Team Bahrain’s Ali Al Khalifa reaches the podium in historic 100th race of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East
Team Bahrain driver Ali Al Khalifa has finished on the top of the bronze category podium and GCC Rookie class in the 100th race of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East at the Dubai Autodrome as part of the UAE National Day series. The race was won by Great Britain’s Tom Oliphant, with Oman’s Al Faisal Al Zubair second and Germany’s Wolfgang Triller third.
The landmark centennial race is the combined result of a special partnership between Porsche and Lechner Racing who committed to deliver the first and only professional motorsport series in region nearly a decade ago. The championship is credited with introducing the highest standards of racing to the Middle East as proven again today.
For debutant Ali Al Khalifa who finished 11th in the overall in the race and 12th the previous day, the Dubai weekend will have provided more valuable experience and lessons as he continues to show positive signs of improvement.
Speaking after a strong showing Ali Al Khalifa said: “My start in the race today was not the best, and I lost a few positions on the first corner. I managed to make up a couple of them and get closer to the silver guys in front. I was closing the gap as the race went on and then I made a silly mistake, locked up and had a really bad flat spot on my tires for the rest of the race.
“Overall I am really happy with the weekend, I qualified well, and drove consistently throughout both races, I look forward to returning in the new year and continue to push for the category title.”
Teammate Isa S. Al Khalifa had a day to forget and will look forward to better results in 2018 after unfortunately failing to finish the second race of the weekend.
Speaking after the race, Isa S. Al Khalifa said: “I had a really strong start to the day and qualified in 6th position. The speed was definitely there and I wanted to take advantage of this during the race. I had a good start and found myself second in my category early on. I pushed hard behind Magnus Oehman and knew that it would only be a matter of time before I could make my move to try and overtake.
“In lap 5, Khalid Al Wahaibi of Oman was putting a lot of pressure on me from behind, we went into the third corner and ended up side by side, there was a slight contact and we both ended up spinning out. I tried to continue for another couple of laps but the tires were really damaged and I had to finish my race early. It’s disappointing after such a strong qualifying but these things happen in racing and it’s all a part of the development. I look forward to returning here in January and making up for the loss of points.”
The top three drivers in the championship are; Oliphant 96 points, Al Zubair 90 points, Frijns 72 points, with eight races remaining.
Victory by Oliphant in the second race of the weekend came by the tightest of margins. A mere 0.707 seconds separated Oliphant from regional hero Al Zubair following a colossal duel over 14 intense laps. It was the sweet revenge and a reversal of the previous day’s result. But it was never comfortable for Oliphant. He was forced to defend throughout as Al Zubair charged in the closing laps yet he held on for a cherished triumph.
Speaking after the 100th race of the series, Tom Oliphant said: “I’m really pleased, and to win the 100th race in the championship is a real honour. We now move on with the championship lead going into the winter break and hope to come back to Dubai in the new year just as strong!”
The win for Oliphant is his second victory in the opening four races of the twelve race championships and extends his lead in the drivers’ standings to 6 points over Al Zubair.
The historic 100th race has come courtesy of staging 9 consecutive seasons and featured an international grid of 17 elite drivers from 9 countries, including Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, Sweden alongside local stars from Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
A large crowd enjoyed the engrossing action which descended throughout the field. Behind Triller, Dutch star Charlie Frijns picked up his second fourth placed finish of the weekend. Fifth place went to French rookie Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer and the top six positions were completed by Britain’s Glynn Geddie.
The impact of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East has been huge, accelerating the sport regionally and globally by offering a pathway to the top level of the sport for regional drivers. The 100th race typified the growing strength of the successful development program that is transforming the sport locally.
Young drivers from the region are amongst the brightest stars emerging with notable performances from Team Bahrain’s Ali Al Khalifa (11th), Saudi’s Mohammad Al Saud (12th) and Oman’s Khalid Al Wahaibi (14th), who all reached the podium in their respective categories.
At the end of the special 100th race, Walter Lechner said: “I am humble and proud to witness our 100th race. Tom is a worthy winner. But I honestly feel the most satisfying aspect of this moment is the fact that the sport is winning new hearts and minds. The energy and momentum behind the championship feels unstoppable. These are special days.
“We have more drivers from more countries than ever before. Firm foundations have been established over many years and the result is a new breed of regional stars that hold every quality required to succeed in racing. It’s been a wonderful experience and journey to get to this landmark. But as the 100th race proved, we are accelerating towards even greater milestones in the future.”
The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East now enters a short winter break before concluding the remainder of the season in 2018. The series returns to Dubai on 26th – 27th January 2018, before visiting Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit, 2nd – 3rd February 2018. The final two rounds will be held in Bahrain, with the series coming to a thrilling conclusion as an official support race for the 2018 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix.