Manama : Al-Faisal Al-Zubair finished an action-packed second race in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East in fifth position and first of the GCC drivers at Bahrain’s Sakhir circuit. The Omani now trails Great Britain’s Tom Oliphant by just two points in the overall drivers’ standings.
The Lechner Racing Middle East driver was given a five-place grid penalty for an incident in the first race on Friday and began the race from ninth position. After initially slipping back to 11th, he was delighted to fight back to an eventual fifth overall.
Oliphant is missing the last two races of the season to take part in the British Touring Car Championship and that leaves Al-Zubair as the firm favourite to clinch his first Middle East title next month when the series returns to Bahrain.
Al-Zubair said: “It was a good race. I started P9 and, after lap one, I went back to P11. We finished P5 in the end with good lap times. For me, I am focused on getting good consistent points. We could have been a little more aggressive on the usual basis but I was thinking of the championship. Someone hit me from the back on the first lap, but I managed to get back on track.”
Meanwhile, Khalid Al-Wahaibi tackled the race from 10th on new tyres and finished eighth. He now trails Sweden’s Magnus Oehman by just three points in the Silver category and has a comfortable lead in the Rookie section.
“I started P10 after the situation in qualifying where I got my fast lap taken away. I had a good start alongside Al-Faisal and I moved up to seventh.
“After that, we really struggled with the car. It did not feel as good as it did at the previous rounds. It was difficult to keep up with the guys in front and I finished P8. This was two places ahead of where I qualified, but I wanted to be higher. It was not a bad finish in terms of the Silver category, P3, and P3 in GCC, but I want to do better next time.”
The experienced Dylan Pereira won the race from Oliphant. Charlie Frijns and Glynn Geddie rounded off the top four and rookie Saul Hack won the Silver category from Isa Al-Khalifa and Al-Wahaibi.
Jean-Baptiste Simmenbauer rocked the regulars with the quickest time in the morning’s free practice session with a quickest lap of 2min 04.169sec. Al-Zubair stayed clear of any problems to record the fourth quickest lap of 2min 04.445sec behind the rookie, Pereira and Geddie. Al-Wahaibi missed the session with a clutch issue.
With the news that Oliphant would not be competing in the last two races of the season in Bahrain, it was imperative that Al-Zubair qualified strongly for race 10 to stamp his authority on proceedings.
Pole position for the second of the Bahrain races fell to Charlie Frijns with a fastest lap of 2min 03.390sec. Oliphant was second and Al-Zubair slotted into fourth behind Bahrain’s Issa Al-Khalifa. Al-Wahaibi returned to action and qualified in 13th position and seventh of the Silver drivers.
“I went on used tyres and finished fourth,” said Al-Zubair. “I got a penalty from yesterday and I don’t think that was fair. It meant I would start the race in ninth on new tyres. The goal was a top four finish, but I was leading the championship and that changed the mentality.”