SAKHIR, Bahrain: Oman’s Al Faisal Al Zubair maintained his near perfect start to the new Porsche BWT GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East racing season with victory in the first of three races at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain on Friday.
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 bin Abdullah Al Khalifa to win the race by 4.976 seconds and extend his lead over an absent Tio Ellinas in the Drivers’ Championship. It was the Omani’s third win from four starts so far this season.
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 in 15th in the final results.
The result meant Team Oman maintained a comfortable lead in the Team Championship over Team Sweden and Team Bahrain.
Al Zubair said: “Qualifying was good and I was happy it - pole position by a few tenths. On pole, you cannot be starting in a better place, but I had a few difficulties in qualifying. The first and second sectors were good but, coming on to the third sector, I made a mistake and I came in to save my tyres.
“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 I knew we had good speed and I knew that being aggressive was the strategy. I went up to third after one lap and then, three laps, I took second place and then I was behind Isa (Al Khalifa) for a lap and I went for it and opened the gap and managed the tyres to the finish. That was the crux of everything, tyre management.”
Khaled Al Wahaibi added: “Today did not go according to plan. I did not have the best qualifying and ended up in P8. I had a good start and managed to get into fifth place. Then, unfortunately, on lap three, I got hit from behind by a fellow competitor.
“This damaged my race. I spun and got into the gravel and, by the time I had recovered from that, I was in last place. I had decent progress coming back and then, on the second last lap, my tyre ruptured and that was it and I had to retire and come in. We will try and bounce back tomorrow.”
Al Zubair continued the impressive form he had shown in Dubai to claim pole position for the first of the three Bahrain races in a red flag-interrupted session. The Omani carded a best lap of 2min 02.720sec in the last 10 minutes after the restart and that put him 0.235 seconds faster than local driver Sheikh Isa Al Khalifa. Turkey’s Berkay Besler was third, but Al Wahaibi slipped down to eighth and was classified third of the GCC entries.
Al Zubair led from the start of the opening 14-lap race but he was shadowed closely by Isa Al Khalifa and slipped to third place on the opening lap behind Al Khalifa and Besler.
As the laps progressed, Michael de Quesada moved up to third place at the expense of Besler. Al Wahaibi suffered a disappointing start after a coming together with Simmenauer on lap three and was running down in 14th position as the leaders headed into lap nine after an excursion into the gravel trap. The incident was under investigation from race stewards.
Al Zubair extended the lead over his Bahraini rival to 4.091 seconds through lap 10, as Al Wahaibi maintained 14th of the 16 entrants.
Al Zubair held his line and his composure through the closing four laps and reached the chequered flag with a winning margin of 4.976 seconds. Isa Al Khalifa came in second, de Quesada was third and Al Wahaibi was a disappointing 13th after climbing up two places on lap 12 and then being penalised one lap by race officials.