Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East: Al Faisal aims for top-three finish
Six months of racing at the top-level across some of the biggest circuits can certainly bring in quite a few changes in a teenager. On Monday, when Oman's talented racer Al Faisal al Zubair walked in at the presentation room of the Shangri-La Barr al Jissah Resort and Spa to address media persons, he was far from nervous and displayed lot of maturity while replying, a cue enough to measure the teenager’s progress as a driver on a professional circuit over the past few months.
The 19 year old Al Faisal, who had launched Team FZ Racing, at the same hotel in May, had recently finished his maiden season with the Porsche Mobil 1 Super Cup, a world-class endurance championship, with an overall 14th-place finish.
Bolstered by the encouraging results in the Super Cup, that witnesses the best Porsche drivers in action, the young Omani is now eyeing nothing less than an overall top-three finish at the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East, which begins its ninth season from November 16 at the Bahrain International Circuit.
The confidence and ease with which Al Faisal walked on to the dais on Monday was in sharp contrast to his nervousness when he addressed media during the launch of his Team FZ Racing six months ago.
Al Faisal said, “The learning experience during the Super Cup season has definitely made me a much better driver.
“It was one of the best things to happen. Super Cup turned out to be an amazing platform for me. I learned a lot more than I thought at the start.”
“It was just not the race pace that I improved but my interaction with world-class drivers like the Super Cup champion and my teammate at Lechner Racing, Michael Ammermuller, that made me realise the importance of thorough race preparations.
“In the Super Cup held on the Formula One circuit, we just get an hour to get used to the track - 30 minutes for practice and 30 minutes for qualifying. There is hardly any time and it is a challenge to get a fair idea of the circuit, which could make a big difference.” said the Omani.
Having managed a top-15 place among 30 drivers in the debut season, Al Faisal now heads into the winter Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East oozing with confidence.
During the 11 Super Cup rounds he raced in Barcelona, Monaco, Spielberg, Silverstone, Budapest, Spa, Monza and Mexico and garnered 28 points with six top-15 finishes. His best result of the season was at the Hungaroring circuit in Budapest, where he got seven points for his eighth place.
His achievements also earned Oman a tenth place in the Nations’ Championship. Al Faisal also had a stint with Porsche Carrera Cup Germany and raced in three rounds.
Al Faisal also spoke about the sight of thousands of fans at the F1 circuit and admitted being “nervous” initially but then got used to it. He was delighted to share the paddock with some of his idols.
It was only last season that Al Faisal had made a lasting impression at the Middle East Challenge when he won the GCC Porsche GT3 Rookie
Trophy and took the top honours in the silver category. He had also finished an overall fifth.
The coming season will be much more challenging with quite a few young and talented drivers in fray but Al Faisal believes that the Super Cup experience will give him the edge.
“My Super Cup stint makes me feel comfortable for the forthcoming Middle East series. I am now ready to battle for an overall top-three place.
“The upcoming races will be the perfect ground to put my past six-month experience to optimum use,” he said.
The 12-race season kicks off with rounds one and two at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain (November 16-18) followed by races at the Dubai Autodrome (December 8-9 and January 26-27), Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi (February 2-3), and the final four races back in Bahrain on (March 16-17 and April 6-8).
Al Faisal had a fruitful testing session last week in Bahrain where he clocked the fastest time in the first practice session and then finished second in the other session.
On Monday, Al Faisal received a pat of encouragement from experienced Omani star, Ahmad al Harthy, who was present on the occasion. “Al Faisal has had a promising debut season in Porsche Mobil 1 Super Cup and it would give him lot of confidence for the forthcoming Middle East Challenge. I wish him all the best and hope he earn more laurels for himself and for Oman,” he said.
A young champion in the making: Lechner
He is widely regarded as a giant in the world of motorsports. Walter Lechner, the founder of Lechner Racing Team, is a well-respected and popular personality, whose disciples have gone on to become some of the world's most powerful names in motorsports.
Lechner, who has been impressed by Al Faisal al Zubair, since last year, and provided the Omani the break into the Porsche Mobil 1 Super Cup, is satisfied with the progress made by Al Faisal in his debut season.
Speaking to Muscat Daily, Lechner said, “It was a satisfying performance by Al Faisal as he managed to finish all the races. It was quite important for him to learn the craft of finishing races and not getting shunted out in crashes.
“He has adapted well and with his talent he should be vying for the title in the Middle East Challenge this season. A top-three finish will be a perfect springboard for him to compete in next year's Porsche Mobil 1 Super Cup and Porsche Carrera Cup in Germany.”
The experienced Austrian is credited to have brought the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East Series to the region in 2005.
He said that Al Faisal has the credentials to be a champion in the future and after a couple of years, he could become a works driver. “His progression over the past 18 months has been very good and I see in him a young champion in the making as he is a quick learner,” said Lechner.