But a day before, under slightly overcast conditions, a young Omani 20 year old racer, Al Faisal al Zubair, did shine bright with his historic achievement at the same venue when he became the first-ever driver to win back-to-back driver’s championship titles at the Porsche BWT GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East Series on Saturday.
Having gone into the final round of the six-leg series with a healthy 41-point championship lead over his nearest rival, Berkay Besler of Turkey, Al Faisal began the penultimate race fourth on grid. Displaying sensible racing skills, the Omani racer avoided any bravado on the track and with his goal crystal-clear –championship title - he did just enough to capture it in front of a small group of his supporters, including his father Khalid al Zubair. Al Faisal finished with 340 points against Besler’s 310.
Al Faisal enjoys an unassailable lead with 25 points to be won in the final round. A ninth-place finish was the lowest rank for him during the season, but it was still good enough for Al Faisal to lay hands on the trophy, which would be handed over to him after the final race on Sunday.
The race was won by Besler, but with a strong 30-point lead, Al Faisal ensured that he retains the prestigious title with a race remaining and hopes to ‘wrap the series on a high with a victory tomorrow’.
In his exclusive remarks to Muscat Daily, a delighted Al Faisal said, “All it matters is the championship title and I am very happy to have won it back to back, the first time any driver has done it.
“Despite finishing ninth, I am proud to have won the championship with a race remaining. I am glad that I will be bidding goodbye to the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East Series on a high. The mantra during the season was simple - patience – which was the key to my success. There were many occasions, I could have outpaced other drivers, but the focus was to win the championship.”
The Omani racer’s achievement was even praised by Walter Lechner, the founder of the series. “It was very sensible racing by Al Faisal and this is how championships are won. Al Faisal has improved a lot over the past two years and to win back-to-back titles is a big and proud feat for the young man.”
“We are incredibly proud of his achievements and hope this empowers young Arab talent in the region to step on to the tracks with us and develop careers in motorsport.”
Meanwhile, Al Faisal’s country mate Khalid al Wahaibi also was on the podium when he won the GCC honours on Saturday in the 15th round. The 18 year old came fifth in the race on Saturday and is placed overall fourth in the championship. Al Faisal’s performance this season was fairly consistent as he had won eight of the 15 races till Saturday. Besler, despite winning the race on Saturday could garner 310 points and with a round to go (25 points at stake). Al Faisal’s ninth place on Saturday was enough to secure him the title. The 18-car race grid saw the return of Luxembourg’s Dylan Pereira and current Porsche Carrera Cup GB champion, Tio Ellinas of Cyprus, and both drivers started the race on the front row following a dominant qualifying display on Friday where Al Faisal qualified fourth and second for the final race on Sunday.
The ten-lap race was competitive on Saturday and Ellinas was penalised for a jump start and although remained in the lead throughout the race, he was pushed back to 14th due to his error. Besler, after battling past Pereira into second place on lap eight held him off for the remaining two laps to finish first ahead of Pereira with Frenchman J B Simmenauer in third. Simmenauer also collected the necessary points to secure third overall position in the championship.
The final race of the championship is scheduled for 4.30pm, Oman time, on Sunday ahead of the 2019 Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Ellinas will again start on pole, followed by Al Faisal in second and Besler in third. With the championship podium places decided, all eyes will now turn to the battle for fourth spot.
Oman’s Khalid currently occupies fourth, ahead of South African Saul Hack.