Karim Al Azhari has warned rivals battling for honours in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East that they have still not seen the best of team-mate Clemens Schmid, as Al Nabooda Racing look to build on their flying start to the new season on home territory in Dubai this weekend.
After back-to-back race victories at the 2013-14 season curtain-raiser in Bahrain, the young Austrian driver is the man to beat again in the race for the drivers’ title, while his partnership with Al Azhari is already looking formidable in the pursuit of a second successive GT3 Cup team championship.
The Al Nabooda Racing duo now face another searching examination at Dubai Autodrome, with a 20-car grid lined up for Rounds 3 and 4 of the region’s top circuit racing series, and pressure mounting in the race for team and individual wins.
Al Azhari, however, remains optimistic that another Porsche GT3 Cup double title success is on the cards, and he expects another big display from Schmid this weekend at a circuit where he won twice when the series visited last season.
“Clemens maybe young, but he’s a very mature driver, and I just expect him to get better,” he says. “He has huge potential. He proved again in Bahrain how good he is, and if he continues like this, he’s going to make a lot more headlines in the international arena.
“He looks cool, and he really is that way. We spend a lot of time together for the week when we’re racing here, and he’s always very relaxed. It’s not an act that he puts on. That’s a great advantage to have when the racing is so intense, as it is now in this series.”
Al Azhari is currently lying third in the drivers’ standings – matching his overall finish last season - after mixed fortunes in Bahrain where he grabbed a podium place in race one before running into difficulty and finishing 10th in race two.
“I had some issues with the front tyres, and now I have to look at the data from the whole weekend in Bahrain and work with my engineers to iron out any problems,” he said.
“The championship is the most professional in the Middle East and because of that it’s attracting the best drivers. The performance levels of everyone are very close, and that makes for fantastic racing.
“Because the competition is so strong you need to be very accurate in everything you do. A small mistake moves you down the field very quickly. You need to be sharp, and seize an opportunity when it presents itself.”
After morning testing at Dubai Autodrome on Wednesday, official practice on Thursday morning is followed by successive afternoon qualifying sessions, with Schmid aiming to add to his glut of pole positions in the GT3 Cup series. Rounds 3 and 4, both over 14 laps, follow on Friday afternoon.
Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East, team standings after 2 rounds:
1. Al Nabooda Racing 82pts
2. SkyDive Dubai Falcons 68pts
3. Saudi Falcons 52pts
4. Team Bahrain 47pts
5. Milon Racing (Germany) 30pts.
1. Clemens Schmid (Al Nabooda Racing) 50pts
2. Zaid Ashkanani (KUW) 46pts
3. Hasher Al Maktoum (UAE) 40pts
4. Karim Al Azhari (UAE) 32pts
5. Mohammed Mattar (BAH) 32pts
6. Abdulaziz Al Faisal (KSA) 30pts
7. Saeed Al Mehairi (UAE) 28pts
8. Hubert Haupt (GER) 25pts
9. Faisal Binladen (KSA) 22pts
10. Hannes Waimer (GER) 21pts
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