Porsche GT3 Middle East. PREVIEW. The Saudi Falcons. Coming Home

After a long winter break, the Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup Middle East circus is gearing up for the second half of the season, kicking off this weekend with round five at the Reem International Circuit in Saudi Arabia. We catch up with The Saudi Falcons’ Faisal Binladen for his thoughts on the race ahead. 

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“I think the race is going to be tough. There are guys who are going to be fast no matter what circuit they race on.”

It’s easy to understand the concern. At the moment The Saudi Falcons – who you’ve probably noticed has garnered some support from crankandpiston.com over the past few months – have a lot on their plate in the Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup Middle East. Lead driver Abdulaziz Turki AlFaisal currently leads the overall standings by 12 points ahead of Al Nabooda Racing teammates Karim Al-Azhari and Clemens Schmid, while the Falcons themselves continue to snap at the heels of the Al Nabooda crew in the constructors’ standings.

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And for Faisal Binladen, Saudi Falcons driver and Silver Cup contender, only 13 points stand between himself and current category leader Zaid Ashkanani. With three rounds left to run, there’s still everything to play for.

“We’re trying hard to catch up. For ATF [Abdulaziz], solid points finishes are very important, and for the team too. For me, I’m hoping to close the gap. We’re looking for a clean race.”

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Naturally the team will be looking to take home the hardware, with ATF in particular looking to repeat his double victory from round two in Abu Dhabi. A fast car and good strategy is a given, plus an incentive to do well in front of the home crowd. And given the Falcons’ success at Yas Marina, there are other reasons to feel optimistic.

“At Reem, it’s a very tight circuit, so unless you do a mistake or someone spins, then it’s very difficult to overtake. Really, it’s similar to Abu Dhabi where you have to be very careful and not overcook your tyres. Hopefully without mistakes we’ll be on the podium. Hopefully I can do the same starts I made in Dubai, which was back to my normal rocket launches!”

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While ATF’s concerns are the Al Nabooda GT3s behind him, Faisal has his eyes set on other opponents in the hunt for Silver Cup honours. Given the level of competition in the midfield though, that could prove tricky.

“To be honest, everyone is a rival. Team Bahrain is picking up a lot of points, and they even finished on the podium last time out. Christina [Nielsen] is unfortunately is not going to continue [and will instead concentrate on a GT3 campaign in Europe], and that just gives the Team Bahrain guys more points to push for.”

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Therein lies the keyword: points. Podiums and wins after all have not proven the be all and end all in 2012/2013: Schmid may well have run away with the races in the opening round in Dubai, but a duck egg at Yas Marina has dropped him to third overall in the standings. For Faisal, consistency is the aim of his campaign.

“I at least managed to score points in Dubai, and points is what counts at the end of the season. [Formula One’s Fernando] Alonso last year wasn’t finishing continuously on the podium but he was always scoring points, and look where he ended up!”

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The pivotal moment of the weekend though will be turn one. Adrenaline rushes the length and breadth of the field as well as a notoriously tricky opening corner, mean it’s far from guaranteed that every driver will make it through unscathed. On the first of two legs to Saudi Arabia – home – for Faisal Binladen, he’s looking to make the most of his time there.

“At Reem, knowing that my family is standing and watching, it can be a little difficult to handle. Plus the first year I participated in the Challenge, there was a huge accident. Everyone always wants to brake a little later than everyone else!

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“But I don’t feel pressured. Once you’re in the car, you’re in the car, and you forget everything around you.

“I’m just planning as a driver and as a team to take home as much as we can!”

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