AL FAISAL BEGINS WITH A BANG IN BAHRAIN
Early collision and a late puncture forces fellow Omani racer Khalid to drop to 15th position
Ahead of the second round of the 2018-19 Porsche BWT GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain, Oman's young Al Faisal al Zubair had expressed his love to race on his 'favourite' circuit.
And on Friday, the 20 year old defending champion came up with a scintillating display of grit and determination to win the first of the three races in the
second round to continue his excellent start to the season.
Al Faisal had begun the season with two race wins and a second-place finish in the first round in Dubai, UAE, last month. The Omani extended his dominance with yet another win to make it three wins out of the four races held so far.
The Walter Lechner Racing star led from pole position, slipped to fourth on the opening lap and then fought back to fend off a challenge from Bahrain’s Sheikh Isa al Khalifa to win the race by 4.976 seconds and extend his lead over an absent
Tio Ellinas in the drivers’ championship.
Fellow Omani Khalid al Wahaibi was not so fortunate and was involved in an incident with Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer early in the race that pushed him back to 16th.
The youngster climbed back to 12th, but then suffered a ruptured tyre on the penultimate lap and was forced to pit one lap from the finish and was classified 15th in the final result.
The two results meant Team Oman continued to have a comfortable lead in the Team championship standings ahead of Team Bahrain and Team Sweden.
Following Isa al Khalifa at third spot was Michael de Quesada.
Speaking after the race, Al Faisal said, “Qualifying was good and I was happy to get a pole position by a few tenths.
“My reaction was good at the start of the race. I believe I had not warmed up my rear tyres enough. I had a lot of wheel spin from the start and I went back to fourth and then had a bit of contact with Leon Koehler.
“I damaged my steering column a little bit, but we had good speed. Being aggressive was the strategy and I went up to third after one lap and then, after three laps, I took second place.
“I was behind Isa (al Khalifa) for a lap and I challenged him and opened the gap and managed the tyres to the finish. Tyre management was the key to the win.”
A disappointed Khalid said, “Things did not go according to plan. I did not have the best qualifying [P8]. I had a good start and managed to get into fifth place. Unfortunately, on lap three, I got hit from behind by Simmenauer.
“I spun and got into the gravel and, by the time I had recovered, I dropped to last place. But I made a decent progress but then, on the penultimate lap, my tyre ruptured and I had to retire. I will try and bounce back tomorrow for the next two races.”
Earlier, Al Faisal claimed pole position in a red flag-interrupted session. The Omani carded a best lap of 2min 02.720sec in the last ten minutes after the restart and that put him 0.235 seconds faster than Sheikh Isa. Turkey’s Berkay Besler was third.
Al Faisal al Zubair (centre) stands on the podium after winning the first race of the second round of the Porsche BWT GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East Series at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain, on Friday
Al Faisal al Zubair (front) drives his car during the second round in Sakhir, Bahrain, on Friday