The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East is set to deliver two days of intriguing race action when the 2011-12 season reaches its half way point at Yas Marina Circuit this weekend.
After four intensely competitive rounds which have produced four separate race winners, the Porsche one-make series returns as the headline attraction in Abu Dhabi, with five drivers all looking to steal the limelight in Rounds 5-6 on Thursday and Friday.
While he once again leads the championship which he is attempting to win for the second time in three years, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Abdulaziz Al Faisal knows there will be no room for error as the series makes its second visit to the UAE capital in just over a month.
He had to settle for two podium places during last month’s Formula One weekend in Abu Dhabi, and is being eagerly pursued by the last two race winners, fellow-Saudi Bandar Alesayi and Oman’s Ahmed Al Harthy.
They are both looking to increase the pressure on Prince Abdulaziz who also faces the challenge of Stephane Lemeret, the Belgian driver aiming for a first series victory for Dubai-based Al Nabooda Racing.
Meanwhile, talented Austrian driver Clemens Schmid returns to the starting grid in Abu Dhabi, and while he will not play a full part in the championship, he does want to add to his first round victory at Dubai Autodrome.
It all adds up to a big test of character and concentration for title favourite Abdulaziz, although he is well prepared for a fierce title battle which could continue all the way to the series finish line in Bahrain at the end of March.
He looked in a class of his own when he secured the Porsche GT3 Cup drivers crown in 2009-10, dominating the inaugural season by winning nine of 12 rounds.
As the competition intensified last season, he was edged out for the title by Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Rashid Al Khalifa, despite recording another six race victories.
With a third of the current season now gone and just a second round victory to his credit, Prince Abdulaziz will also be feeling the heat in the two qualifying sessions on Thursday and Friday.
After grabbing pole position seven times in 2009-10 and five times last season, he has been fastest in qualifying just once in this season’s four rounds, three of which have been won by the driver starting first on the grid.
There could also be pressure at Yas Marina Circuit for Qatar’s Saddon Al Kuwari, who is protecting a 100 per cent record in the Mobil 1 Trophy for drivers over 45. Last year’s winner, German driver Hannes Waimer, is keen to break Al Kuwari’s winning sequence.
1. Abdulaziz Al Faisal (KSA) Saudi Falcons 72pts
2. Bandar Alesayi (KSA) Alesayi Racing 68pts
3. Ahmad Al Harthy (OM) Oman Air Racing 66pts
4. Stephane Lemeret (BEL) Al Nabooda Racing 58pts
5. Saeed Al Mouri KSA) Saudi Falcons 46pts
6. Saddon Al Kuwari (QA) 34pts
7. Mark Thomas (CAN) 27pts
8. Hans Guido Riegel (GER) Haribo Racing 24pts
9. Hannes Waimer (GER) 23pts
10. Clemens Schmid (AUT) 20pts
10. Armin Schmid CH Team TCE
1. Sadoon Al Kuwari (QA) 80pts
2. Hannes Waimer (GER) 63pts
3. Hans Guido Riegel (GER) Haribo Racing 62pts
4. Fawaz Algosaibi (KSA) ClassicArabia Racing 54pts
4. Rob Frijns (NL) 44pts
6. Manfred Ender (AUT) 33pts
7. Jaber Al Khalifa (BAH) 22pts
8. Alain Muraour (F) 10pts