Porsche BWT GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East: Al Faisal on the brink of title
Defending champion Al Faisal al Zubair's tactical move to ensure collection of points rather than go all out for race wins turned out to be a wise manoeuvre as the Omani moved to the brink of his second successive title in the Porsche BWT GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain, on Saturday.
Al Faisal bagged a crucial podium finish in the 14th and final race of the fifth round after he had finished fourth in the previous race to garner vital points (326 points) and increase his lead over his nearest rival, Berkay Besler of Turkey (285), to 41 points with just two more two races of round six to go in the series.
With a maximum 50 points at stake in the final round, which will be held as support races for the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the same venue on March 30-31, Al Faisal is all set to become the first Omani to claim back-to-back overall honours.
Al Faisal's Omani teammate, Khalid al Wahaibi had an eighth-place in the 13th race but showed marked improvement to take fifth spot in the next race. He is now placed fourth overall with 224 points and a good show in the final two races can earn him a podium finish.
Besler claimed the race win in the first of the two races on Saturday while France's Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer won the other race.
Al Faisal had qualified fourth for the first race and then earned pole position for the final race.
Speaking after the two races, Al Faisal said, “Overall, I am satisfied. I had qualified P4 for the race and despite a tough battle with Saul Hack, I managed to finish fourth. For me, it was more important to minimise the risks for my championship title and a fourth-place was a good result in that context.”
Adding further, he said, “In the final race, I started from pole and my aim was to win. But, what was more crucial was to finish with good points. It was going to be difficult to seal the championship title this weekend and it was never my goal. Both Simmenauer and Besler, who were in front of me in the 14th race, were fighting and it wasn’t worth me risking points.”
Khalid, who has displayed remarkable progress in the series was disappointed with his race two qualification. He said, “I started P7 after the disappointing issues we had in Q2 when I was being blocked by an opponent. I managed to stick with Al Faisal and Saul until the middle of the race.
“I started the third race in P5. It was an improvement. I followed the leaders through the middle towards the end of the race. It was a great race. For me, it’s all about getting more experience as I still have a lot to learn.”
Earlier, Al Faisal took the pole position with a lap-record of 2min 01.851sec while Khalid qualified fifth with a best run of 2min 02.877sec.
Standings [after round five, 14 races]: 1 Al Faisal al Zubair (326 points), 2 Berkay Besler (285), 3 J B Simmenauer (251), 4 Khalid al Wahaibi (224), Saul Hack (219).