Costas Papantonis has been on a roll this year. Though consistent, the first half of his season was hardly setting the UAE Touring Car Championship alight. Then came his breakthrough win at Yas Marina in December, and even though former-series Champion Mohammed Al Owais made him work hard for it, the momentum abruptly shifted.
Since then the Grecian has led the Class 1 field home three times from five, and closed to within nine points of Championship leader Nader Zuhour. With forty points (technically) still to play for, Zuhour’s grip on the crown is less secure.
Take last weekend’s antepenultimate round at the Dubai Autodrome, for example. Though Zuhour beat Papantonis to pole position, it was the Grecian who stole a march into turn one, creeping through on the inside of the sweeping right-hander. The front row men were still side-by-side as they entered turn fifteen, door panels rubbing. Caught off-guard by his rival’s exuberance, Zuhour drifted wide and into the gravel trap. Though he avoided being beached, all was clearly not well as Zuhour coasted down the pit straight. One lap later and the SEAT Leon was on pit road, its front right tyre destroyed.
Only a red flag – flown when Willie Morrinson heavily binned his eponymously-entered Renault Clio – brought the Jordanian back on terms with Papantonis, the latter already five seconds ahead after one lap. But the speedily repaired SEAT was no match for the Gulf Petrochem/Mouhritsa Racing example and Papantonis sprinted to an 11s victory, a similarly dominant performance in race two securing a double victory. Zuhour, on damage limitation throughout, followed home for second.
Umair Khan may have walked the second race in Class 2, but nearest rival Rupesh Chanaka made sure his Lap 57 team-mate’s race one win was not as straightforward. Mullan’s accident (which also eliminated him from race two) gave Chanaka a second bite at the cherry after a terrific start came to nothing as the action increased apace.
Though unable to squeeze past, Chanaka harried Khan throughout proceedings, ultimately falling just 0.3s short of class victory. Two 2nd places did at least bring Chanaka’s remarkable run of five 3rd place finishes to an end. Reigning Class 2 Champion Khan has taken the last seven class victories and surely only appalling bad fortune will prevent him securing his third title.
Further back, history was being made in the Clio Cup Class as Moutran brothers – Ramzi, Nabil and Sami – swept both category podiums ahead of Champion elect Alexandros Annivas. The results mark the first time in UAE motorsport history that three brothers have finished in the top-three for two events in a row. Despite Nabil’s best efforts in race two, the brothers even finished in age numerical order, eldest to youngest.
By Thursday morning, the battle for GT class honours was already dead in the water. An off by Rafael Unzurrunzaga early on in Thursday morning practice destroyed the Mosler GT600′s front suspension, resulting in an early shower for the Blue Jumeriah Team. AUH Motorsport’s Rob Barff and Leon Price thus strolled home for two victories in the Ferrari 458 Italia, despite a scare in the opening race. Price was stationary for nearly half a minute as the green flag fell, leading many to believe the Ferrari’s gearbox – ill-equipped to handle standing starts – had failed. The South African did eventually get going.
The Dubai Autodrome also welcomed back Graeme Hannah and Ray Bignell for their first UAE GT event since November. Two top ten finishes were a solid result for the EMAL Racing Porsche 968, which has undergone numerous rebuilds to eradicate technical issues >>>
Shots by Darren Rycroft