Championship leader Tom Oliphant of Britain and second place Omani Al Faisal Al Zubair have been trading blows to set the quickest practice time, as they prepare for the penultimate round of Season 9 in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East.
Oliphant sits 19 points clear at the top of the standings. This weekend, he is poised to play a starring role at the Bahrain International Circuit as the unique high-octane drama that is only produced by the famous Porsche one-make series goes into overdrive.
The British driver has a simple yet significant challenge ahead. Win both races and he’s champion. If nearest rival Al Faisal Al Zubair claims double victory across Friday and Saturday, the fight goes on to the final round. For some, the pressure would be showing with all eyes on the battling duo. But both have responded remarkably well to the situation and are unrelenting with a fearless focus.
After practice a confident Oliphant said: “This is why I race and why this series is unrivalled in the region. I’ve worked hard all season for this moment and I’m going to relish it. I can control my own destiny and become champion with two race wins, so that’s the plan.
“Sometimes as drivers we have a lot of conflicting decisions to make. When to push to the edge versus when to look for a solid performance and be more measured. But coming second is not in my mind. I’ve gone out to win every race and that approach has worked so far. I know it won’t be easy but I’m ready.”
The region’s first and only professional series supported by a motorsport manufacturer was established to create real rivalries, intense battles and encourage a standard of racing that would fast-track drivers onto the world stage. Once again, the championship has delivered on its promise.
Season 9 has been a compelling and international story filled with twists, turns and motorsport at it’s very best. Remarkably after 96 laps, four rounds and eight epic races every single driver has still got a chance to secure silverware in their respective category with four races remaining, all in Bahrain.
Looking to overturn the 19-point deficit Al Zubair said: “It’s easy to overthink the potential outcomes. There are lots of ‘what ifs’ and reasons to have a calculator ready. But for me that’s a distraction. I will try to concentrate on what I can do and that’s to cross the line first. If I can do that twice this weekend, then I’ve a real chance of taking the title. I believe I can.”
Just as intriguing is the scrap for the silver category. Highly experienced Swede and proven winner Magnus Oehman has a slender three-point lead over surprise Omani teenage sensation Khalid Al Wahaibi who has impressed in his debut season. In Bronze Britain’s Mark Radcliffe is only eight points ahead of Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al Saud.
Regardless of the outcome to an action-packed weekend, a fitting finale lies in store for all drivers and those connected to the championship on the deciding weekend. As has become tradition, the region’s leading series will share the spotlight and offer a stunning showcase for the sport in support of the 2018 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix on 7th and 8th April.