After a contest packed with drama on the track, 18-year-old J.B. Simmenauer emerged victorious claiming the chequered flag in the opening race of Round 5 at the Bahrain International Circuit. In just his second win of the series, the young driver showed why he’s widely considered one of the hottest prospects in the Porsche BWT GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East following a scintillating display in Sakhir.
Race 1 got underway with an all-Omani front row, with Khalid Al Wahaibi starting P1 on the grid after clocking a qualifying time of 2:02.338 and Al Faisal Al Zubair in P2 with a time of 2:02.350. Local driver Isa A. Al Khalifa started in P3, followed by Simmenauer in P4.
The Frenchman made no mistake in capitalising on contact between Oman’s Al Zubair and Khalid Al Wahaibi in the opening seconds of the race, manoeuvring into P1 before the first corner, before conceding his position to Al Zubair in lap three. In lap five, Simmenauer, one of the youngest drivers on the grid, took full advantage of a rare mistake from Al Zubair, taking him on the inside going into turn three and holding him off for the remainder of the race.
Al Zubair pushed hard for a P1 finish but had to settle for second place, with fellow Omani Khalid Al Wahaibi finishing in third; and with it his first podium finish of the season.
In a race full of action, Bahrain’s Isa A. Al Khalifa thought he had secured fourth place before TV replays showed a jump start, costing the local driver a 5-second penalty which subsequently cost him several positions. South Africa’s Saul Hack continued his fine form with another solid display in the middle of the grid, finishing in P5 and securing a win in the Pro-Am category.
Following Race 1, current leader Al Zubair said: “It was a really decent race, full of action. At the start of the race I made contact with Khalid, which left room for J.B. to pass me before the first corner. I then overtook J.B. before he overtook me again and held me off for the remainder of the race. He was clocking consistent times and I didn’t feel the need to push him; a P2 finish gets me one step closer to securing the championship and that’s my main priority. I’m feeling good heading into tomorrow and am happy with today’s result overall.”
Speaking after his win, Simmenauer said: “It was a very good race, I made a wonderful start by capitalising on Al Zubair and Khalid’s poor start. I saw the collision and took the opportunity to take them both on the inside, going into P1 before the first corner. I then made a mistake which let in Al Zubair, but fortunately I was able to overtake him again and remain in P1 for the rest of the race. I’m really pleased with how I raced and thrilled to have secured my second victory of the campaign.”
Following Race 1, Al Zubair extends his lead at the top and currently sits on 286 points, 49 points clear in the overall standings ahead of Besler in second (237 pts) and Simmenauer in third. The Omani could clinch the title tomorrow should results go his way in races two and three.
With Q1 dominated by regional talent, Q2 showcased the strong international grid on display, with Turkey’s Berkay Besler clocking the fastest lap with a time of 2:02.123. He’ll start Race 2 in P1, with J.B. Simmenauer completing the front row. In the second row will be South Africa’s Saul Hack and today’s Race 1 runner up, Al Zubair.
Round 5 continues tomorrow with another action-packed day of racing for the longest running motorsport series in the Middle East. Race 2 gets underway at 13.25 followed by Race 3 at 16.35. Entry is free to all.
The Porsche BWT GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East was the first regional championship backed by a manufacturer in the Middle East and is proud to continue nurturing home-grown motorsport talent from the region. It gives drivers access to the latest Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race car, the same model used for international motorsport editions, such as the Porsche Carrera Cup and the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup, the official F1 support race.