It’s sure been awhile since Round 3. A nice vacation for some, some hard wrenching for others and some fun shopping for a lucky few as well! The big news pre-race buzz this round was all about new blood. Some big new guns sowing up in GT hoping to make a mark, a few new players in TCC as well as a new series, in the form of the new entry level Suzuki Cup.
It’s funny how things can play out sometimes though. Just when you think you’ve got everything sussed in your head to the point you feel comfortable making predictions, in steps fate to smack you in the face, drop all your toys on the floor, pull your underpants over your head and change the rules of the game a bit on you while calling names. And so it was with round 4, its big debuts playing out with an equally heavy dose of drama, surprises, and controversy.
On to the happenings then…
TAM Auto Engineering
- Karim Al Azhari
It seems that every round we’re trying to guess whose going to be the one to catch up to the so-far unassailable Karim , but at this point it almost seems we might as well give up trying. Still, some serious props are due! It’s hard to argue against the merits of a seriously well prepared car, faultless driving and canny pit strategy.
Karim and the TAM Auto Engineering team continue to be the benchmark then, with a double GTA win again this time out, a serious Championship lead at this point and, so far, nothing really close to catching them. Somewhere out there as you read this, Karim is smiling his big wide smile and the TAM Auto Engineering Facebook page is filling with accolades.
- Julian Griffin
With all the buzz about the new Khaleji car this round it was easy to forget the mighty DXB Racing Viper. Julian Griffin hasn’t forgotten about it though, continuing to tweak and fettle out yet more speed and reliability from this totally unique DXB Racing creation. This time out the car ran totally reliably form flag to flag (something its competitors should take serious note of IMO) as well as running faster for much longer than we’ve seen before.
In spite of a few twist of fate along the way – including a drive through penalty due to a pit timing infringement – the DXB Racing Viper came home in a solid second place, with driver/mechanic Julian predicting much more pace yet to be found in the car. Did we mention how much attention it gets in the pits, and how it howls like a tyrannosaurus along the main straight?
- Cabell Fisher, Tarek Elgammal
The spotlight, of course, was on the newly arrived Khaleji Motorsports Porsche GT3 Cup S. A little meaner and beefier than the last far-from-potent Khaleji GT3 Cup car Tarek and Cabell were driving, the Corvette-eating potential expected of this car was totally off the charts. Out-of-the-box car syndrome struck the Khaleji car pretty bad though, and in spite of some serious effort by Cabell and Tarek behind the wheel, some teething problems kept the new Khaleji car safely away from the TAM Corvette and DXB Racing Viper, before finally retiring.
Expectations still run justifiably high for this car though, which has shown brief instants of astonishing pace in testing and qualifying. A few bugs to work out, a little extra power here and there, a few turns of the wrench and the story may well change here. And everybody knows it.
Alex Renner Motorsports
The other ARM GTA cars again did a fine job of keeping things in GTA honest, with Saif Al Assam grabbing a third spot on the podium and both he and Ibrahim Salloum once again driving flawlessly from flag to flag in their very pro-looking TAQA/ADCB GT3 Cup cars.
They had some pretty hairy looking in-car video to show off in the pits after the race as well, just in case anyone thinks it’s easy racing a Porsche.
Khalid Bin Hader, a name we usually see in TCC, somehow found the energy to do a very respectable 45 minute stint in the arrive-and-drive ARM GT3 Cup car between jumping in and out of his SEAT a couple of times on the day. He seemed pretty happy in the Porsche too; respectably quick lap times not far off the Abu Dhabi guys, who have more than a few races under their belts. Khalid, we think, is either seriously addicted to speed or on some kind of new age fitness program; most drivers were falling over themselves from a fraction of the effort.
Gulf Sport Racing
- Raed Hassan
After spending far more time and money than anyone else I can think of trying to prove that an Evo can be both a competitively fast AND reliable GT car, it seems that Raed has changed the game by changing the car for something totally new. Not to mention fearsome. We have to commend his taste in the matter this time around; the V8 powered Ginetta G50Z he’s decided to unleash is one seriously salivatory piece of machinery.
It’s fast too – despite this being Raed’s first time in the car (driving on the ‘wrong’ side we should mention) he managed to click off some podium-worthy lap times during the actual race, eventually finishing in 5th. Yes that’s right, Raed’s now fast and finishing, not fast but furious (at not finishing). We feel pretty comfortable when we say ‘watch your sixes, Khaleji/DXB’!
And That Renault…
It didn’t make much of an impression in the race itself but oh boy did it look good! And of course, being an endurance car, it finished the race without a sweat.
It almost seems wrong that a Renault should be gunning for Astons, Porsches, Vipers and Vettes but this car does it, and looks real good doing it.
But wait there’s more!
- Andrew Donaldson
More Porsche that is. In this case, a GT3 Cup S driven by Andrew Donaldson. If I’m honest, the name didn’t really ring a bell but that’s in the past now. This guy deserves serious props. Not only did he run the closest times to the TAM Corvette of anyone else on the grid, straight out of the box,he also proceeded to run the very quickest lap times in the entire GTA field lap after lap after lap – in fact, his lap times only varied by one tenth of a second for much if the time!
That kind of extremely consistent, fast driving is the hallmark of some serious talent at work. Good enough for a second place until the car was found to be a few millimeters too low and got DQ’ed. If it’s any consolation though, Mr. Donaldson gets my personal Driver of the Day award by miles.
Gulf Sport Racing
- Martin Hope/Robert Cregan
I’m beginning to think that Ginettas are a bit mean. They look pretty mean of course, but in a sort of innocent Jet Li kind if way. Then you give one to Gulf Sport and they proceed to use it to manhandle people in GTB. A slight exaggeration there perhaps but the Ginettas (they also seem to be multiplying) are making quite a reputation for themselves as circuit cars in the Gulf; always quick and consistent and unshakably reliable.
Quick enough to grab a 1st place in GTB on the day anyhow. While cheaper than its Porsche competitors too, apparently. Luckily the Ginetta isn’t actually running for Championship points (all the better to psychologically terrify people, we imagine).
- Paul Denby
Here’s another name that didn’t ring any bells earlier on in the season. Now the guy’s leading the GTB championship points race against some very talented and quick blokes, and the wins keep coming – another 1st in round 4 this time out. Welcome, then, to the radar Mr. Paul Denby. We’ll be keeping an eye on you, and your lovely ARM-modified Khaleji GT3 RS, very closely from now on.
DXB Racing/AUH Motorsports
- Frederic Galliard. Humaid Al Masood/Eric Charles
This was one battle I had been looking forward to coming up to round 4. Abu Dhabi versus Dubai and Aston versus Aston. In the Dubai 24 hour race this month it was the AUH Motorsports car that came out with the class victory as last year’s winner of the same class in the same race, the DXB Racing Aston, suffered a very rare retirement due to a broken driveshaft (or axle). Some small but sweet payback then perhaps, as tables turned and the newly repaired DXB Racing Aston grabbed a very impressive third place in GTB while the Abu Dhabi car unfortunately retired due to some unknown mechanical issues. As a special treat, DXB Racing driver Frederic Galliard clicked off a best race lap over 0.5 seconds quicker than even the talented Eric Charles and Humaid Al Masood could manage in the AUH car. I really hope this little sub-rivalry (if I can call it that) between two Astons, run by two of the best teams in local motorsports, continues on. I’ll be doing my best to fan the flames anyways…
Alex Renner Motorsports
- Harris Irfan
Having the best race lap time in GTB apart from the Ginetta would suggest that once again the Cobalt Blue Porsche 996 GT3 RS of Harris Irfan brought its A-game pace to round 4.The only way we can really explain the 4th place finish in spite of such obvious presence of speed is if we take a look into the deep dark pit of unexpected, unfortunate things that can happen to a race driver.
Thus, it seems that a drive-through penalty for a pit stop infringement this time out didn’t do much to help Harris’s podium chances. Another victim of the very stiff approach to rules enforcement being taken on the day perhaps? If so, it must be said that Harris wasn’t the only one to be bitten. Racing’s racing and rules are rules but even so we’ll be staying far out of Harris’s glaring range for a week or two until he cheers up again, lest he agree with us a little too strongly! Hopefully we will uncover some more info out there to fill in the blanks – that 4th place finish just doesn’t jibe with the lap times as far as we’re concerned. Got to be a reason…