Al Faisal gets off to an impressive start
It was a near perfect start to the title defence by Oman's talented racer Al Faisal al Zubair as he launched his campaign in the 2018-19 Porsche BWT GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East Series with two wins and a runner-up spot in the opening round at the Dubai Autodrome on Friday and Saturday.
Fellow Omani Khalid al Wahaibi, competing in only his second season, did well to improve in each race and finished sixth, fifth and fourth respectively while the duo led Team Oman to Teams’ Cup titles in all three races.
After the opening round, Al Faisal tops the overall standings with 73 points while Khalid is fifth with 51 among 17 drivers.
Al Faisal had begun in style on Friday with a race victory and on Saturday continued his impressive show to first claim a runner-up spot in the second race and then capped the opening round with a victory.
Al Faisal had secured pole positions for all the three races on the 5.39km circuit.
Tio Ellinas managed to pip Al Faisal to the chequered flag to secure the win in race two by 1.258 seconds with Khalid reaching the finish in fifth place behind Berkay Besler and fourth-placed Michel de Quesada.
Al Faisal finished the third of the races just 0.344 seconds in front of Ellinas and eight seconds ahead of third-placed Quesada. Khalid moved up from a starting position of eighth to finish the last of the weekend’s races in an impressive fourth overall.
After the solid start to the series, Al Faisal said, “It (race three) was so much tougher than the first race. It was much quicker in the end. He (Tio) kept on coming and coming at me.
“The win means so much in the end. I didn’t expect to be defending that much. But the win means more than a second place. I think three poles, two wins and one second place makes a statement. Tio is a very experienced driver.
“With these results, we can celebrate the 48th Oman National Day. I dedicate this win to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said and Oman on this occasion.”
Khalid said, “Temperatures were quite cool for qualifying on Saturday morning. The track was completely different, so it was about reading the conditions. I made a mistake at the end of my ‘push-lap’ and that put me in P7 and not P4. Everything has been so close and one mistake costs you three or four places. Now it’s about minimising these small mistakes throughout the season.
“I struggled a bit with the brakes in the first race and kept locking up. The team solved the issue in race two. It was a huge improvement for race three and I was catching the guys in front but eventually ran out of laps. The aim is to qualify further up for the next races. Three out of three for Team Oman. It could not be any better really.”
Al Faisal and Khalid had qualified in pole and seventh positions respectively for race two on Saturday and Al Faisal continued where he had left off by qualifying in pole position for the third race with an impressive lap of 1min 59.860sec in Q3.
Ellinas qualified in third. Khalid set a best time of 2min 00.949sec and was placed in eighth.
Earlier on Friday, Al Faisal won in style the first race while Khalid finished sixth and Oman winning the Teams’ Championship.
It was the first of 16 championship races that will culminate with the official support race finale at the 2019 Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir on March 29-31.
After the win in the first race, Al Faisal said, “It was a fantastic first day of the season for us. It could not have gone any better with double pole and a win. It’s good mentally to start the season in a good way and I am looking forward to a successful season.
“I really feel honoured to win the race against Tio and Zaid Ashkanani, who is one of the top Super Cup drivers. It’s even sweeter when you know the pedigree of the drivers you are facing.”