Tom Oliphant has brought his 2016/17 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East campaign to a close in fantastic style with a pair of second place finishes during the penultimate meeting of the season at the Bahrain International Circuit this past weekend (10/11 March).
With an unfortunate calendar clash with the Donington Park round of the Porsche Carrera Cup GB ruling him out of next month’s finale in support of the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix, Oliphant would bring his hugely impressive run in the Middle East series to an end one weekend early.
The 2015 Michelin Ginetta GT4 Supercup champion therefore had nothing less than a first championship race win in his sights as he returned to the scene of a brilliant podium finish on his series debut in November, though on this occasion he would be competing on the shorter ‘Inner Circuit’ layout.
Oliphant immediately got to grips with the eight turn, 2.55km circuit during Thursday practice though, firing a warning shot to his rivals as some stunning lap times saw him top the timesheets in all three of the afternoon practice sessions, setting him up perfectly for the competitive action ahead.
It wouldn’t quite go the 26 year old’s way in Friday’s qualifying session however as he missed out on pole position by the narrowest of margins, just thirty-two thousandths of a second, though his second place on the grid would still mark his best qualifying performance in the series so far.
The Leamington Spa racer would maintain his second position during a close-fought opening lap in the first race, before going on to produce a superb performance as he placed the race-leader Ryan Cullen under immense pressure throughout the twenty lap encounter.
Giving it everything he could to try and carve out an overtaking opportunity, Oliphant drew his nose alongside on a couple of occasions, but he didn’t want to threaten his podium position with a risky overtaking move and brought his Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car home in a richly-deserved second place.
Knowing he had more pace to show in his Lechner Racing machine, Oliphant headed into the final day of action determined to claim top spot, however it proved to be a case of deja-vu in qualifying as he would once again cruelly miss out on pole position by less than a tenth of a second.
A brilliant launch off the line for race two would see Oliphant immediately tucked under the rear wing of the leader Cullen heading around the opening lap, which duly set the tone for another thrilling race of nose-to-tail action between the two.
After staying hot on the heels of Cullen as they pulled clear of their pursuers, Oliphant would mount a spirited challenge for the race victory in the closing laps, however with the shorter circuit layout providing no clear overtaking chances, he was forced to settle for second once again.
Oliphant’s outstanding second place double means that he ends his five weekend spell in the Middle East series lying third in the points standings, just seven points off second, having amassed an impressive six podium finishes in ten races during his outings in Bahrain, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Tom Oliphant: “This meeting was another massive step in the right direction for us. We went to Bahrain with the goal of winning a race and we got so close! My pace over the whole weekend was very strong and I felt very positive throughout.
“I was therefore naturally disappointed not to have taken a win, but we had two fantastic races right at the front of the grid. It’s sad to end my time in the Middle East prematurely, but our performance this weekend puts me in a very strong position for the start of the Carrera Cup GB season.
“I would like to say a massive thank you to Walter Lechner and everyone at Lechner Racing for their fantastic support over the winter; the championship delivered everything it promised to. I would also like to thank my mechanic, Alex, and engineer, Frank, from Redline Racing who have worked tirelessly to get me to where I am now.”
Source. Simon Paice Media/Porsche Middle East