Tom Oliphant has made a triumphant return to the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East, taking a stunning first victory in the series during the opening rounds of the 2017/18 campaign around the Bahrain International Circuit (17/18 November).
Racing in support of the 6 Hours of Bahrain, the final round of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship, a hugely impressive display across the meeting from the Leamington Spa racer would culminate in a brilliant first win in one-make Porsche competition.
Oliphant returned to Bahrain with a strong track record at the circuit having taken three podium finishes in four races there during his 2016/17 Middle East campaign, but the meeting would mark only his third time racing the latest-generation Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car.
Linking up with the leading Lechner Racing team for a second winter season in succession, the 27 year old started the meeting in hugely positive fashion as he finished first and second fastest within the seventeen car field during Thursday’s two free practice sessions.
Oliphant would go on to challenge for pole position during the two qualifying sessions the next day, with a blistering lap time of 2m 04.067s seeing him miss out on top spot for race one by the narrowest of margins, just seventy-seven thousandths of a second.
That would secure him a front row start for the opening encounter, which took place under the floodlights on Friday evening. A slow launch off the line initially dropped him to fourth, but a stunning move around the outside at the first corner got him back into second.
The Philips automotive lighting supported driver would then show great pace to chip away at an initial gap of over two and a half seconds to the race leader and close right onto his tail, however he couldn’t quite get ahead with a late challenge and took the flag in second place.
Oliphant would go one better in the second race the next morning however as he produced an overtaking masterclass across the twelve lap race, with another tough getaway meaning he would have to fight back from fifth position on the approach to the first corner.
Another sublime move around the outside into the tight right hander would immediately place him in third position, kicking off one of the most intense battles for victory in series history as he fought tooth-and-nail with Zaid Ashkanani and Al Faisal Al Zubair.
After posting the fastest lap of the race on the third tour, Oliphant would bide his time before making a slick manoeuvre on Al Zubair heading onto the back straight on lap eight, a move which placed him right onto the tail of the leader.
Lap after lap of immense pressure would ultimately pay off on the penultimate tour as Oliphant forced Ashkanani into a pivotal mistake, with a slide wide at the fourth corner opening the door for the Horizon Specialities backed racer to assume the race lead.
From there, a composed drive over the final lap and a half would secure Oliphant a richly deserved first victory in the series, which combined with his second place in race one means he leaves Bahrain as the joint early championship leader.
Tom Oliphant:“I’m over the moon to claim my first win in a Porsche category. We were quick all week in Bahrain and after two difficult qualifying sessions, it was brilliant to fightback and claim a first and second in the two races, and leave with the championship lead.
“I have to thank my team for all their hard work over the week. Without their time and dedication, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to fight for the win. This is a great way to start the season and now I’m looking forward to Dubai in two weeks’ time, where I’ll be aiming to extend my points advantage.”
The next rounds of the Middle East season will take Oliphant to the Dubai Autodrome circuit on 8/9 December. Following a Christmas break, the series returns at the same circuit on 26/27 January, before heading to the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi on 2/3 February.
The Bahrain International Circuit will then play host to the final two meetings of the campaign, with the penultimate visit on 16/17 March and then the season finale on 14/15 April in support of the Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix.
Image from Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East.