Muscat: An amazing and successful weekend concluded for the Lechner Racing duo of Al Faisal al Zubair and Andy Soucek at the Circuit Paul Ricard in France on Sunday as the Omani-Spanish pair bettered their opening race display with a podium finish in the second race of the opening round of the 2021 International GT Open Championship series.
A day after finishing overall fourth in the first race, Oman’s Al Faisal, who is making his debut in the highly-competitive GT3 endurance series, and Soucek produced a vastly-improved performance to finish overall third.
Racing in the Porsche GT3-R car, the duo ended up behind the Lamborghinis as the Vincenzo Sospiri Racing (VSR) claimed a one-two finish.
Frederick Schandorff-Michele Beretta (Pro) won ahead of their teammates Yuki Nemoto-Baptiste Moulin (Pro), after a thrilling race, which ended with Al Faisal-Soucek joining them on the podium. After 29 laps, Schandorff-Beretta clocked 1hr:00min:58.115secs while Nemoto-Moulin timed 1:01:02.748 and the Lechner Racing pair was a close third with a time of 1:01:02.946.
In fact, Soucek and Al Faisal led for most of the race after Lechner Racing had qualified third in the morning behind behind Balfe Motorsport's Shaun Balfe and Adam Carroll (Pro-Am) and Inception Racing’s Brendan Iribe and Ollie Milroy (Pro-Am).
Race two witnessed a much larger grid as a total of 25 cars including nine from the sister series, GT Open Europe, entered the fray.
Following the conclusion of the two-race opening round, Lechner Racing’s Al Faisal and Soucek are placed third with 18 points in the teams’ standings behind Beretta-Schandorff, who are tied with race one winners Ivan Peklin-Jordan Pepper, in the Team Lazarus Bentley, with 21 points.
Speaking after receiving the trophy, a visibly delighted Al Faisal said, “I am very happy with the overall performance over the weekend. It has been an amazing experience, finishing fourth in the opening race, and then wrapping up with a podium in the next.
“To be on the podium at Circuit Paul Ricard is a great feeling as I have never raced on this track before. To achieve it with a new endurance series team of Lechner Racing is really special.”
The 23 year old double Porsche Middle East Challenge Series champion added, “It is a new chapter for our team as we compete in this series but there was very good team spirit and bonding among all of us. I am now looking forward to the second round at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium next month.”
Al Faisal’s experienced teammate, Soucek, a former Formula 2 champion, said that ‘it was a good result’ and was ‘happy to end the weekend overall third with some valuable points on board’.
“It is a decent start to our campaign and I am sure we will get only better from here,” said the Spanish driver.
Soucek got off to a powerful start on Sunday as he quickly went past the Balfe poleman Adam Carroll in Audi R8.
Soucek maintained his lead in the initial laps but on lap ten, Soucek and Inception Racing’s Ollie Millroy in McLaren 720S GT 3, had a slight contact, which VSR’s Nemoto, took advantage to grab the lead.
In lap 13, the window for driver change opened and after all pit stops, Al Faisal kept the lead, with a three-second gap on VSR’s Schandorff.
However, in lap 23, Schandorff passed Al Faisal but the Omani maintained his place till the penultimate lap. In the final lap, VSR’s Moulin got past Al Faisal to grab second and complete a VSR’s one-two.
Backed by Oman-based Al Manar Financial Investments, Al Faisal said, “I had a good stint and kept second spot for most of the laps. The team strategy for me was to go up against my fellow Pro class drivers and it was always going to be tougher task. Andy [Soucek] had managed well against the non-pro drivers in the beginning and handed me at P2 position.
“Ending up P3 helped us overall in our standings. The opening round of the championship has shown us that there are very competitive drivers in the field. It is too early to talk about who our main rivals are but it is going to be a tough fight ahead in the remaining six rounds for the championship honours.”