended 16-race season, Isa A. Al Khalifa said: “The racing this weekend was really good. We kept moving forward, if I started from 10th, I made it to 7th. Race 3 was fun, just a bit contact here and there but rubbing is racing and that’s how I was able to get through. To be honest, the level of competition is very high this season. A lot of talent and skill from abroad and the region too.
“There are quite new drivers who have already proven that they’re in it to win it so we just really need to step our game if we want to make it to the top. I think that the way the introduced three races in one weekend keeps things so much more exciting and focused.”
At the top of the standings Al Zubair (73 pts) has a slender lead of 2 points over current Porsche Carrera Cup GB champion Tio Ellinas (71 pts) of Cyprus and Michael De Quesada (54 pts) of the United States of America third.
In fourth sits Berkay Besler (52pts) of Turkey and fifth is held by Khalid Al Wahaibi (51pts), who once again showcased his immense abilities to make Oman the highest ranked country from the Middle East. While sixth position belongs to Frenchman JB Simmenauer(47pts), 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 second race of the season 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.
Ali Al Khalifa of Team Bahrain added: “The races today weren't so good and all in all the weekend wasn't the best. Testing started out well. But I made a few mistakes during qualifying and the races. I crashed out of race two because I made a big mistake with a few laps to go. I went off-line and it’s really slippery, as I hit the dust I had no grip and went straight into the wall. I also messed up my tyres during qualifying for race 3, so started the race on really old tyres which set me back right from the start. There was no grip during the race and I struggled really badly. Having two races in one day was tricky, especially after not racing for a while. Now my attention turns to Bahrain and getting ready for it mentally. It's a home race on a track I know really well!”
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.