Karim Al Azhari, one of the UAE’s most experienced racing drivers, says he can’t wait for his debut in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East although he is expecting a difficult entry into the championship during the second half of the 2011-12 season.
Al Azhari will make his debut in the Porsche one-make series in Saudi Arabia next month when he takes over the driving duties for Dubai-based Al Nabooda Racing from Belgian Stephane Lemeret.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” said Al Azhari. “It’s been a three-year wait for me since I knew the series was starting. Ever since then I’ve been eagerly anticipating my entry into the championship and I’m very excited about it.
“I’ve been close to Stephane who is a very experienced driver and I’ve seen that the GT3 Cup car is very technical. I will need to put in a lot of work to perfect my understanding of the car and become successful. It’s definitely not going to be a walk in the park.”
Run by Porsche Centre Dubai, Al Nabooda Automobiles, the authorised Porsche dealer in Dubai and Northern Emirates, Al Nabooda Racing chose former Belgian Touring Car champion Lemeret to launch its first tilt at the GT3 series.
After completing the first half of the 12-round championship, he now makes way for Al Azhari who takes the wheel of the team’s GT3 Cup car for the first time in Rounds 7 and 8 taking place at Reem International Circuit, outside Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on February 15-16.
Ultimately, Al Azhari aims to extend a highly successful partnership with Al Nabooda Racing, which has, to date, seen him win the Gulf Radical Championship in 2005 and 2006, followed by successive UAE GT racing titles in 2007 and 2008.
Vijay Rao, Team Manager of Al Nabooda Racing and General Manager, Porsche Centre Dubai, Al Nabooda Automobiles, said: “Karim has had a long and successful association with Al Nabooda Racing and we’re now looking forward to achieving more great things together. We’re grateful to Stephane Lemeret for lending us his great experience during the first half of the season, and Karim can build on what has been achieved so far.”
Chasing his second Porsche GT3 Cup title in three seasons, Prince Abdulaziz Al Faisal is the current championship leader, with fellow-Saudi Bandar Alesayi and Oman’s Ahmad Al Harthy also in the frame after both securing early race wins.
“I think the championship is wide open,” said Al Azhari. “We’ve had four different race winners so far this season and it’s going to be an exciting championship to watch. At this stage, I have no idea who is going to win it. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the level of the top drivers. They are certainly very tough competitors, and from what I’ve seen I know I will have to work hard from now into my second season to be able to start challenging them.”
After entering karting as a seven-year-old, Al Azhari ventured into motocross riding at the age of 12 before developing a passion for GT3 cars which led him into circuit racing in 2004.
Championship positions after Round 6
1. Abdulaziz Al Faisal (KSA) Saudi Falcons 110pts
2. Bandar Alesayi (KSA) Saudi GT Racing 102pts
3. Stephane Lemeret (BEL) Al Nabooda Racing 86pts
4. Ahmad Al Harthy (OM) Oman Air Racing 80pts
5. Saeed Al Mouri KSA) Saudi Falcons 72pts
6. Saddon Al Kuwari (QA) 51pts
7. Clemens Schmid (AUT) 50pts
8. Hans Guido Riegel (GER) Haribo Racing 39pts
8. Armin Schmid CH Team TCE 39pts
10. Fawaz Algosaibi (KSA) Saudi GT Racing 30pts
10. Hannes Waimer (GER) Team TCE 30pts