Muscat: Despite having entered a short winter break, the fierce competition between leading drivers at the top of the standings of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East Season 9 is expected to increase further.
After four pulsating races of the 12-race season, Britain’s Tom Oliphant (96 points) has opened up a six-point gap over emerging Omani star Al Faisal Al Zubair (90) in the overall standings, with Charlie Frijns (72) lying third. The slender lead for Oliphant came courtesy of a historic victory in the landmark 100th race of the championship, held recently at the Dubai Autodrome.
Now drivers face a different challenge with a six-week break already underway at a pivotal time. The region’s first and only professional championship is set to return to action at the Dubai Autodrome on January 26 and 27. For many who feature in the championship the annual break over New Tear poses an interesting dilemma and forces an important decision to be made. Keep racing or rest and recharge?
Speaking during the winter break, Oman’s Al Faisal Al Zubair said: “I’ve had a great start to Season 9 and sometimes these breaks come just at the point when you have found some strong form and have good momentum, which can be quite frustrating. Saying that, it is always very important to step away from the track, and allow yourself time to reflect and rest, which is something I don’t get a chance to do enough.”
“I am going to spend the break with family and friends, keeping fit and active and taking part in other sports that I enjoy. It’s a shame that we do not have a race track in Oman otherwise I would have tried to get some track time, but instead I will be studying data from the opening rounds and look forward to returning to Dubai for round three at the end of January.
“My main goal is still to win the championship this season, we have a lot of work to do in 2018 and I am ready for the challenge!”
As manager and founder of the series, Walter Lechner explained, deciding how to spend time now could play a part in determining the final outcome in the overall and category standings.
Lechner said: “I imagine those with early momentum and holding onto strong positions in their categories will want to maintain their track time and focus. When confidence is high you want to keep it that way. Otherwise the break might offer too much time to think or could create doubt. Many of the drivers, such as Mohammed Al Saud and Wolfgang Triller, will look to overcome the gap by racing in the Dubai 24H race in mid-January. This makes sense as not only will it keep skills sharp but it adds to the driver’s experience around the Dubai Autodrome circuit, which is next on our race calendar.
“I’d encourage everyone to do some form of racing but there is no right answer. Each racer needs to decide what works best for them personally. It’s now a very intense championship. Over nine seasons the level of competition has dramatically increased. Every session is on the limit, every point is hard earned.
“So far the top ten drivers represent eight different nations. That combined result of adding new international drivers from South Africa, Scotland and France, alongside the emergence of new regional stars making their debuts, means a higher standard of racing. So the break is well deserved for anyone hanging up their helmet for a few weeks.”
Outside of the top three positions it’s equally as fascinating further down the standings. Only nine points separate the top two positions in the silver category as Sweden’s Magnus Oehman (59 points) and Christoffer Bergstroem (50) battle for supremacy. Newcomer Saul Hack (45) of South Africa is third and remains in hot pursuit.
In the bronze category, an intriguing duel is underway, as two new drivers also competing for the GCC Rookie title go head to head. Oman’s Khalid Al Wahaibi (43 points) has impressed to lead rival Ali Al Khalifa (33) of Bahrain by ten points. Britain’s Mark Radcliffe (29) currently holds onto third in the bronze category.
The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East returns to Dubai on January 26 and 27, before visiting Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit on February 2 and 3. The final two rounds will be held in Bahrain, with the series coming to a thrilling conclusion as an official support race for the 2018 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix.