Al Faisal bags podium double

SAKHIR, Bahrain: Two Omani teenager racers — Al Faisal al Zubair and Khalid al Wahaibi — celebrated the 47th National Day in style as they came up with impressive performances in the first round of the highly-competitive Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East series at the Sakhir Formula One circuit in Bahrain on Saturday.
The 19-year-old Al Faisal showcased his mettle and picked up two podium finishes in both the races, held on Friday and Saturday.
For the 17-year-old Khalid, who is making his debut in the series, the transition from Formula 4 car to a GT3 car was seemingly smooth as the rookie driver claimed the top spot in the Bronze category in both the races. His debut stint also earned him the top honours in the GCC Rookie category and came overall ninth and tenth respectively, in the first and second race of the opening round that comprised a grid of 17 drivers.
Al Faisal shadowed Kuwait’s Zaid Ashkanani and England’s Tom Oliphant to the chequered flag in race one and finished in a similar position in a thrilling second race, where he was passed on lap eight by Oliphant, who also overtook Ashkanani on the penultimate lap to snatch the victory.
The two third places put Al Faisal on second position behind Oliphant in the championship standings after the first round, as Ashkanani is registered as a guest driver (no points earned).
A delighted Al Faisal said, “There was a great fight in the second race. The top three kept on fighting and fighting. Unfortunately, I finished third. But it was a great race. It was the same result as on day one, but the second race was much more exciting.”
Khalid’s exploits on his debut races was a “great achievement” with the Muscat-based schoolboy thrilled at his smooth transition from open cars to GT3 cars.
“I am delighted as I won both the Bronze and GCC Rookie categories on my debut. It was totally a new experience for me as everything was new for me.
“Be it the car or the circuit, it was totally a new drive for me and to claim the top spots in my categories is a great way to start my career in Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East series.
It is the first time that two Omanis are competing in the same race at a regional level.
“Al Faisal’s presence is a motivation for me. He is racing in the series for the second time and with his experience, I am sure it will be helpful for me,” said Khalid.
On Friday, racing under the lights at Bahrain International Circuit, Al Faisal began from fourth position behind Ashkanani, Oliphant and Frijns and quickly managed to overhaul the Dutchman to gain third place. He reached the chequered flag in the final podium position, 6.675 seconds behind the winner.
“It was a good start for me in a good race, where I started fourth and finished in third,” said Al Faisal. “I thought I could go for the lead at the start, but I decided to avoid risks and opted to get the points for the championship. It’s a good thing that Zaid won, because he is a guest driver and took points from my two main rivals, Oliphant and Frijns.”
Khalid did not make the best of start after qualifying 14th for the first race earlier. Clocking some fast laps, which included his fastest of 2m:05.852s, Khalid did some sensible driving and overtook three rivals on his way to ninth place.
Khalid said, “I am happy that I could end up among the top-ten drivers. It is a good start for me despite my early struggle in the race.
“The qualifying sessions did not go to my expectations as I struggled with tyres and even in the race, the initial laps were challenging.”
The second race had Al Faisal start behind Ashkanani and maintained his position through the opening turns, with Frijns in third place until Oliphant passed him. The Omani began to pressurise Ashkanani through the next few laps, as Oliphant set a fastest lap.
By lap four, the leading trio was locked together in a thrilling tussle and Oliphant and Al Faisal swapped places briefly before the Omani regained his position. The enthralling three-way tussle continued but Oliphant found a way to overtake Al Faisal and snatch second place on lap eight.
Khalid had qualified 12th in race two and came up with another decent race to end up tenth.
“The experience in my maiden races has been good and I am confident that as the series moves on, I can do much better. I started the races without any pressure. I have the passion and faith in my racing abilities and I look forward to a good season,” said Khalid.
The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East now moves on to rounds three and four at the Dubai Autodrome on December 7-9.