Following an emphatic eighth edition of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East, plans are already in motion for the spectacular return for Season 9 this year. The announcement comes midway through the global motorsport calendar, as some of the drivers that competed in the Middle East over the winter period are now battling it out in the prestigious Porsche Mobile 1 Supercup across Europe.

1- Zaid Ashkanani – Kuwait’s favourite racer motors on… Kuwait will hope to see potential new talent joining the grid in Season 9, representing motorsport in the country and hoping to follow in the footsteps of previous Kuwaiti champion Zaid Ashkanani. The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East was established with the vision of offering drivers from the region a pathway to compete on the international stage and at the highest level of motorsport.

After eight successful seasons, that pathway is now very much proven, with several drivers emerging through the championship to reach the pinnacle of one-make racing, the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup.

Zaid Ashkanani

Zaid Ashkanani, Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup Monaco 2017

How have you been finding competing in the Porsche Supercup this season? Competing in Porsche Supercup is never easy, but I would say that we have had a good start. The level of competition is always high here. I believe we are doing the right things and, as long as we keep learning and developing, we will continue to see stronger results. 

Did the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East prepare you for the step into Europe? And did you think it would happen this quickly? Yes, I would definitely say that the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East has paved the road for me to race in Europe. I started racing with Porsche in the Middle East and this is where I gained most of my driving experience. I learned a lot from racing in the championship and I noticed that the level of competition is continuously increasing in the Middle East, which is always a great result for the series.

What would you say are the main differences between driving in Europe and driving in the Middle East? There are several differences between racing in Europe and the Middle East. One thing is the racing culture, which is more developed. Another is the competition; it is generally tougher in Europe as it is a hub for international motorsport. In terms of racing conditions, it rarely rains in the Middle East, while in Europe the weather is always changing from one circuit to the next – conditions can even vary during the same racing weekend. Also, the historical circuits in Europe like Silverstone and SPA have their own character which adds a unique experience to each race.

The results of some of the drivers that have competed in both the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East and now Supercup this summer have been very different. For example, Dylan Perreira is getting some very strong results and Al Faisal Al Zubair has been qualifying ahead of Ryan Cullen in some rounds, why do you think this is? To be honest, I couldn’t tell you the exact reason behind the drivers’ different results. I myself expected to do better here after getting strong results in the Middle East, but I would say it all comes down to how prepared you are – each race in Europe can be very different. Some teams have started stronger than others, so you just need to keep pushing, working hard and finding more speed where you can. 

As a young Arab driver that has progressed from the Porsche Middle East GT3 championship to driving with Porsche in Europe, would you recommend this as a pathway for other young drivers interested in motorsport in the Middle East? I definitely do. The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East is without a doubt the strongest series in the region – the set-up, the driver coaches and the overall organisation is extremely professional and provides the perfect opportunity for aspiring drivers in the Middle East to get involved. 

Will you be returning to compete in the Porsche GT3 CCME in Season 9 and if so what are your hopes for the season? I hope to be returning to compete in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East next season, I enjoy the set-up and it feels good to be racing in a professional environment in the Middle East. It’s always exciting to see which new drivers will be competing in the series; we saw Al Faisal Al Zubair as one of the newcomers last season and look how well he has done. It is always difficult to commit to taking part in a championship at this early stage, but I definitely would like to come back and drive again in Season 9.  

This has been a huge step forward for you in your career, what is the next step and hopes for the future? Competing in championships such as the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup is always going to benefit your motorsport career. It’s great to be involved with such a prestigious competition and I am hoping I can continue competing at this level and higher. In the future, I would like to become a works driver for a manufacturer like Porsche, but I know that it wouldn’t be easy and it would require a lot of hard work which I am always ready for. That is the dream.

How can you see the participation of yourself and drivers like Al Faisal Al Zubair in Europe helping to boost the profile of motorsport in the Middle East? Both Al Faisal and I wish to support in improving the profile of motorsport in the Middle East. We know it will take time, but hopefully one day we will be able to see more drivers from the Middle East reaching the same level of competition as in Europe and the rest of the world. To reach this level, more support is needed around the sport at the lower levels in the region and we must continue to generate media interest. Sometimes it can be difficult for drivers to generate sponsors, but there a competitions like the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East that will provide a great pathway to further your motorsport career.

Al Faisal Al Zubair

2 – Al Faisal Al Zubair – Oman’s teenage sensation…  Following an emphatic eighth edition of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East, plans are already in motion for the spectacular return for Season 9 this year. The announcement comes midway through the global motorsport calendar, as some of the drivers that competed in the Middle East over the winter period are now battling it out in the prestigious Porsche Mobile 1 Supercup across Europe.

Championship organiser Lechner Racing has revealed heightened interest from drivers keen to be part of the future schedule. With the regional debut of the brand-new Porsche GT3 Cup car and the continued commitment to deliver a world-class series to nurture racing talent in the Middle East, it’s clear to see why Season 9 is seeing a high level of interest.

Oman will hope for the return of teenage sensation Al Faisal Al Zubair, after a very successful debut outing last season saw him go on to compete in Europe with Porsche over the summer. There is also potential for new talent to join the grid, eager to follow in the footsteps of Al Zubair, continuing to develop motorsport in the Middle East. The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East was established with the vision of offering drivers from the region a pathway to compete on the international stage and at the highest level of motorsport.

Al Faisal Al Zubair

Al Faisal Al Zubair

How have you been finding competing in the Porsche Supercup for the first time? My experience in the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup so far has been amazing. The competition is very tough and every driver is extremely quick. Sometimes it is good to be amongst such a high level of driving as you find yourself raising your own levels without even noticing. My results and times are getting better and better with each race, so that is all I can hope for – I will keep working hard until the end of the season.

What have been the biggest challenges or adjustments you’ve had to make? The biggest adjustment that I’ve had to make is getting used to qualifying. You have less time out on the track in this competition compared to the Middle East -setting a quick time as early as possible is key. What makes it more difficult is that everyone is setting such quick times across the board, which means you have to focus 101%, as sometimes one tenth of a second can be the difference of four or five positions. 

Nearly halfway through the season now, what are your expectations for the second half and down the stretch? I can’t really expect anything, with a grid of over 30 drivers and competing on a lot of these circuits for the first time I just have to go out there and do my best. I would like to be able to finish in the points for the remainder of the season, and finish my debut year in the highest position possible.  

How much did the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East prepare you for the Porsche Supercup? The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East helped me a lot, it taught me the dynamics of how to drive a Porsche, race craft, qualifying and gave me so much track time to get used to racing the car. I came to Europe being on the pace with the car, and felt confident to be able to compete within the grid. It’s great to be able to come from a professional set-up in the Middle East as it prepares you for competitions like the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup and makes you confident within your own ability. 

As one of just two Middle Eastern drivers in the Porsche Supercup field, along with Kuwait’s Zaid Ashkanani, how much pride are you taking in representing the region and showing off its talent It’s a great honour for me and Zaid to be representing the Middle East as Arab drivers in Europe. The fact that the races follow the Formula One schedule also means that we can carry our flags with pride, and show the world of motorsport that Arab countries like Oman and Kuwait can also produce a high level of driving talent which is an amazing feeling for me. It is also nice that Zaid and I get on very well, and we hope to continue getting good results and raising the profile of motorsport in the Middle East. 

Why is the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East such a good platform for Arab drivers to progress through the ranks and go further in their motorsport career? I believe the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East is the perfect platform to start racing for young Arab drivers. It takes place at the best time of year for weather, you learn the car inside and out, you learn everything about qualifying and improving your speed. There is also a real mixture of drivers, amateurs and seasoned professionals, giving every driver a goal and somebody to compete against. So yes, overall I think it is the best way to start and develop and then, if you progress well, there is a potential pathway into Europe. I’d like to think I am a great example of that. 

Will you compete in this year’s Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East and if so, how much do you expect your season in Porsche Supercup to help you? The plan is for me to return to the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East for Season 9, I am very excited to race again in the championship, especially following such a successful first season. I left Season 8 with a race win in the final round in Bahrain and, I think now with my Supercup experience over the summer, I can come back and really push for strong results and challenge the front-runners for the title!