Bahrain International Circuit’s ‘Speed Weekend’ was dominated by one driver, as Al Faisal Al Zubair continued to make his mark on the Porsche BWT GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East, the Season 10 title and Middle Eastern motorsport.
Having already been crowned winner of Race 1 on Friday, Al Zubair showed no signs of conceding any of the three qualifying sessions or races undertaken over the weekend. Faced with challenging starts due to an influx of new international drivers behind him eager to make their move on the reigning champion, Al Zubair lost his lead at the first turn of all three races, but only to recover with ease.
The young Omani seized the challenge, using his experience to manoeuvre his way back into pole and pull away to leave the battle in his rear-view mirror, giving the crowd a sense of déjà vu each race. The Omani champion built a lead of 5 seconds in Race 1 and 8 seconds in Race 2 to see him comfortably cruise to the chequered flag untroubled.
Race 3, an additional race added to four rounds this season taking the total races in the championship from 12 to a demanding 16, Al Zubair managed just a 0.728 gap ahead of Berkay Besler of Turkey in second to prove how the added race allows for increased competition.
Speaking after a productive weekend, Oman’s Al Zubair commented: “This has been the perfect weekend for me – three poles and three race wins! I enjoyed the last race a lot and it was a fantastic ending to a great weekend. The race was more difficult than the first two of Round 2, but interesting and fun nonetheless. Michael and Berkay performed very well and this has made me even happier with my result.”
The story of the weekend was the entertaining drives from the new generation of talent taking part in the series this year, all giving last season’s regional debutants a tough weekend. Michael de Quesada of USA, Berkay Besler of Turkey and Leon Koehler of Germany troubled Bahrain’s Isa A. Al Khalifa, Oman’s Khalid Al Wahaibi, South Africa’s Saul Hack and even Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer, demonstrating live how regional drivers can race against international talent in the series.
This group of drivers built a 10 second gap on the second half of the grid and were hard at work for all 14 laps of the three races, defending positions and overtaking all in the same breath.
International newcomer Michael de Quesada of USA, who managed to battle through this group to podiums in all races, said: “Race 3 was a hard-fought race and I felt like I came into it with really good momentum from Race 2. Starting in P2 I was looking to challenge for pole, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. I had a terrible start and Berkay was able to take advantage of one of my mistakes to get in front of me. From there on I fought hard, but it was difficult to come back.
“It’s been a really good weekend of racing; I’m happy with my position overall. I’m pleased with how this weekend has gone. Between now and the next round I need to try and find a little more pace – I’m confident I can do that.”
At the end of a captivating second round which sees six of the 16 race season complete, Al Zubair (148 pts) has now accelerated this lead to 29 points in the overall standings, with newcomer Michael de Quesada (119 pts) of the United States of America behind him in second and Berkay Besler of Turkey (111 pts) in third.
In fourth overall sits Omani Khalifa Al Wahaibi (93 pts), fifth is held Saul Hack of South Africa (91 pts) and sixth position belongs to Frenchman JB Simmenauer (78 pts), showing all is still to play for.
The Porsche BWT GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East will take a short winter break, before returning to complete its landmark 10th edition at Dubai Autodrome in late January, followed by Yas Marina Circuit in February, with the final rounds deciding the winner back in Bahrain. The season will conclude as an official support race to the 2019 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix in March 2019, the only regional racing series to do so.