Champion Al Faisal signs off with runner-up finish
Having already captured the Porsche BWT GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East Series overall title on Saturday for the second time in a row at the Sakhir International Circuit in Bahrain, Oman's Al Faisal al Zubair, went into the final and 16th race of the season unshackled from any burden on Sunday.
After claiming the overall title, Al Faisal had spoken about bowing out of the championship with a flourish.
And on Sunday, the adrenaline in him was oozing with the sole aim to sign off the season with a victory.
With Canadian rapper Drake's Back to Back song in his playlist as he arrived for the race, Al Faisal’s confidence was high.
And it was this very confidence that took everyone by surprise. Beginning in P2, he demonstrated his racing prowess and potential with an amazing manoeuvre in the third lap to overtake pole-sitter Tio Ellinas in the ten-lap race.
And from then on, it appeared that there would be no stopping Al Faisal.
On a day, when all roads in Bahrain led to Sakhir to watch the Formula One race, later in the evening, Al Faisal definitely provided the early thrill with his sensational move taking Ellinas on the inside of turn three.
Leading well into the final stretch of the race, Al Faisal's ninth win of the season was almost there before his hopes were dashed following an accident in the eighth lap between Bahrain's Sheikh Isa bin Abdullah al Khalifa and South Africa's Saul Hack.
The safety car was deployed and race resumed with just a lap remaining. However, after the restart, Turkey's Berkay Besler, capitalised at a turn to get past Al Faisal after Ellinas locked his brakes on turn one.
It was heartbreak for Al Faisal, who was much faster than the rest till the safety car was deployed. Al Faisal had to settle for second behind Besler, who won by mere 0.197 seconds. Frenchman J B Simmenauer finished third in the race.
The three top finishers of the race then had an opportunity to be on the same podium where a few hours later, Lewis Hamilton was crowned the Formula One champion.
In his exclusive remarks to Muscat Daily after receiving the championship trophy at a separate ceremony in the F1 support race paddock, Al Faisal said, “I started off very well today. And everything was going fine till the safety car broke my rhythm.
“I would have been very happy to have finished a successful season with a victory.”
Al Faisal said, “Despite the disappointment today, it is a great feeling to be the only driver in the ten years of the series to win back to back titles.”
Oman's Khalid al Wahaibi, who suffered problems in his car, had to be content with seventh place but managed a creditable fourth-place in the overall driver's standings.
Khalid said, “During lap two an incident involving Dylan Pereira's car led to gravel getting into my radiator leading to water leak. It led to lot of under steer and made it difficult for me to focus. I could not do much but I am satisfied with the season.”
Speaking during the awards ceremony, where Al Faisal was awarded the overall trophy, the team trophy and the best GCC driver's trophy, Walter Lechner, the founder of the series, said, “Al Faisal is a perfect example of the talent that the region has. He has proved his credentials and has become the first to win back to back titles. We are proud of his victory and hope his exploits will draw more regional drivers to motorsports.”
Al Faisal's record this season comprised eight wins, seven pole positions, and 13 podiums, including three runner-up spots. At the awards ceremony, Al Faisal (winner) and Khalid (runner-up) were presented the GCC category trophies along with the team category trophy, which was received by Team Oman chief Ibrahim al Wahaibi.
Overall standings: 1 Al Faisal al Zubair (363 points), 2 Berkay Besler (335), 3 J B Simmenauer (292), 4 Khalid al Wahaibi (258), 5 Saul Hack (241).