Clemens Schmid makes it two from two in Bahrain, though close competition in the second Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup Middle East race of the weekend stole the show.[Not a valid template]
Though the second Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup Middle East round of the season was in many ways a repeat of the first – with eventual winner Clemens Schmid romping to a dominant victory over second-placed Zaid Ashkanani – the action on-track could scarcely have been more different as degrading tyres took their toll.
As he had done in race two, reigning Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup Middle East champion Clemens Schmid made a strong start from pole position, and though an equally strong getaway from fellow front row man Ashkanani meant the Austrian had to defend into turn one, the result was never in doubt. After one lap, Schmid’s advantage was just under a second, which had extended to eight seconds at the chequered flag. Schmid’s repeat of his double victory last year in Bahrain fired a decisive warning shot to his championship rivals, while Ashkanani’s second place had many in the paddock wondering if a win is just around the corner.
Behind the lead duo however, the identity of the third-placed finisher remained a mystery. Abdulaziz Al Faisal made an early claim for the final rostrum spot, the gap to Ashkanani up ahead dipping below the one second mark as ATF began a charge. The grip issues that had stunted the #7 Saudi Falcon entry one day earlier though returned with a vengeance as the race entered its closing stages, Hasher Al Maktoum and later Hubert Haupt both closing in on the former series champion. Having withstood the pressure for an impressive amount of time, ATF’s tyres eventually cried enough, a spin on the penultimate lap dropping the Saudi Falcons man down the field. A quick recovery netted eighth place and valuable points.
Into the vacated third place stepped Dubai Falcon Racing Team runner Al Maktoum, the Emirati putting in a blinding effort in the team’s debut Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup Middle East race weekend. Hinting before the off that a podium was possible after a strong fourth-place the day before, the team’s first series podium was assured following a brave move by Al Maktoum around the outside of ATF through turn two. Seventh place for teammate Saeed Al Mehairi cemented a good weekend’s work for the Dubai Falcon Racing Team, while an equally impressive showing from Haupt in fourth left the memories of a poor race one far behind.
An equally storming drive from Mohammed Mattar meant a good day for Team Bahrain on home turf, the local boy pulling move after move through the field to secure fifth place at the flag from tenth on the grid, much to the delight of teammate Jaber Al Khalifa. Al Nabooda’s Karim Al Azhari meanwhile fared less well, crippling tyre degradation bringing a strong early run in the top six to a premature end. Tenth place on the same circuit in which he took his last Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup Middle East victory was a poor return for the Emirati after a great effort. Just in front was the Frijns Structural Steel Qatar team entry of Charlie Frijns, who survived an early ‘exchange’ with Ziad Ghandour (in the wars again) to come through the field and take ninth at the flag.
Faisal Binladen will be keen to put a frustrating race weekend at the Bahrain International Circuit behind him. With The Saudi Falcons mechanics pulling a night shift to repair the damage picked up in race one, Faisal renewed their top work with a brilliant fighting drive against Mattar, Christina Nielsen and later Al Mehairi. A top ten position just slipped through Faisal’s fingers, the #17 Saudi Falcons entry pinned to Al-Azhari’s rear bumper across the stripe and finishing less than two-tenths adrift.
A redemptive run for Nielsen following a rough outing the day before (in which the Dane was shown the blag flag for several collisions on-track) was rewarded with a strong sixth place from eighth on the grid. Father Lars was pleased to see a positive end to his daughter’s Porsche GT3 Middle East weekend, and speculated that a debut podium was surely not far away.
* Yep, sorry, this second report is a bit late. And if you’re wondering where crankandpiston.com disappeared to, why not check out our World Endurance Championship coverage from the 6 Hours of Bahrain…