Muscat: Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East racer Al Faisal Al Zubair made a welcome return to the top step of both the GCC Rookie Class and Silver Class podiums in Bahrain on Saturday, off the back of a terrific performance in round 10 of the season.
Providing the perfect response to a frustrating penalty in round nine the day before, the Omani made no mistakes at the beginning of the second of the weekend’s two contests and converted a great launch into an impeccable opening lap.
Slicing his way through from the third row of the grid into the overall top four, Al Faisal went on to take the seventh GCC Rookie victory of his maiden campaign in sportscars and his fourth Silver Class win, while also finishing fifth in the outright classification.
While edging ever closer to claiming the GCC Rookie crown, with just two races to go back at Sakhir in April as support to the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix, success in the Silver class on Saturday also means the Omani has closed back to within just a point of Silver championship rival Bandar Alesayi at the top of the class standings.
“I’m very happy with how everything was in race two, it was a great way to end the weekend”, said Al Faisal.
“I feel the car was so much better on Saturday than it was on Friday, for practice we changed a few things and I felt much more confident in qualifying and the race. I knew what I had to do, keep Bandar (Alesayi) behind me in the race and take some points from him in the Silver class.”
Qualifying sixth fastest overall for round 10, Al Faisal’s time of one minute and 6.443 seconds (1:06.443) placed him within just 0.3 seconds of the top three and also secured him the GCC Rookie pole position and second in the Silver class for the race two grid.
Putting the dramas of Friday’s contest firmly behind him, Al Faisal made a great start to the second encounter and headed into the left-hander at Turn One right on the tail of the pack ahead. Out of the corner, the Omani got a terrific run and after edging into fifth overall and the Silver class lead, passing key rival Alesayi, he also sliced past Charlie Frijns to grab fourth position.
After a tremendous opening lap, Al Faisal worked to consolidate his top four overall placing but Frijns managed to get back ahead at the penultimate corner on the second tour. Initially sticking with the group ahead, as Alesayi began to fill his mirrors Al Faisal had to concentrate more on the task of maintaining the Silver Class lead and taking vital points from the Saudi Arabian racer.
Lap after lap the Muscat 18-year-old didn’t put a wheel wrong and placed his Porsche perfectly as he kept Alesayi at arm’s length, ultimately taking the chequered flag 1.5 seconds clear in fifth overall and with richly deserved, and extremely important, wins in both the GCC Rookie and Silver classes.
“The start of the race was very good for me,” reflected Al Faisal. “Bandar (Alesayi) went to the outside of Charlie (Frijns), so I tried to stick behind Charlie, and as Charlie defended Bandar I had a really good run and managed to get past both of them. There was quite a bit of pressure from Bandar later on, but I defended him well and we’re only one point behind him now.
“I think everything is to play for in the final two rounds and it’s going to be great being back in Bahrain with the F1. It’s been a great season for me up to now, hopefully we can go on to win the GCC Rookie and Silver championships – that would be incredible.”
Ahead of the all-important grand finale of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East season, in Bahrain over the weekend April 15 and 16, Al Faisal is a huge 56 points clear in the GCC Rookie standings and just a single point shy of the Silver Class lead, and only one point outside the overall top five in the main championship.
Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East GCC Rookie Standings (after Rd10): 1. Al Faisal Al Zubair, 156 pts.
Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East Silver Class Standings (after Rd10): 2. Al Faisal Al Zubair, 156 pts.
Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East Overall Standings (after Rd10): 6.Al Faisal Al Zubair, 156 pts.